MUNISING - Rangers at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore will hold a series of meetings this month in Munising, Grand Marais and Marquette to begin a new environmental assessment of personal watercraft use on Lake Superior at the park.
A previous environmental study was completed in September 2005 as National Environmental Policy Act compliance for a special regulation allowing personal watercraft use at Pictured Rocks.
The following month, park staff implemented a special regulation allowing limited use of the watercraft at the park, lifting a ban, which had been in place since 2002.
However, in July 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled the NEPA analysis was inadequate. The judge ruled the National Park Service's finding of "no significant impact" by PWC use at Pictured Rocks was arbitrary and capricious.
The ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed by the Bluewater Network, the Wilderness Society and two individuals over the regulations that allowed limited PWC use at Pictured Rocks and Gulf Islands National Seashore.
The court allowed personal watercraft use to continue at Pictured Rocks under the existing special regulation, but required the National Park Service to initiate a new planning process to address the court's concerns with the previous environmental assessment.
Pictured Rocks staff is now beginning that new planning and assessment process with the scoping sessions, which will allow the public to comment on the planning effort's purpose, need, objectives and preliminary alternatives.
"This is an important issue for the national lakeshore and I urge all interested stakeholders to take full advantage of the opportunities that will be presented to provide us with your thoughts regarding PWC use within the park," said Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Superintendent Jim Northup.
The meetings will be held Oct. 23 at the Community Center in Grand Marais; Oct. 24 at the Alger County Heritage Center in Munising; and Oct. 25 at the Marquette Federation of Women's Clubs clubhouse in Marquette. Times for the meetings will be announced later.
The public will have additional opportunity to comment after alternatives are developed and analyzed in the environmental assessment. Possible outcomes of the analysis process include maintaining the current use of personnel watercraft at the park, expanding the use along the Lake Superior shoreline within the park or a total ban on personal watercraft use at Pictured Rocks.
A final decision is expected next year.
Personal watercraft are currently allowed within a six-mile stretch of Lake Superior waters at Pictured Rocks. The watercraft may be launched from a boat ramp at Sand Point east of Munising and used within the lakeshore's quarter-mile jurisdiction up to the east end of Miners Beach. Riders may land their craft on Miners Beach.
The remaining park lakeshore, which stretches roughly 34 miles east toward Grand Marais, remains closed under the rule. Horsepower limitations on inland lakes at Pictured Rocks effectively prohibit use of PWCs there. The rule also requires compliance with all state regulations.
The new planning process will only apply to personal watercraft. Specifically, those watercraft are defined as usually less than 16 feet in length, use an inboard internal combustion engine powering a water jet pump as its primary source of propulsion and are intended to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing or kneeling on the vessel, according to park officials.
The previous ban of the watercraft, which included Jet Skis, was put into effect at Pictured Rocks and other National Park units on April 21, 2002, unless individual parks had special regulations to allow PWC use in place at the time.
Prior to the ban, PWCs could be used along the entire breadth of the Lake Superior shore at Pictured Rocks. When the ban was put in place, Pictured Rocks staff was in the process of completing an environmental assessment on park PWC use.
Under the prior environmental study, three alternatives were developed including discontinuing PWC use permanently, allowing use with some restrictions for sensitive areas along Lake Superior, and allowing unrestricted use on Lake Superior.
Pictured Rocks staff preferred the alternative that would allow use with restrictions. Rangers said personal watercraft use at the park was considered low with non-motorized boaters, including kayakers outnumbering PWC users.
Anyone interested in receiving notifications on the new PWC process can submit an email address to be placed on a mailing list. The email addresses will be used solely for that purpose. Requests can be sent to PIRO_personal_watercraft@nps.gov.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.