Spokane River lovers squared off Tuesday in a debate over whether the river should be a quiet playground or one that’s open to all users.
At issue is whether motorboats - primarily Jet Skis and similar “personal watercraft” - should be banned from free-flowing stretches of the river in Spokane County.
The ban is part of a package of proposed changes in the county’s boating regulations.
Other changes would require anyone younger than 10 to wear a life jacket while in a small boat, prohibit boaters from traveling fast enough to create wakes within 100 feet of shore and eliminate the need for permits to hold regattas, races and other events.
But it was the proposed Jet Ski ban that dominated discussion at Tuesday’s county commissioners’ meeting.
Speakers were limited to two minutes apiece. Still, the testimony lasted more than an hour as more than 40 people took the microphone, with opponents of the ban outnumbering supporters 2-to-1.
County Commissioners Kate McCaslin and John Roskelley voted to postpone a decision for two weeks to see whether the opposing groups can reach agreement.
But Commissioner Phil Harris said he doesn’t think a compromise is possible - or even wise. He wanted to pass the rest of the boating regulations but not the ban.
“Nature put the river there - I didn’t - and nature didn’t restrict people from using it, and I won’t either,” Harris said.
The ban would apply to about 15 miles of water in the Valley and perhaps seven miles upstream from Seven Mile Bridge. That includes the Bowl and Pitcher, Sullivan Rapids and other white water that’s popular with paddlers and a small but increasing number of Jet Ski users.
“We both like the same kind of water,” said Pat Harline, a kayak instructor.
Harline and other canoeists and kayakers told commissioners that Jet Skis threaten to swamp their human-powered craft. None cited cases when that’s actually happened, but several told of close calls.
Bird watchers and fishermen said Jet Skis frighten wildlife and Centennial Trail users said they’re too noisy.
“One noisy boat, one noisy Jet Ski, can spoil the trail experience for a dozen people,” said John Rascoff, president of Friends of the Centennial Trail.
Jet Ski users said it’s unfair to single them out for a ban.
“I could just as easily say the river would be really nice if I didn’t have to dodge all those canoes,” said one boater.
“A ban such as this is akin to pedestrians trying to keep bicyclists off the Centennial Trail,” said Bruce Wolford, who called claims that Jet Skis harm wildlife “hogwash.”
Other Jet Skiers noted that wildlife waters and canoeists already have quiet places to enjoy their sports, including the Little Spokane River and Turnbull Wildlife Refuge.
“Can’t we all just operate on love? Can’t we just get along?” said Peter Fox, who lives along the river and opposes the ban.
One speaker, Larry Wieber, suggested a compromise, with power boats allowed on the water at certain times only, or on alternating weekends.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map of area
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