MARQUETTE - Rangers at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore closed out a series of public scoping meetings Thursday in Grand Marais on a new environmental assessment of personal watercraft use on Lake Superior at the park.
In all, three scoping meetings were held, including Tuesday in Munising, where about two dozen people attended; Wednesday in Marquette, with a handful of attendees participating; and Thursday in Grand Marais, where another small group participated.
The meetings were being conducted to solicit public comment on personal watercraft use at the park. Park officials are seeking comment on concerns "regarding natural resources, recreational access, visitor safety or other issues associated with PWC use at the park," along with suggestions for managing PWC use or how the park could improve current regulations. The public comment period closes Nov. 9.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Superintendent Jim Northup talks with attendees at the parks personal watercraft scoping session in Marquette Wednesday night. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
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.
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.
For more information or to comment, visit the website at parkplanning.nps.gov/piropwc.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.