Both Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho’s congressional delegation fired off letters to the Coast Guard yesterday pushing for approval of the jet boat race on the St. Joe River in North Idaho that had been scheduled for May 17-19 – until the Coast Guard launched an environmental assessment process that will take until long after the race date has passed. “We ask that you use your authority to issue the permit to allow the races to proceed as planned,” Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and 1stDistrict Rep. Raul Labrador wrote to Coast Guard Rear Admiral Keith A. Taylor. Wrote the governor, “Since the race is in less than two weeks, I am requesting the USCG use its discretion to assess the merits of the complaint and exercise its authority to issue a permit by May 10, 2013, to ensure that the race can take place.”
Both said the event had all its needed permits from the state and Benewah and Shoshone counties, but after a protest was received, the need for a Coast Guard permit was triggered – and the Coast Guard said it would take a 135-day environmental assessment before that could be issued. “This series of events has placed the race organizers in a no-win situation,” the senators and congressman wrote. “They did not need a permit from the USCB until a complaint was filed, and the complaint was not filed in time for the USCG to complete an environmental assessment so that a permit could be issued before the dates of the races.”
Otter attached a memo to his letter from Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore saying the proposed races wouldn’t have significant impact on bull trout; and potential impacts on bald eagle nests could be mitigated by setting up a zone around each nest site a quarter-mile in radius, on both sides of the river, where no spectators could gather or park to watch the race, and monitoring the nest sites both before and after the race.
Wrote Otter, “As you can see from the biological science, the jet boat race should be permitted if proper steps are taken by race organizers.” He argued, “The Race the Joe! Jet boat race has an important positive economic impact to the surrounding communities.”
The congressional delegation encouraged the Coast Guard to complete the environmental assessment for future events, but let this year’s race go forward. You can read the governor’s letter here, and the delegation’s letter here.