Council considers ban on harbor skiing

Speed and safety are cited as concerns, following complaints by harbor neighbors.

The City Council may ban water skiing in portions of Eagle Harbor before the sport hits full swing this summer.

“It’s ludicrious to allow that activity,” said Councilman Bill Knobloch at last week’s council meeting. “The sport truly does not belong in the inner harbor.”

The proposed ban echoes a recommendation last year by the city’s Harbor Commission, which voiced concerns about water skiing’s impact on the “aquatic conservancy zone” and sensitive eelgrass habitat in the inner harbor at the Head of the Bay.

The council also considered a similar restriction five years ago, before eventually settling on the current rules that permit water skiing between May and September in a narrow channel 200 feet from shores and docks.

The council cited environmental concerns caused by water ski support vessel wakes and the safety of boaters piloting muscle-powered vessels, including kayaks, dinghies and rowing shells.

“Speed is the issue,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said. “The Harbor Commission went to great lengths to study the issue. They found that the number of water skiers is minimal compared to kayakers, making it more difficult to maintain safety.”

The council had scheduled final approval of rules governing motorized vessel speeds and wakes at Wednesday’s meeting. But the proposed changes – which would allow non-motorized vessels to exceed the harbor’s 5-knot speed limit – were tabled until next month after the inner-harbor water ski ban was proposed.

The council plans to hold public hearings on the proposed ban in the coming weeks.

Many shoreline residents and other frequent harbor users have spoken out at recent city meetings in favor of lower vessel speeds and greater restrictions on water skiers.

“Use of the harbor by fast watercraft renders the harbor unusable for others,” Eagle Harbor Drive resident Robert Herschberg said Wednesday. “It’s inappropriate and unfair domination.”

Councilman Jim Llewellyn, an avid water skier, was the lone voice on the council opposed to the inner-harbor ban.

He characterized council discussions on the sport as typically “unencumbered by facts.”

Llewellyn had hoped prohibitions on wake boarding, which sends larger swells into shore than water skiing, and a new water-ski zone off Pritchard Park would help satisfy the sport’s opponents.

“I feel like I’m going to be outvoted, but I don’t support the (ban),” he said.

The Pritchard Park ski zone proposal was also recently sidelined after the state Environmental Protection Agency required assurances that the sport would not disturb salmon or affect the underwater soil “cap” of industrial contaminants near the Superfund cleanup site.

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