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MY TURN: Save the Spokane River

by AVIS STAFFORD/Guest Opinion
| March 31, 2023 1:00 AM

We've lived on the Spokane River for eight years. My disabled son and I got injured when we were both thrown out of our seats in our boat as we came up to an excessive wake made by a wakesurf boat for the very first time. Little did we know at the time, the Spokane River would be taken over by excessive wakes and would ultimately make our river unsafe.

We sold our kayaks because it was unsafe to use them. We now tow our grandkids on the lake because the river is too dangerous. Even though wakesurf boats can cost $100,000 to $200,000, they are multiplying like mice and the excessive wakes make it unsafe for most boaters, swimmers, kayakers and anyone in the water. They dominate the river and have taken away from the enjoyment of locals and visitors that go to the river to have fun.

All day, I watch wakesurf boats passing other boats that must get off plane or their passengers will get thrown out of their seats, like we were. And what's most frustrating is watching wakesurf boats going up and down the river with a full ballast, making huge wakes with no surfer behind them. Why would they do that? Is it because they don't care? It doesn't take long for wakesurf boats to go to the lake, where it is safe and there is lots of room; the lake is wide and deep. Why are they acting so entitled, and too lazy to go to the lake to save the river from causing accidents and polluting the water? There is a huge lake right here that can handle wakesurf boats and their excessive wakes without causing safety issues and potential pollution.

In 2021, the county commissions saw the danger from excessive wakes and the potential environmental issues and created Resolution 2021-63 to eliminate excessive wakes. Our sheriff decided not to enforce the law. I had never heard of a civil servant not protecting the community, but we have lived through two seasons of non-enforcement. Now, the commissioners, and the sheriff, want to eliminate that law, leaving us back to where we started.

In the summer of 2021, a grandmother and grandchild on a jet ski were injured in an accident caused by a boat making a huge wake. The little girl had to go to the hospital with broken bones. So why do the commissioners want to eliminate the law? Is it because the sheriff won’t enforce it? Sounds like they are in cahoots and don't want to protect the citizens that want to use the river as a recreational treasure. We know the river is too narrow. We know the large wakes unearth sediments from the bottom of the river because the river is shallow. We know the river is unsafe, so why are they doing this? One reason is they get recommendations from the Waterways board. The board is comprised of citizens of which a majority either own wakesurf boats or go wakesurfing. So, the commissioners are listening to them and planning to eliminate a law that would have protected our river if only the sheriff would have enforced the law.

By the way, there is a state law that requires no excessive wakes that our sheriff and our county commissioners won't support. There are “no excessive wake” laws and “no wakesurf boats allowed” laws popping up all over this country and others. Our county commissioners should follow the state law and follow the lead of other communities.

What can you do about this situation? Write to the county commissioners and ask them to protect the Spokane River.

• Leslie Duncan, lduncan@kcgov.us

• Bill Brooks, bbrooks@kcgov.us

• Bruce Mattare, bmatttare@kcgov.us

We protect the Coeur d'Alene River with a “no towing” law, so why don't they do the same for the Spokane River? And I don't think wakesurf boats are allowed to go up and down the Coeur d'Alene River with a full ballast unearthing dangerous chemicals either. Ask our Kootenai County commissioners to give the Spokane River the consideration and same law as the Coeur d'Alene River so we can avoid another horrible accident, or worse, a death on the River.

• • •

Avis Stafford is a Coeur d’Alene resident.

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