Juneau Assembly declines to take up adoption of Auke Lake Management Plan

Flowers on Auke Lake

Flowers float on Auke Lake after a July 2012 memorial gathering following the death of 16-year-old Savannah Cayce in a jet ski accident. Photo by Jim Mahan.

The Juneau Assembly on Monday decided for the time being not to consider new restrictions on the use of motorized watercraft on Auke Lake.

Meeting as Committee of the Whole, the Assembly declined to forward a proposed Auke Lake Management Plan to the full Assembly for action until members get more data on the number and types of users that frequent the lake.

Assemblyman Carlton Smith said that’s essential for the panel to make an informed decision about additional lake regulations.

“I don’t disagree with some of the issues that have been raised here,” Smith said. “But, myself, I couldn’t sponsor additional regulation without some consistency of data over at least a two year period.”

The draft Auke Lake Management Plan was written by the city’s Parks and Recreation staff, and recommended for Assembly adoption by the Juneau Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

It was prompted by the accidental death of Juneau teenager Savannah Cayce. Last July, she was being towed by a jet ski on Auke Lake when the inner tube she was riding on collided with another jet ski. She died two days later of severe head trauma.

The management plan would replace the current vessel size restriction on the lake with a 10 horse power limit that eliminates jet skis, water skiing and wake boarding. Towing also would not be allowed.

Assemblyman Jerry Nankervis is the Assembly’s liaison to the PRAC. He said the problem for him in implementing new restrictions on Auke Lake use is that it’s the only freshwater lake on the Juneau road system.

“We’ve got that one lake that we’re looking at,” Nankervis said. “And I just wanted to point out something another Assembly member said, I think Egan Drive is dangerous too, and we’ve had a number of people die on Egan Drive. But we haven’t shut that down yet.”

Nankervis did not say which other Assembly member he was referring to.

Assemblywoman Karen Crane was the only member to argue for adoption of management plan largely as written.

“If we leave things the way they are without making any changes, we’re going to allow the same situation that we had last summer, where jet skis can still have tow ropes, and pull things behind them,” said Crane. “I personally think it’s irresponsible on our part to allow that particular situation to continue.”

The Assembly did direct the Parks and Recreation department to implement elements of the plan. Namely, new and improved signage and buoys marking the current no wake zones on the lake, which the department planned to do regardless of whether the Assembly adopted the plan or not.

The city’s Parks and Rec staff and the Juneau Watershed Partnership began collecting data on Auke Lake usage after the accident that killed Cayce last summer. The Assembly asked Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer and Parks and Landscape Superintendent George Schaaf to share the results of that study after this summer’s boating season ends.

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