Alaska appeals judge’s decision upholding Kachemak Bay jet ski ban

Kachemak Bay
Kachemak Bay from Land’s End Beach. A personal watercraft ban in Kachemak Bay went back in place on Nov. 16, 2023. (Jamie Diep/KBBI)

The State of Alaska is appealing a decision that brought back a personal watercraft ban in Kachemak Bay waters.

The ban originally went into effect in 2001, and prohibited all personal watercraft — commonly known as jet skis, the brand name of a Kawasaki product — from going in the Kachemak Bay and Fox River Flats Critical Habitat Areas. These areas include all of the waters in Kachemak Bay, as well as the mud flats and marshlands at the head of the bay spanning nearly 230,000 acres in total.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game repealed the ban in 2021, which led to Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang being sued by Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Cook Inletkeeper, Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park and Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition. Judge Adolf Zeman ruled that Vincent-Lang did not have the authority to repeal the regulation in November, and the ban went back in place. Last month, the state filed an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court to reverse the decision and send it back to the state Superior Court.

Penelope Haas is the vice president of Kachemak Bay Conservation Society. Haas said she is concerned about the potential amount of money the state will spend on the lawsuit and appeal.

“It is concerning to us to observe the kind of inordinate amount of money the state seems to be spending on this litigation when their case really feels quite weak,” she said. “You know, they’re spending Alaskan taxpayers money to fight the ruling by the judge that is actually really cut and dry.”

Haas said their attorneys estimate that this case could cost the state as much as half a million dollars.

After denying the state’s motion for reconsideration, the Superior Court issued a final judgment in February. However, the state filed a motion for a stay on putting the ban back in place, as well as notifying the public of the change. A stay temporarily stops a legal action from going through. The stay was partially granted on March 19. The state doesn’t have to follow its public notice process, but the ban must stay in effect.

According to an email from state Department of Law communications director Patty Sullivan, the public notice process includes putting the reinstated ban in the state’s “Online Public Notice System, publishing it in a newspaper of general circulation, and giving direct notice to anyone who requested it from the Department, all Alaska state legislators, and anyone who the Department believes is interested in the action.”

While the ban is back in place, Haas said to report personal watercraft that go into Kachemak Bay.

“If folks see jet skis in the bay, if they see them launching in the harbor, or they see them running around out there, they should call the Alaska State Troopers,” she said.

Since the ban has been reinstated, Alaska State Troopers haven’t received any reports of personal watercraft in the bay, but Alaska State Park Ranger Jason Okuly said in an email he made note of seeing two of them last month during the March 23 Winter King Tournament.

Personal watercraft remain banned in Kachemak Bay State Park. The 2021 Fish and Game repeal did not affect park waters.

As the case continues, the Supreme Court will hear from both parties and determine whether to uphold the ban or reverse the judge’s decision. Oral arguments are scheduled for July 31 at 11 a.m.

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