Loud watercraft hurt Auke Lake, neighbors say

Group wants ban on larger engines, limit to half the lake

Posted: Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Personal watercraft users have become a menace on Auke Lake, according to a group that wants to ban them.

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The buzzing water toys strip the lake of its natural charm and are destroying habitat for fish and waterfowl, critics claim.

To owners, the vehicles known by such brand names as Jet Ski or Sea-Doo offer freedom to engage in an extreme water sport near town. Others believe they churn out water, air and sound pollution.

"We want the city to do something about the growing number of personal watercraft users who have taken this place over," George Reifenstein said. "There were agreements made years ago that are not being respected."

The Auke Lake Neighborhood Association previously requested personal watercraft users stick to about half of the lake, on the University of Alaska Southeast side, Reifenstein said.

Reifenstein is a member of Friends of Auke Lake, an organization hoping to restore, protect, and preserve the lake's ecology and multiple-use recreation. It also seeks a quiet and safe environment for all lake users, he said.

Now Friends of Auke Lake wants the city to ban any motorized water vehicle with more than 5 horsepower.

Watercraft user Angie Kemp calls that absurd. The lake offers a unique family setting, safer than the open ocean for personal watercraft, she said.

"I have only seen conscientious Jet Ski users, who are respectful of kayakers and other recreationists on the lake," Kemp said. "There is already a zone where we cannot ski, and it is respected."

Not so, says Reifenstein, who has lived on the northeastern side of Auke lake since 1980.

"There are more and more Jet Skiers who often yell profanities and do doughnuts in front of my place," Reifenstein said. "Something should be done about it."

In a letter, Steven Zimmerman of the Juneau Audobon Society said members want the Assembly to pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of the watercraft on Auke Lake. There are numerous reports that loons and other water birds that used to nest along the shores have not been seen in recent years, driven off the lake by watercraft disturbance, he said.

Others want to preserve recreational opportunities.

"Although I understand some concerns, I do not want my children to lose the opportunity to use the lake like I did for so many years," said Juneau resident Ron Flint, who skied for nearly 25 years on the lake and lives at Auke Bay. "Many people in the community need to be heard."

The Juneau Assembly Land Committee is charged with deciding the matter, chairman Jeff Bush said. The current rules restrict use to the university side of the lake, while the side with houses is off-limits to personal watercraft, he said.

"These are actually state waters, so it is unclear what jurisdiction we even have," Bush said. "There could be a wide variety of options, including future ordinances restricting use, or limiting the horsepower of engines, hours or locations of use on the lake."

"Some people that live on lake have said to continue with the current regulations and leave it as is," Bush said.

"Really the question is who is responsible for managing the area," Mayor Bruce Botelho said. "One could draw parallels to similar challenges of managing the Mendenhall Wetlands."

The controversy may brew until Assembly's committee meets sometime this summer.

The Friends of Auke Lake group also hopes to restrict aircraft to single takeoffs and landings, preventing pilots from using the lake for practice.

Motorized uses have affected the lake's safety, Reifenstein said.

"My children could go on a rowboat on the lake, but I would never send my grandkids to do that," he said. "It is just not safe anymore."

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