Bush administration won't hold up personal watercraft ban in 13 national parks

Thursday, April 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration will not try to delay a ban on personal watercraft scheduled to take effect April 22 in 13 national parks and recreation areas.

The ban is a result of a Clinton-era rule that set a deadline for parks to establish regulations governing the watercraft or impose a blanket ban.

Personal watercraft, familiarly known by the trade name Jet Ski, are high-speed, gas-powered vessels designed to be ridden by one person.

So far, eight of the 13 parks have decided to ban the watercraft. Superintendents at five other parks have decided some watercraft use might be appropriate, but environmental assessments are still under way and rules are being drafted at those parks, meaning they will be forced to ban watercraft on April 22.

The National Park Service had considered trying to push back the deadline at the five parks where rules were being crafted, but didn't have the legal authority to do so, said Kym Hall, regulations program manager for the Park Service.

``We are going to have to close temporarily,'' she said. ``We didn't want to have to do that, but we're going to have to.''

The Park Service plans to make an announcement Thursday to explain the reasons for the closures to the public. Eight other parks have until Sept. 15 to adopt rules for watercraft or ban them.

The National Park Service has already prohibited watercraft use on 66 of the 87 bodies of water under its jurisdiction.

Two factors could delay the April 22 ban.

A federal judge in Texas has been asked by a watercraft industry group to prevent the ban from taking effect. The judge has scheduled a hearing for April 17.

The House also could vote as early as next week on a bill that would postpone the ban until December 2004, although it is unlikely the bill will make it through the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Steve Bosak of the National Parks Conservation Association said personal watercraft are inappropriate in national parks and threaten the entire park experience.

``These are places that Americans go to get away from the noise of their everyday lives and hear the waves lapping against the shore without hearing the incessant buzzing of the Jet Ski sound,'' Bosak said.

But Monita Fontaine, executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, which sued the Park Service over the rule, said it is premature to close bodies of water to the vessels before environmental assessments have been done.

``You have a disregard of science, a disregard of legal procedure and a disregard of public opinion,'' Fontaine said. ``We have the decision based on the whim of the superintendent who happened to be stationed in that particular park.''

Kristen Brengel of the Wilderness Society said there is evidence that personal watercraft damage the park environment and wildlife and are a public safety risk.

``These machines are designed for speed. They're designed for pleasure that has nothing to do with viewing the scenic value of these national parks,'' said Brengel. ``The science and public safety impacts are there, and we believe Jet Skis don't belong on our national parks.''