The State of Alaska is reviewing methodology that determined last fall that a commercial tour operator was not violating wake restrictions while operating jetboats in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
In November, Division of Parks Director Ben Ellis rejected a complaint filed by Lynn Canal Conservation in September, based on more than 500 photos taken last summer.
The complaint alleges River Adventures made 27 passes in Sheep Canyon Lake Access Channel last summer “creating medium to large size wakes” in the no-wake zone there, and 45 passes creating smaller wakes. The company is limited to a 4 mph speed in the channel.
LCC officials say boat wakes erode riverbanks, causing siltation and damaging one of the preserve’s best coho salmon-rearing areas.
At a November meeting of the eagle preserve’s advisory council, however, regional parks manager Mike Eberhardt said the state would review how it made its decision.
Haines-based park ranger Preston Kroes was tasked with investigating the complaint. He judged the photos only for violations of the speed limit, not for visible signs of a wake.
“Due to the possible variety of personal interpretation and opinion that can exist regarding an acceptable wake size, and the complications regarding the term ‘no wake,’ the approximate speed of the vessel was used to determine if a violation of the permit condition was committed,” Kroes wrote.
Kroes found that only 2 of 27 photos showed a speed in excess of 4 mph, but that River Adventures maintained that that trip was a private one, which would not fall under the state’s wake restrictions. That jibes with previous records acquired (from) River Adventures, Kroes wrote.
The company characterized a wake in another photo as a disturbance caused not by speed but by tilting the boat’s engine forward to avoid entanglement with weeds.
LCC disagrees with the state’s assessment that photos couldn’t be judged for the presence of a wake. “Of the 500 photos, most don’t show a wake or it’s a tiny disturbance on the water, so that’s bogus,” said LCC’s Nancy Berland in a recent interview. “Over 20 photos had an obvious wake, from smallish to rather large.”
Kroes studied three photos of each boat passage. He said he determined the speed of boats by estimating the distance traveled in feet, dividing the total feet traveled by three to get the feet per second, then converting into miles per hour.
Berland said the state’s findings were based on “strange assumptions and really bad math.” She maintains that the state should have used “2” instead of “3” as a divisor.
As several of ranger Kroes’ determinations found the tour boats traveling just under 4 mph, using the correct divisor would likely show the boats in violation, Berland said.
In a December interview, Kroes acknowledged that the way he “went about the math may not have been correct.” “It may be worth it to find someone to look at the math and determine the speed,” he said.
Kroes said headwind, river current, the angle of the camera and the position of the boat may all factor into determinations. “There are a lot of variables.”
In a Nov. 30 letter to LCC, parks director Ellis said the investigation “highlighted the need to improve and clarify language included in the stipulations for River Adventures’ commercial use permit regarding allowable boat wakes.”
“I would like the stipulation regarding the no-wake zone modified so that it is easier for our staff, commercial operators, and the general public to understand and implement…,” Ellis wrote.
LCC has twice previously raised the issue of boat wakes in the channel, including using video footage.