March 9, 1996 in Nation/World

Panel Passes Jet-Ski Rules Plan Gives Local Governments Power To Limit Personal Watercraft

Betsy Z. Russell Winda Benedetti Cont Staff writer
 

Legislation authorizing cities and counties to regulate Jet-Skis easily cleared a key Senate committee Friday, and is headed for a final vote in the full Senate.

“I’m delighted,” Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, said afterward. “Last year I took a real drubbing with (a version of) the bill because it had quite a few more requirements. This is a good compromise.”

The bill allows cities or counties to establish zones for personal watercraft, with these regulatory options:

The craft could be limited to no wake or less than 5 mph.

Only personal watercraft could be allowed in the zone.

No personal watercraft could be allowed in the zone.

Distance from the shoreline could be regulated.

The bill also requires anyone renting the craft to provide lifejackets and instructions on how to operate the watercraft safely. And it states that no vessel may be operated negligently while within 100 feet of another vessel, or while zipping along within 100 feet of a dock, swimmer or other person in the water.

Kootenai County sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Soumas said the the law gives power to local authorities.

“It’ll give each jurisdiction an opportunity to look at their problems and decide how best to handle it,” said Soumas, head of the marine division.

“We have had a disproportionate share of complaints on personal watercraft,” he said, explaining that people complain about the small watercraft buzzing past docks, cutting off boats and riding too close to other watercraft.

“But that is a small percentage of personal watercraft users that are doing this,” Soumas said.

Kootenai County already has an ordinance that limits how fast all watercraft can go within a certain distance of the shore, docks and other items on the water, Soumas said.

Jet-Ski enthusiasts and dealers who attended Friday’s hearing were angry that most of them weren’t allowed to speak.

“I don’t think everyone’s opinion was involved in the development of this bill,” said Tim Barr, product manager at Western Power Sports in Boise. “I’m more than willing to compromise if doing so will save the sport of PWC (personal watercraft) riding.”

Barr said the bill’s clause allowing designation of a zone where the craft would be limited to no wake or less than 5 mph doesn’t make sense for the watercraft. The water jet that powers the craft also provides steering, he said.

“A stand-up model becomes impossible to stay on at very low speeds, thus instantly dumping the rider into the water at a very low line of sight.”

“This is the kind of insight” riders could have provided had they been involved in drafting the bill, he said.

Supporters of the legislation said the watercraft are dangerous and annoying.

“We’re not banning Jet-Skis from any waters in the state of Idaho,” said Rep. Golden Linford, R-Rexburg, the bill’s sponsor. “If that’s done, it’s going to be done by local ordinance.”

Linford said he’s heard that the numbers of personal watercraft are increasing 30 percent a year. “If there isn’t a problem now in some waters, give it a few years and you’ll find there will be,” he said.

Sen. Robert Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said he worried that the 100-foot rule might outlaw waterskiing. But Linford and other committee members said that wasn’t how they read it.

Geddes and Sen. Judi Danielson, R-Council, cast the only votes against the bill.

It earlier passed the House on a 56-12 vote. All the North Idaho representatives in the House voted for the bill except Rep. Tom Dorr, R-Post Falls, who missed the vote.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer Staff writer Winda Benedetti contributed to this report.

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