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Another park area will soon reopen to PWC

Gateway Recreation Area in N.Y. and N.J. joining 13 others who already had readmitted the craft

Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey is expected to reopen to personal watercraft this fall.

It will be the first federal recreation area to reopen to PWC since North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado nearly two years ago. Eleven other federal areas had already reopened to PWC.

Maureen Healey, executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, said she is disappointed PWC are likely to miss this year’s boating season at Gateway, pointing out her group had worked “feverishly” to make this happen.

The Gateway National Recreation Area includes Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y.; Staten Island, N.Y.; and Sandy Hook, N.J.

Once Gateway is open, only two national park areas will ban the use of PWC.

“We’re now nearing the finish line with the remaining park units, and it’s just extremely unfortunate and frustrating that now a sixth summer is going to go by where boating and personal watercraft are not allowed back into some of these parks,” Healey said. “It’s needless. It’s discriminatory.”

More than 1.5 million personal watercraft are registered in the United States, according to the PWIA.

In 2000, as a result of a lawsuit, the National Park Service issued a rule prohibiting the use of PWC in the national parks system. All other types of motorized boating were allowed.

The National Park Service did say, however, that PWC use was appropriate in 21 specific parks and allowed the craft in these parks for a two-year grace period. During that time, park personnel could evaluate their impact.

These parks, if interested, could conduct an environmental impact analysis and complete special rulemaking to authorize PWC use.

To date, 13 national park areas have reopened to PWC. The reopenings occurred between April 2003 and September 2006.

Healey said she does not expect Big Thicket National Preserve or Padre Island National Seashore, both in Texas, to reopen to PWC.

Big Thicket is seeking a “no action” option, she said, and Padre Island has banned all hard-hull motorized vessels.

Two years ago, congressional leaders called on the National Park Service to expedite the process of reviewing the use of personal watercraft in these areas. The Government Reform Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs held a hearing in March 2006.

Another park PWIA and others are working to reopen to PWC is Biscayne Bay National Park.

Florida’s Biscayne Bay is not included in the list of 21 park units that could do an assessment — only because the superintendent of the park chose not to put it on the list, Healey said. This does not preclude the area from doing an assessment and opening up to PWC.

Without access to Biscayne Bay National Park, PWC users must go about 12 miles out into the open ocean to get around the area, which is a dangerous situation, Healey said.

“Right now, we are not seeking access to the entire park, as we did historically, we are pushing for personal watercraft access into the Intercoastal Waterway only,” she said.

“The risk to boaters is too great and too immediate,” Healey added. “It puts those boaters in harm’s way and it puts them in danger, and we don’t want to have a casualty to be the arm that’s going to wake people up.”

Healey, in conversations with Miami-Dade County police, says she was told it would take a minimum of 30 minutes to get someone that far out to help a PWC user.

The PWIA and other groups are working to put a pilot program in place to show officials at Biscayne Bay National Park that PWC will not be a detriment to the park or other boaters.

She’s hoping to have something in place this fall.

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.

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