City may fund research on Auke Lake use

Assembly considers study on effects of personal watercraft

Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Juneau Assembly may use city funds for environmental research that could help the community decide whether to restrict personal watercraft on Auke Lake.

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"We have one user group opposing another and the Assembly is being asked to referee between these two," Assembly member Bob Doll said. "That is a very difficult position to be put in."

A three-year study of the lake's water quality would cost $15,000 or more, but could provide an answer on whether to continue allowing motorized vehicles on the lake, he said.

"The environmental aspect could be a silver bullet in reaching a conclusion in what to do with the lake," Doll said.

The city's Committee of the Whole met Monday afternoon to discuss the recreational use of Auke Lake, an issue that has been working its way through city committees since May. More than a dozen citizens attended the working group meeting, which had no public testimony or action taken.

The pro-personal watercraft group Auke Lake for All has been lobbying for continued use of motorized vehicles on the freshwater lake while Friends of Auke Lake has been working to restrict such use.

The conflict between the user groups grew as residents became worried about noise and the continued breach of an agreed-upon no-wake area on the east side of the lake. While working on a proposed city ordinance to resolve the concerns of the two groups, several Assembly members have directed their attention to environmental concerns.

Doll and Assembly member David Stone both discussed these concerns at Monday's meeting about the potential environmental damage posed by continued use of motorized vehicles on the lake.

"We really need to continue to collect data and information because this is critical," Stone said.

Funding for a water quality study undertaken by federal scientists of the Auke Bay Laboratory dried up in 2003.

Committee of the Whole Chairman Randy Wanamaker said the city should consider looking for possible state or federal sources of funding. He said with the potential costs of public employee and teacher retirement plans, there is not extra money to throw around.

"Every $15,000 counts, so I would recommend that staff look to see if there is a grant ... to help fund this," Wanamaker said.

Jackie Lorensen, a Friends of Auke Lake member who has lived on the lake for three years, said the city should provide funds to document the environmental damage the motorized vehicles are causing.

"We would like to see this come out and be supported for the safety of all of us and the continued viability of salmon stocks that are on that lake," she said. "I guess selfishly we would like to see the lake preserved as a pristine wildlife, healthy environment for all of us."

Angela Miller, an Auke Lake for All member who has been riding Jet Skis on the lake for nearly 10 years, said the number of personal watercraft users is being blown out of proportion.

"They're painting this picture like the lake is bombarded by Jet Skiers, and that's not the case," she said. "There are usually a handful of Jet Skiers at a time on nice weather days."

"I've lived in Juneau for 40 years and they're talking about taking away something that has been open to everybody and it's never been a problem," she said. "They're starting to take the fun right out of this town."

The environmental effects should be considered before the pleasure of personal watercraft users, Lorensen said.

"We have to look at the big picture," she said. "We can't always do everything we want to do."

Lands Committee Chairman Jeff Bush said there are still a few issues that need to be figured out before the ordinance is passed on to the Assembly for consideration. The planning and funding of a new launch ramp and certain technical language of the ordinance have yet to be figured out, he said.

"It will all come back to the full Assembly probably early next year," Bush said, most likely in February. "It won't have any impact until the next season, so it really doesn't have to get completed until May."

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