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P&R: Restrict Auke Lake motorized use

PRAC weighing plan for lake management

Posted: January 9, 2013 - 1:05am

On Tuesday evening, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee heard about an Auke Lake management draft plan developed by city staff last month that would call on the City and Borough of Juneau to restrict the horsepower of motorized vehicles on the lake and take an active role in regulating lake use.

Parks and Recreation staff generated the plan after three public meetings late last year were held to solicit public comment on management and use of Auke Lake.

The plan finds that Auke Lake can only safely accommodate one high-horsepower motorized vehicle at a time, with staff citing the federal Water and Land Recreation Opportunity Spectrum, or WALROS, to reach that conclusion.

As a result, the plan calls for all motorized vehicles on the lake to be limited to 10 horsepower.

No state or municipal ordinance governing the lake, which is owned by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources but administered by Juneau Parks and Recreation, currently imposes a limit on either the number of vehicles that can be on Auke Lake at one time or on the horsepower of said vehicles.

City code limits the length of vessels using Auke Lake to 16 feet or less, a restriction the plan proposes replacing with the horsepower limit.

“Existing efforts to regulate motorized watercraft on Auke Lake have failed to balance the physical and social demands of those who live or recreate on Auke Lake with the need to maintain public safety and promote a healthy and productive lake ecosystem,” the plan reads in part. “Existing levels of motorized use far exceed the lake’s carrying capacity, negatively impacting public safety and reducing the recreational experience for all lake users. The fact that Auke Lake is the only navigable lake on Juneau’s road system does not change the fact that available water surface acres are not adequate for the type of high-horsepower watercraft and activities now common at the lake.”

Last June, a collision between an inner tube and a jet-ski on Auke Lake left 16-year-old Savannah Cayce dead and another girl injured. Parks and Recreation expanded its review of Auke Lake management after the incident to look at public safety at the lake.

In addition to the horsepower restriction, the draft plan calls for “towed devices” like inner tubes to be banned from Auke Lake “because the available water surface area is not adequate for this type of activity.”

The plan also recommends the CBJ create a seasonal position within Parks and Recreation for a park ranger empowered to enforce municipal laws on the lake during the summer, as well as ensure staff access to a boat.

The Juneau Police Department does not have a boat or any marine officers. As a result, enforcement of existing regulations on the lake is difficult at best.

Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer explained staff’s findings and recommendations to the PRAC at the Mendenhall Public Library Tuesday evening, where the committee held its first meeting of 2013.

PRAC member Chris Mertl questioned whether one high-horsepower boat at a time could be allowed on the lake to tow waterskiers.

Fischer said he and Parks and Landscape Superintendent George Schaaf had discussed that idea, but had concluded it would be impractical.

“If you look at having one powerboat on there, how are we fairly going to do that to the public?” Fischer asked.

Fischer acknowledged the proposed horsepower restriction will have its detractors.

“Some people are going to say it’s not fair that we restrict over 10 … horsepower,” Fischer said. “I understand that.”

No public comment on Auke Lake management was permitted at the meeting, as the plan was placed on the agenda as an information item only.

As staff and committee members waited for a quorum before starting the meeting, attendee Dave Hanna spoke up to criticize the plan.

“No offense, but it’s highly inaccurate,” Hanna said, a longtime resident of Auke Lake. “A lot of it is.”

“Did you make corrections on your copy?” asked committee member Dixie Hood.

“I don’t have enough ink in my pen,” Hanna quipped.

Fischer invited Hanna and others to submit their written comments to him for consideration.

“We kind of need to not go back and forth on this, because we don’t want public comment, please,” Fischer said.

Later, Hanna explained some of his objections to the plan.

“They’re making all these issues that don’t exist,” Hanna complained, challenging claims in the plan about water pollution levels, erosion and lake residents’ alleged “desire to retain the quiet, residential atmosphere of the lake,” among others.

Hanna and fellow attendee Angela Miller, who jet-skis on the lake, also took exception to the recommendation that a park ranger position be created, with Hanna suggesting the intent is for Parks and Recreation to “grow their empire.”

“What do you need a park ranger for if you don’t have any use on the lake?” asked Miller rhetorically. “Because there isn’t going to be any.”

The PRAC will meet again for a special meeting at City Hall on Jan. 29 to discuss the draft plan. It will take public comment on the matter at that time.

Fischer told committee members, “As public comment streams in from tonight on, those will be forwarded to you so that you can include that in part of the evaluation of the plan.”

At Mertl’s suggestion, the PRAC will likely wait until its regular meeting in February to make a recommendation to the Borough Assembly on the plan. It will be up to the Assembly to adopt any new ordinances for Auke Lake management.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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