November 3, 1995 in Idaho

Jet Boat Bill Produces Uproar Rafters Vow To Fight Rights For Power Boats In Hells Canyon

Associated Press
 

Northwestern Republican lawmakers have introduced bills rewriting the 1975 act that created the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area to more clearly protect jet boat use.

Non-motorized boaters say the intervention will destroy their enjoyment of the river.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, on Wednesday joined with Rep. Wes Cooley, R-Ore., to introduce companion bills. Craig’s Senate bill was co-sponsored by Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, and Cooley’s House bill by Reps. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, and George Nethercutt, R-Wash.

The measures would confirm both motorized and non-motorized river craft can access the entire river within the recreation area all year long, says the pro-jet boat Hells Canyon Alliance.

It is not the final word, judging by the reaction of the alliance’s chief opponent, Hells Canyon Preservation Council director Ric Bailey.

“I certainly hope this is not a priority for Congress. It is astounding to me that the jet boat lobby is unwilling to accept even the most minimal restrictions on their use of the river for people whose experience and safety is destroyed by jet boat use of the river,” he said.

The U.S. Forest Service tried unsuccessfully to impose a plan that would have banned jet boat traffic for 24 days this summer in the wildest 21-mile stretch of the scenic gorge.

Outfitters and property owners in the canyon whose access would have been restricted filed formal challenges.

Alliance director Sandra Mitchell dismissed the plan as an effort to solve a problem that does not exist.

The purported battle between jet boaters and rafters in Hells Canyon, she said, was created by rafting outfitters eager to enhance the value of their own trips on the Snake River’s most famous rapids.

The alliance said the latest blueprint slashed both private and commercial powerboating and threatened to harm the manufacturing industry, clustered in the Lewiston area.

Craig let the introduction of the bill pass without fanfare, not issuing a public statement about it. But on Thursday, his office issued a transcript of comments the senator made on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Among Craig’s arguments was that use of motorized river craft is “deeply interwoven in the history, traditions and culture of Hells Canyon. That is why Congress deliberately created a non-wilderness corridor for the entire length of the river. That is why Congress tried to make it clear that use of both motorized and non-motorized river craft are valid uses of the river within the recreation area - the entire river for the entire year.”

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