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Jet boat race goes quiet after permit nix

Eagle impact needs study, Coast Guard maintains

Organizers of a jet boat race later this month on the St. Joe River near St. Maries are scrambling to keep from canceling it after the U.S. Coast Guard denied a permit on environmental grounds.

“Race the Joe,” scheduled for May 17-19, is suspended for now, spokesperson Kyla Sawyer said.

“This is really crazy,” Sawyer said Friday. “We’re stunned, quite frankly.”

Supporters of the race are contacting state and federal leaders in Idaho to intervene, and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter took to Twitter on Friday urging followers to contact the Coast Guard about reversing its decision.

The Coast Guard did not return a call for comment Friday.

The Coast Guard informed race officials it had denied the permit to race on the river because it didn’t have enough time to evaluate what impact the boats may have on nesting bald eagles along the river.

The issue arose, Sawyer said, after someone contacted the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department with concerns that noise from the boats would prompt bald eagles to abandon nests.

The Coast Guard, which has ultimate jurisdiction over U.S. waterways, informed the Race the Joe committee April 15 that it needed to apply for a permit to hold the race this year. No such permit was required for the inaugural race last spring, Sawyer said.

On Thursday, the Coast Guard informed organizers it would need at least 135 days to complete an environmental assessment to determine if eagles would be driven off their nests.

Without the permit, the race is not in compliance with the event insurance and sanctioning from the American Power Boat Association, Sawyer said.

“So we feel very caught in an ugly Catch-22,” Sawyer said. “We have communities that are really excited about this race and economic opportunity. We have 100 volunteers from St. Maries and the surrounding areas to put this race on. We have 21 race teams coming from Canada and the U.S.”

A series of community events also had been planned to coincide with the weekend racing. An estimated 5,000 spectators turned out in April 2012 to watch racers along 25 miles of the river.

The race is hosted by the St. Maries Chamber of Commerce and Epic Motorsports Consulting Group. The city of St. Maries and Benewah and Shoshone counties each had signed off on the event.