January 19, 2012
Candice Snow, Natural Resource Specialist
Department of Natural Resources
Division of Mining, Land & Water, Southcentral Region, Land Office
550 W. 7th Ave., Suite 900C
Anchorage, AK 99501-3577
Dear Candice Snow:
The purpose of this letter is to present the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) concerning LAS # 28297, an application for a five-year permit for The Alaskan Wet Dog Race submitted by John Lang.Â DNR should deny this permit. This race is such a bad idea that it is difficult to know where to start in listing the myriad of reasons why it should be denied.
AQRC is a state-wide non-profit organization which seeks to preserve the values of natural quiet and natural sounds on our public lands (and waters) for the benefit of quiet recreationists, homeowners and wildlife. We find that in most cases multi-use trails and areas on our public lands do not work for the non-motorized user. We seek a fair and balanced allocation of areas and trails for both the non-motorized and motorized user.
Specific AQRC Concerns
- Disturbance/harm to Wildlife due to noise and presence of PWCs
First, PWCs have special capabilities for maneuver, thrust, and buoyancy,Â distinguishing them from other watercraft, which enable sustained intrusion into wildlife areas in shallow waters close to shore. Secondly, this is a race in the ocean which will cause machines to go at their top (and loudest) speeds, bounce in/out of waves thereby broadcasting their noise and require persistent revving of the engine to keep stable. The speed, noise and maneuverability will, at a minimum, disturb, if not harm, the wildlife, including marine and other mammals, birds and fish which the racers will encounter on land and in the water over the 2000 mile race. For example, NOAA commented â€œScientific research and studies across the United States (e.g., California, New Jersey, Florida) have produced strong evidence that (M)PWC present a significant and unique disturbance to marine mammals and birds different from other watercraft.â€ And, to counter the argument that DNR is certain to get from Mr. Lang, the comment goes on to state: â€œThough some other studies have found few differences between (M)PWC and small motor-powered boats, they have not presented evidence to invalidate the studies detecting significant impacts.â€ (73 CFR 70521, Nov. 20, 2008). Further, while it is true that newer PWCs are quieter than older models, it is unlikely that a lessening of the overall decibel level by manufacturers will prevent the flushing of birds, and disturbance of marine mammals and other wildlife when startled by the noise and sight of racing PWCs.
Secondly, though sound is of vital importance for most marine vertebrates there is a lack of in-depth scientific studies/knowledge about the biological effects of man-made sounds on seabirds, wildlife and fish and how effective mitigation measures are. See the 1/13/2009 report â€œAddressing the Effects of Human-Generated Sound on Marine Lifeâ€ An Integrated Research Plan for U. S. Federal Agencies which states â€œThere is considerable scientific uncertainty regarding the nature and magnitude of the actual impacts of anthropogenic sound on the marine environment, as well as the most appropriate and effective mitigation measures which effects have been demonstrated or are likely.â€
The third way this race will cause disturbance or actual harm to the wildlife is that the necessity to refuel about every 50 miles and take a safety break about every 50 miles means that there will be multiple intrusions of man and machines in pristine, undisturbed areas on and along the shoreline where birds, fish and mammals rest, feed, breed. Further, while the supplemental material indicates that racers may not harass wildlife and must avoid all places identified as sensitive wildlife areas by state or federal agencies, there are no monitors observing the racers. In fact, the proposed rules state that a racer may follow any route between checkpoints. So, in good weather racers will take the shortest routes between checkpoints and in nasty weather go as close to shore as possible, and, in both cases are apt to ignore the boundaries of designated sensitive areas.
- Disturbance to humans due to noise and presence of PWCs
The kayakerâ€™sÂ expectation, while exploring a coastline as a quiet recreationist or a touristâ€™s expectation on a wildlife cruise, is that he/she will be able to observe birds and wildlife behaving naturally, in their natural setting and hearing their natural calls and sounds; not hearing distress calls or having birds flushed or marine mammals swimmingÂ in rapid retreat from the intrusion of noisy machines in the midst of wild, pristine areas. Even though each incident might be short in time there may be multiple incidents in any one time span. Further, the race extends over the period of three-weeks so that racers will be going by a particular spot for at least one week. The person on the wildlife cruise is of course on a noisy boat, but those boats are required to stay at distances where the birds and animals are not disturbed.
General AQRC concerns and questions for DNR to consider in reviewing the application for a permit.
1) Fact:Â PWC races in the US:Â the 300-mile Mark Hahn Race, is billed as the â€œWorldâ€™s Longest Continuous PWC Raceâ€ in the US, is held on Lake Havasu (a man-made lake) in Arizona and in 2011 had a winning time of just over 4 1/2 hours; the longest ocean race appears to be the 56 mile Long Beach, CA to Catalina Island and return with a 2011 winning time of just under 55 minutes;
2) Fact: a 2000 mile ocean race has never been organized, managed or conducted;
- Fact: accounts of the existing races on the web indicate that racers frequently experience a multitude of mechanical and motorized problems and often do not complete the course;
4) Fact: the application indicates there will be 110 support boats for emergencies, volunteers to staff each checkpoint, 5-10 supervisors; and that the race will take 14 days with the requirement that all professional racers complete the course within seven days of the winners.
Questions: does Mr. Lang have the experience to organize such a large, long and potentially dangerous race ? who will rescue the racers who experience mechanical problems between checkpoints ? who will rescue the racers who due to weather must land at any available spot ? does a race of this distance (2000 miles in 14 days), in Alaskaâ€™s unforgiving waters and possible severe weather even make sense when, apparently, the top racers have experience only with short distances and short times ?Â (See June 26, 2009 Kodiak Daily Mirror for an account of Paving the Way trip where weather and waves forced the group to land and camp for two days and the support boat had trouble anchoring.)
