Public weighs in on draft management plan for Auke Lake

A CBJ Parks and Rec life ring hangs on the floating dock at Auke Lake.

A CBJ Parks and Rec life ring hangs on the floating dock at Auke Lake. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Education and enforcement were familiar themes of public testimony last night (Tuesday) on a draft Auke Lake Management Plan that would prohibit jet skis, water skiing, wake-boarding and other high speed activities on the small lake.

Assembly Chambers were packed as the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, or PRAC, listened to three hours of testimony from 34 different people.

Predictably, most of them said a proposed 10-horsepower limit was too drastic a response to an accident last summer that resulted in the death of a teenager being towed by a jet ski.

The city last fall embarked on a review of current regulations put in place in 2007 after a long public process to develop a management plan for the lake.

Jeff Bush was on the Juneau Assembly at the time the ordinances were passed. He said the key management objective then was to retain multiple use of the lake, which requires enforcement.

“I think the Assembly made clear in ’07 that enforcement was important, and the objective of retaining the user groups is important. So I think it is up to the city to devote the necessary resources to meet those standards,” Bush said.

Throughout the current review, CBJ Parks and Recreation staff has said the city has little ability to enforce problems that occur at the lake. Parks Superintendent George Schaff — one of the authors of the draft plan — said it would cost the Juneau Police Department more than $70,000 annually to patrol the lake. The plan recommends the parks department create a seasonal ranger position.  While that would be cheaper, it, too, is not in the budget. There would be start-up costs for both, since neither JPD nor Parks and Rec have marine units. A seasonal park ranger would provide enforcement throughout the Juneau park system.

The draft Auke Lake Management Plan was released earlier this month. While this was the first public testimony since then, the city has held four public meetings and kept the online comment period open for two-months.

The plan says Auke Lake’s size is not adequate for high horsepower watercraft. It also would prohibit towing. That assertion is based on the U.S. Interior Department’s Water and Land Recreation Opportunity Spectrum, or WALROS, used to determine the number of vessels that can reasonably and safely use a lake. Only 70 acres of the 165-acre Auke Lake are considered useable.

Many of those testifying said WALROS should be used to develop a public task force to study the lake even more. Matthew Mielke went to the WALROS handbook.

“The very beginning of the WALROS handbook says the first step you take is to compile a group ranging in different agencies, coming from different experiences, different levels of professionalism in this and people who can be considered experts in this field,” Mielke said.

WALROS became a source of denigrating the draft plan as people used it to come up with other interpretations of the carrying capacity of Auke Lake.

But not all comments opposed the plan. Carl Bottorf lives on Glacier Highway across from Auke Lake, and said he has a great view of what happens there.

“Sometimes it seems like a safe place out there and other times there’s a lot of due disregard. Being a health care professional myself and having special knowledge of what occurred the day of the accident as far as injuries, in my mind you have to ask the question is it not worth it to have more control so you prevent what happened that day again. That was tragic,” Bottorf said.

On June 23rd, sixteen-year-old Savannah Cayce was being towed on an inner tube behind a jet ski. The tube collided with another jet ski. Her father, Glen Haight, told PRAC members he appreciates many of the comments he has heard and read since the Auke Lake review started.

“And some refer to the lake management process that is underway as a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s be clear about a couple of things. Her death was preventable. It was caused by reckless human behavior and negligence,” Haight said.

Haight said Savannah’s brain was crushed in the accident; she was declared brain dead two days later.

“Despite the city’s desire in 2007 to improve access to Auke Lake so that people could have more fun, and despite responsible marine motorized users best intentions to self-monitor it simply has not been adequate, not even close,” Haight said.

The Auke Lake plan rejects a requirement that lake users take a boater safety class. Parks superintendent Schaff called it “virtually impossible” to enforce.

The PRAC meets again next week to determine what changes — if any — should be made to the draft Auke Lake Management Plan. But no more public testimony will be taken on the issue until it reaches the Juneau Assembly.

The PRAC is an advisory board to the Assembly, which will consider the board’s recommendations in changing or retaining Auke Lake management policies.

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