Monday, June 24, 2024

MY TURN: Does this make sense?

by SUSAN STIGER/Guest Opinion
| April 1, 2023 1:00 AM

A very small group of people is working closely with two Kootenai County commissioners on an action that threatens the safety and health of the Spokane River and everyone who values this precious resource.

Kootenai County and the state have restrictions on boats making very large wakes because of the dangers they present. Based on a release of public records, a few wake boaters want those restrictions lifted on the Spokane River. This would enable them to wake surf on the river rather than travel the short distance to Lake Coeur d'Alene where there is plenty of room to safely engage in wake sports.

So why the concern? The power in a boat wake goes up exponentially with its size. Surf boat wakes several feet high are incredibly powerful, with enough energy to propel adults through the water as if they were surfing ocean waves on Oahu. They contain 20 times more energy than the wake made by a regular runabout. Nowhere is the Spokane River wide enough for those wakes to diminish to a size that does not threaten others on the water or damage shorelines.

New studies illustrate how these large, energetic wakes stir up sediments on shallow waterways. That is a very concerning environmental threat on the Spokane River, whose sediments contain heavy metals and contaminants like those found in Lake Coeur d'Alene. Field studies last summer clearly show that wake surfing stirs up significantly more sediments than any other activity on the River, a threat to water quality, fisheries and the environment.

Because it is so narrow, shallow, and busy, the Spokane River is not suitable for wakesurfing, a conclusion underscored by extensive credible research worldwide. Even the industry’s own rules for responsible wake sports prohibit wake surfing on the river.

Ask yourself, why would the Commissioners, except for Bill Brooks, propose to eliminate excessive wake rules on the river, an action that directly threatens boating safety, the environment, and public and private property? A disastrous mistake that ignores all the scientific research, field studies, industry knowledge, and most especially the number of serious accidents and injuries in the county due to very large boat wakes. An action that provides less protection than on any other County waterway. In a bit of sleight of hand pointed at traffic issues on the river, the Commissioners propose instead to restrict several benign water sports, yet would allow surf boats to operate in full surf mode on the river.

That small group of wake boaters claim they have “a right” to use any public resource. They do not if their actions pose hazards to other users and that can, over time, destroy that resource. If the Commissioners are thoughtful and responsible, they will consider the safety and best interests of all, including future generations. They will improve rules designed to protect safety, not throw them out. They will address issues like traffic in a way that considers the wide mix of recreational opportunities available across the county. Kootenai County is blessed with abundant waterways that enable the Commissioners to do so in a balanced and responsible manner, if they only choose to do so. What legacy will they leave on the Spokane River?

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Susan Stiger is a Post Falls resident.