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County Votes For Compromise On Jet Ski Use Powerboats Allowed On One Free-Flowing Stretch Of Spokane River

The answer to whether Jet Ski users can use the Spokane River is yes, no, sometimes.

In a decision they acknowledged will please no one, Spokane County commissioners voted 2-1 to allow powerboats on one free-flowing stretch of the river and ban them from another stretch.

Powerboats will be allowed on a third stretch during the coldest half of the year.

Commissioner John Roskelley called the compromise, reached by Commissioner Kate McCaslin after two meetings with river users, “amazing.”

Still, Roskelley said he only voted for the proposal “because I know Commissioner (Phil) Harris won’t.”

Roskelley wanted to ban powerboats from all undammed portions of the river year-round, while Harris called any restrictions “unenforceable” and “intrusive.”

Although the rules apply to all powerboats, Jet Skis and other “personal watercraft” are among the only crafts that can go upstream in the shallow, swift water.

During an April 1 hearing, canoeists and kayakers asked for a ban, saying they fear collisions with careless or renegade Jet Ski riders. Fishermen, bird-watchers, environmentalists and some Centennial Trail users also supported the ban.

But ban supporters were far outnumbered by opponents among those who testified.

Since the hearing, commissioners have received 139 calls and letters, with most opposing the ban. Nearly 500 opponents signed petitions.

Jet Ski user Ed Groce said he wasn’t happy with McCaslin’s compromise.

He and some others wanted no limits on the use of their machines. Instead, he suggested requiring that any powerboat used on the river be inspected to assure it doesn’t exceed noise limits and is safe.

McCaslin said she tried to set aside her own dislike of Jet Skis, which she called “obnoxious” in a meeting last month.

Under the rules of her compromise, powerboats are:

Banned from free-flowing stretches of the river west of Spokane. That includes the Bowl-and-Pitcher rapids in Riverside State Park.

Allowed year-round on five miles of fast current in the Valley, from Barker Road to the Idaho state line.

Banned from April 15 to Oct. 15 west of Barker, to the Centennial Trail bridge. The rest of the year, powerboats can use that five-mile stretch of river, which includes the Sullivan Rapids.

In calling for an all-out ban, Roskelley compared Jet Skis to snowmobiles and motorcycles, which are restricted in some areas to protect trails or the environment.

“Believe it or not, even climbers are restricted in some areas and banned in others,” said the mountaineer, who owns a personal watercraft.

Harris, who argued strenuously against a ban at the earlier hearing, said little Tuesday.

Although the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department marine unit already is stretched thin, deputy Joe Bonin said the regulations can be enforced.

“It’s really no different than enforcing speed limits,” Bonin said.

“People speed, but if the police are there, they issue a traffic ticket.”

County attorneys need to prepare the ordinance for commissioners to sign into law. It then takes effect immediately.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Restricting motorboats

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