Boating proposal angers the public
Once again the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has come under fire for a proposal that would restrict recreational boating activities of all types on the Colorado River from the upper end of Lake Havasu, to the Topock Bridge. It would also include the Topock marsh.
This isn't the first time that a proposal from the service, which is based out of Needles, Calif., has come under fire.
Last summer the service, under the direction of then-Refuge Manager Linda Miller, was the target of sportsmen and the Arizona Game and Fish Department over the management - or the lack of it, as some claimed - over waterfowl hunting in the Topock marsh.
At a meeting in Ft. Mohave, critics claimed that Miller was not addressing the needs and concerns of waterfowl enthusiasts who use the 4,000-acre marsh.
That situation is still under review.
Now the service has once again come under fire for its actions on the management of recreational boaters and others on the Colorado River that is part of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge.
And the service has incurred the wrath of a couple of political big guns, Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. John McCain.
And once again the Arizona Game and Fish Department is being drawn into the fray, and now they have officially responded to the situation. Game and Fish Commission Chairman Kurt Davis said, "I hope that the federal government will once again listen to the public, come to their senses, and realize what devasting economic impacts their arbitrary decisions can have."
Basically the service started off angering the public last summer after receiving complaints from two non-motorized paddle boaters.
Just two days before the Memorial Day weekend, the service established new boating restrictions and expanded the no-wake zone within the HNWR by a half mile. That closed an area, according to Gosar, that "had been used by recreational enthusiasts for decades."
Gosar noted that the rule was implemented by the acting refuge manager, "Without engaging local stakeholders or providing an opportunity for public involvement."
On June 24, Gosar sent a letter to the service demanding that the agency rescind the new restrictions that had been implemented in a May 20 order and that they work on a community supported plan to resolve the situation.
On July 10, Gosar received what he called a "poorly worded response" from the service. It that letter, Gosar said, "The service agreed to initiate a review of the overall recreation boating program occurring on the refuge." Gosar noted that letter further stated that, "This will include soliciting public input from all users of the refuge."
But the service said that existing restrictions would remain in place.
Now, nearly a year later, there is finally going to be a series of three public meetings on the issue. But Gosar wasn't pleased with the location the service initially sought to have meetings with the public.
The initial meetings were set for today, at the AVI Resort and Casino in Nevada.
"Unsurprisingly, the service doesn't even have the courage to hold a public meeting on these new proposed closures in Arizona," Gosar said. "Holding two meetings three hours apart in Nevada on a Tuesday when working people from Arizona can't attend, just doesn't cut it."
I should note there was an additional meeting scheduled at the Aquatic Center in Lake Havasu City last night that was well attended by local boating enthusiasts and members of the public. Citizens decried the new proposed regulations, saying that they would absolutely have a negative effect on the local economy.
The meetings today at the AVI Resort and Casino are scheduled from 1-3 p.m. and then again from 6-8 p.m.
The new restrictions being proposed are not needed, according to some local bass anglers.
One of the proposed restrictions by the service in the Topock marsh is that boats with a maximum 30 horsepower engine could only be used there. The marsh is often fished by bass anglers who have much higher horsepower engines on their watercraft.
Anglers note that the marsh is full of stumps and that a no-wake speed is all that anyone ever does while fishing there.
But almost no one thinks that having a no-wake speed on the 17 miles of river from the north end of Lake Havasu all the way to the I-40 bridge is a good idea.
Said John Galbraith, the owner of Bass Tackle Masters Bait Shop in Lake Havasu, "I'm totally in favor of reasonable restrictions. But making it a no-wake zone from north to south on the refuge is not possible for state and local governments. I couldn't even imagine a 17-mile no-wake zone in a Coast Guard waterway like this."
But it's not just folks in government at Lake Havasu who are upset by these proposals.
Mayors from Bullhead City and even the city of Kingman are said to be against these proposed regulations.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors has collectively expressed outrage at the regulations. Gary Watson was just one of the supervisors who attended the meeting. Supervisor Buster Johnson commented in a press release, "Lake Havasu City's economy thrives off boating activities year around. Those restrictions are both unwarranted and could cause a major economic hardship for this area."
Those who are interested in commenting on the proposals can respond to the service's compatibility determination by sending comments via email to Havasu_boating_comments@fws.gov or by writing to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, ATTN: Draft Recreational Boating CD, 317 Mesquite Avenue, Needles, CA 92363.