The Noise of Summer

For all the whining PWC users still emit in response to the state’s meager regulations, they seem to have worked. “In just a couple of years the 150-foot rule probably answered the biggest amount of complaints we had,” says Fred Bliss, president of the Minnesota Lakes Association, an organization of 30,000 shore-owners. “There doesn’t seem to be as much complaining about them anymore. Jet skis are going to be here and as long as they conduct themselves in a sensible manner, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much complaining.”

Observant PWC critics feel, for example, that manufacturers have quieted down the machines. Jet skis meet or exceed the state’s noise regulations, says Kim Elverum, the Department of Natural Resources’ boat and water safety coordinator. He says new PWCs will easily meet the federal government’s regulations regarding pollution discharge well in advance of a 2006 deadline. The state’s aggressive education and enforcement policy, such as sending an instructional videotape on jet ski regulations to users, and flying spotting planes over busy areas such as the St. Croix river, have contributed to better behavior on the part of PWC riders, he says. The state now has 8,000 more jet skis than in 1997 but accidents have dropped from 60 that year to 28 in 2001. Another welcome sign of relief is the slackening sales of PWCs, which Elverum says have plateaued and will increase much more gradually than in the past.

Politically, lakeowners and environmental activists know the current governor will not allow any further PWC legislation. On the other hand, the federal government appears less willing to cave to the motorized recreation lobby on federal lands and waters. Every challenge to the U.S. Park Service’s ban on jet skis in most national parks has been defeated, leaving Voyageurs and part of the St. Croix River free of them. Lakes inside state parks have speed limits of 10 mph, making jet skiing in them pointless.

So what’s next? Activists will begin plying a state that allows local municipalities to put their own surface management policies in place with the approval of the DNR. Marcia Shephard, associate editor of the newsletter Focus On The Waters, says townships in central Minnesota have begun to craft water management policy regulating all motorized craft, not just jet skis. For his part, the Minnesota Lakes Association’s Fred Bliss has been working hard in his own backyard. As a president of a regional lake association in Cass County, he’s trying to bring together enough local townships to ask the DNR to approve a no-wake zone within 150 feet of shoreline.

Not everyone thinks local control will work. Hasskamp sees local legislation as unlikely to pass since townships and small cities will balk at regulating jet skis and motorboats if the threat of a lawsuit appears likely. Considering the high volume motorized recreation’s lobbying and legal efforts to overturn the ban on jet skis in national parks, a small township may figure it will cost too much to battle opponents in court, she says.

Confrontation on the water is another tactic. When the law doesn’t work, an offended lake owner or canoeist can tell jet skiers to go away, and they often will.

For Jeff Brown of Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation, surface water management may save what little silence is left near water bodies in the state. Only 4.7 percent of lakes in the state have surface water management regulations of any type, leaving plenty of room for more efforts toward local control. Still, he figures what has been lost is lost for good. “Many of these lakes and rivers are sacred places that have become invaded by jet skis, motor boats, and ATVs,” he says. “It almost destroys your hope of ever finding quiet again in recreational areas. People are no longer sure where they can go anymore to find solace and silence.”

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