City residents should not be allowed to vote on whether to bring back hydroplane racing to Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Chamber of Commerce president says.
A 1985 advisory vote brought a record number of voters to the polls to reject the return of the super speedboats. They raced in Coeur d’Alene from 1958 to 1968.
That ballot, according to Coeur d’Alene Chamber president Pat McGaughey, “was written very poorly, raised huge confusion … people were talking fiction. I think you have to make a professional presentation to the leadership (City Council) and let them make a professional decision.”
However, many opponents think the community still objects to the races. They worry that residents will not get a chance to vote on the matter.
“I don’t think the council would let it go to an advisory ballot because it’s too expensive,” said Anne Andreasen, who runs a paddle boat rental business with her husband at the same city docks proposed for use as the racing pits.
But “if the chamber is so sure everybody wants the races here, let them pay for an advisory vote,” Andreasen said.
The chamber’s business development committee is researching a possible revival of the races, McGaughey said. While the group doesn’t yet have an official position, it believes it’s worth adding the Lake City to the professional racing circuit.
The three days of racing would be scheduled on Labor Day weekend - a traditionally slow period for the local tourism trade. The city would get lots of exposure because ESPN will repeatedly televise the races, he says.
The beer-bottle flinging melee that was characteristic of past hyroplane crowds has changed, he argues. Idaho’s legal drinking age is no longer 19, there are now laws against open containers of alcoholic beverages and Coeur d’Alene has more police officers, McGaughey says.
Hydroplane advocates want to fence off Tubbs Hill and city park and make room for grandstands for the races.
McGaughey agrees this plan is at the heart of the disagreement.
He questions arguments that crowds will seriously damage Tubbs Hill, considering that people are allowed to swarm the city landmark on Fourth of July.
But opponents say far more people will end up trampling the hill during racing than on Independence Day.
If Tubbs Hill remains in the proposal, “I do think they are going to have a fight on their hands,” Andreasen said. At a minimum, opponents say they will push for an environmental impact statement.
If hydroplane advocates want to avoid a battle, they can move the races to Silver Beach. “I would say fine, go to it,” Andreasen said.
McGaughey said Silver Beach is an acceptable second choice, but economically and logistically more difficult. And it doesn’t present the nice television camera backdrop of the city beach and The Coeur d’Alene Resort.
However, even Mayor Al Hassell doubts Tubbs Hill is going to stay in the mix. One reason is that in the 25 years that have lapsed since the departure of hydroplane racing, two to three times as many people are using the parks.
Those people probably won’t welcome the areas being cordoned off, he said.
There are several other questions still unresolved. One is dealing with the volatile mixture of jet fuel, boat crews and crowds.
In Kennewick, Wash. - the nearest city with the races - racegoers are given pit tours, said firefighter Ron O’Hair. Consequently, spectators intermingle with drums of jet fuel, fuel trucks and boats.
“We get so many people crowded around a high hazard,” O’Hair said.
The questions of money and who will run Coeur d’Alene’s hydroplane races also remain unanswered. Kennewick shells out $720,000 a year and has a full-time organization promoting its races and preparing for the events.
Some of that money pays for a massive crowd-control effort involving local police, reserve officers and a private security company.
Coeur d’Alene police and fire officials aren’t yet taking a position on the hydroplane proposal.
“It would certainly tax our resources,” said Police Chief Dave Scates. “Whatever the city wants, we will do the best we can.”
A former police officer who helped break up the riots back when the hydroplanes races were in Coeur d’Alene is less ambivalent.
“It wasn’t a pleasant experience,” said Steve Schauer.
The new proposal to bring boat racing back is pushed by “a bunch of people in the tourism business,” Schauer added. “I don’t think that group of people gives a damn one way or another what happens to the city of Coeur d’Alene.”