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Water skiing kicks up dispute in Manzanita

Manzanita residents found the waters choppy Thursday evening, at a public hearing on skiing in the picturesque bay.

Foes of water skiing – citing speed, noise and wake problems, among other complaints – clashed with their neighbors before the Bainbridge Island Harbor Commission. But they found little support for curbing the sport, said by many to be a historically popular activity there.

“To prohibit the use of public waters for any specific activity is treading on dangerous ground,” said Liz Murray, former city councilwoman and longtime Manzanita resident. “I don’t think it’s the activity that’s a problem. It’s the people who are making a fuss about it who are making it a problem.”

The issue came before the commission after ongoing complaints by Arrow Point homeowner Gene Pace, who in written correspondence cited “the annoyance and incessant noise and wakes” from ski boats.

Earlier this year, Pace submitted a petition signed by 28 neighbors, calling for a 5-knot, no-wake speed limit within the harbor, south of a line drawn east from the tip of Arrow Point – essentially all of “Big Mazanita.”

Thursday, the most vocal proponent of new regulations was Arrow Point resident John Mitchell, who jumped up and down to show how the wake from ski boats rocked his own vessel and dock.

“The problem is not just with water skiers,” Mitchell said. “There are other boats that speed in there.”

Bruce Martin of Monte Vista Drive said much of the problem comes from skiers who come out early in the morning, while residents are trying to sleep in.

But other residents – many of whom said their families had enjoyed skiing there for decades – derided the complaints and those making them.

“I enjoy watching the kids have fun,” resident Reid Hansen said, adding, “I don’t want to live among a bunch of fuddy-duddies.”

Skier Scott Norrie said he likes to take to the water early in the morning – in by 6:30 a.m., out by 7:30 – so he can get to work on time.

“There’s a lot of things in life we’re not happy with,” Norrie told opponents. “But deal with it.”

Others said large pleasure boats with noisy generators are more of a problem than ski boats.

Disorder broke out momentarily, when Mitchell threw himself in front of a video screen and wildly objected to a presentation by skier Todd Hansen.

Mitchell was shouted down by others in the audience – “Sit down!” several yelled “We listened to you!” – prompting a call for order by the commission chair.

The harbor commission last considered the skiing issue in 2000, after complaints from some Eagle Harbor residents of problems there.

At that time, commissioners shied away from tougher regulations, in favor of an education campaign to encourage responsible skiing. “Harbor stewards” and “water ski families” were named to act as liaisons and field complaints.

But some components of the program went to the wayside.

Informational signs were devised to announce regulations and designate appropriate ski areas. But the buoys to which they were to be attached got hung up in the permitting process and were never put in place.

“I don’t think we’ve done our job,” commission member Frank Vibrans.

Thursday, commissioners agreed to study the issue further, and to consider bringing more uniformity to regulations that now vary by harbor.

“The fact is, we need signage,” commission member Dave Berry said. “And we need to get the word out about the systems we put in place two years ago.”

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