- Fact: a top-of-the-line PWC holds approximately 20 gallons; top speed at 67 mph exhausts the fuel tank within an hour; 24 gallons of extra fuel may be carried; Lang has estimated 500 gallons per person will be required; fuel is to be obtained at checkpoints and at fuel barges placed strategically between checkpoints where needed;Â depending on speeds and weather, each PWC will need to be refueled approximate every 50 miles or roughly 40 times for the whole race; refueling will occur between checkpoints; spills are inevitable when 500,000 gallons of fuel will be transferred in the course of this race;
- Fact: teams are required to clean up any spills or wait for a spill response team to arrive.
Question: are racers capable of refueling on the water or just on land ? Refueling on land between checkpoints will mean that teams can pull into and disturb, if not pollute, pristine, quiet areas where birds, fish and other wildlife are apt to be. Spills may not be able to be cleaned up because of the condition of the land (or water). Â Who will monitor to ensure that the inevitable spills on land (or water) will be cleaned up ? Will a team in contention wait for a spill response team to arrive or simply not report the spill?
How many response teams will exist and where will they be based ?
- Fact: the race is to start at 6 am, May 1, 2013 in Whittier with teams leaving every 2 minutes until 10 pm, meaning 420 out of the 500 teams will leave the first day; 80 teams on day 2;
- Fact: there are approximately 23 checkpoints, but only a handful, such as Cordova, Seward, Kenai and Kodiak may have accommodations for feeding, sleeping and re-fueling some of the 1000 racers at any one time; there is a mandatory 40 hour layover inÂ Kodiak and a 28 hour layover to be taken, in stages, at earlier checkpoints.
Question: Does the Whittier harbor have the capacity to accommodate 500Â teams over a two day period ? Can the Cordova harbor, as the first checkpoint, refuel hundreds of PWCs (since the racers will still be bunched up)? Does the Kodiak harbor have sufficient space to store and refuel 1000 PWCs over a period of time (it is conceivable that both the leaders and the slowest racers could overlap during the 40 hour layover) ? Where will the racers eat, sleep and find bathroom facilities throughout the race ? (See the letter from the Village of Chenega for a forthright statement of the impossibilities of using small villages as checkpoints.)
- Fact: the application identifies nine mandatory classes or inspections each racer is to attend prior to the race involving a number of agency officials and a representative from each town/village as instructors.
Question: Will public agencies accommodate these teaching requests ? what space is available for 1000 PWCs to be inspected, for 1000 racers to be oriented and to exhibit their skills, how many days will these mandatory requirements take ? will villages be willing to send a representative to conduct an orientation ?
- Fact: the application indicates the race will be held the last week in April through the first two weeks of May; the height of the annual migration of birds is right at that time; while the Cordova and Homer Festivals were held May 5-8 in 2011, the migration starts and ends before and after those dates; there are many internationally significant bird areas and colonies along the route. (See Alaska Audubon letter for details.)
Question: how will DNR protect these world-class, world-wide resources ?
- Fact: anecdotal data gathered by ADF & G for thirty years, between 1969-2008, shows that ice breaks up in Iliamna Lake any where from April 11th to June 16th; the data for the latest years, 2004-2008, shows breakup from May 12 to May 19.
Question: what contingency is in place should the lake be frozen at the time the racers arrive ?
- Fact: the application indicates that racers will take a safety break about every 50 miles or so.
Question: what will prevent racers from going onto lands above the mean high tide line? who will monitor ? how can DNR and the other public land owners be assured that racers will not disturb nesting birds or other wildlife ?Â wonâ€™t each intrusion require a permit from the land owner ? will racers observe the requirements for handling human waste on state lands ?
As is clear from these comments, AQRC believes DNR should deny this permit.Â We believe the known, obvious risks, the many unknowns and the vast potential for far-reaching harm to Alaskaâ€™s lands, waters and wildlife mandate that the permit for this race be denied.Â In our opinion, there are too many unknown factors for DNR, to even attempt to weigh risks vs. benefits, much less conclude that awarding this permit would be in the stateâ€™s interest.
Further, it is our hope that DNR will not simply take the easy way out:Â granting this permit on the grounds that, yes, there are problems, impacts and many, many unknowns but the race will start small and the impact issues can be worked out as Mr. Lang and company learn over several race cycles. In our opinion, DNR must assume from the beginning that 1000 jet ski racers are participating and calculate those impacts.Â DNR must take fully into account that this is a competitive race, which will inevitably lead to racers making poor decisions, being sloppy in handling refueling and paying no attention to their impacts on the land, water and wildlife. We all know that once a permit is granted it is highly unlikely DNR would rescind it (without a horrific incident), even if DNR realizes it miscalculated the consequences, for that would require decision makers to acknowledge faulty judgment.
Finally, if despite our urging DNR considers granting this permit, we recommend it require the following stipulations at the very least:
grant a year-to-year permit only and conduct a full public assessment annually,Â prior to any consideration to renew;
only allow professional racers; not amateurs who, we assume, are much more likely to get into trouble and require rescue, damage wildlife, etc.;
require a letter signed by the mayor, city manager or tribal chief from every checkpoint that details what accommodations (for sleeping, eating, refueling, bathroom facilities) are available for 1000 jet ski racers and that these entities welcome 1000 participants;
require a letter signed by each harbor master of the various checkpoints detailing the adequacy of their facilities for re-fueling and docking for 1000 racers;
set the amount of the required bond of at least $1,000,000 to cover state costs of rescue and habitat and wildlife damage.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Susan Olsen, President
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition