Jet boats could race up the Coeur d’Alene River in May as part of a four-river jet boat championship.
The St. Maries Chamber of Commerce has applied for a Kootenai County marine permit to include 30 miles of the Coeur d’Alene River between Harrison and Cataldo, Idaho, in the 2016 USA World Champion Jet Boat Race. Other race venues include portions of the St. Joe, Grand Ronde and Snake rivers.
The high-speed races are crowd pleasers, attracting thousands of spectators, said Shirley Ackerman, the chamber’s race coordinator. Competitors come from as far away as New Zealand. Some bring boats capable of reaching speeds of 150 mph.
“This is a great opportunity for Idaho, our community and our economy,” Ackerman said.
But races on the Coeur d’Alene River also raise questions about the potential release of lead and other heavy metals. The river bed and its flood plains are polluted with historic mine waste that washed downstream from Idaho’s Silver Valley and are part of a Superfund site. Both state and federal agencies have worked to shore up sloughing stream banks to keep contaminated soil out of the river.
“We need to know what kind of boats, what speeds and how big,” said Andy Helkey, program manager for the Panhandle Health District’s lead health intervention program.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials also have questions about how much wake the boats would produce. While the agency supports recreation along the river, officials would have concerns about activities that could result in widespread releases of heavy metals, said Ed Moreen, an EPA program manager in Coeur d’Alene.
Ackerman said the wakes are small because most of the boat rides on top of the water.
“The event is no different than having 25 additional recreational boats on the river over the weekend,” she said. “It’s not causing additional erosion.”
Jet boat racing in St. Maries began four years ago, when the St. Joe River was chosen as a race venue for the 2012 USA World Championships. The race was so popular that the community continued to hold local races annually, Ackerman said. This year, St. Maries again had the opportunity to participate in the world championship.
About 35 competitors are expected for the races, which take place during the week leading up to Memorial Day. The races on the Coeur d’Alene River are scheduled for May 24 and 25.
The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office has received a permit application from the St. Maries chamber but has not had time to review it, said Lt. Stu Miller, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
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