Lawsuit Seeks Delay of PWC Bans in National Parks

Two personal watercraft users, along with the American Watercraft Association (AWA) and the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA), in late March filed suit against the National Park Service (NPS) for ignoring its own procedures in banning personal watercraft from a number of parks without first completing required environmental assessments.

Pending the outcome of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking for a preliminary injunction to stay the impending bans, without which personal watercraft (PWC) use would automatically be banned in 13 National Parks on April 22, 2002, and in eight more on September 15, 2002.

The National Park Service has indicated that it needs additional time to ensure fair and accurate environmental studies. So far, the environmental assessments have only been partially completed in the parks. "It is fundamentally unfair to arbitrarily exclude people from enjoying these public waterways without due process," said Monita Fontaine, executive director of PWIA. "Complete the studies, then decide."

In Roberts v. Mainella, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Victoria Division, plaintiffs allege that:

--NPS neglected to complete environmental assessments in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In this case, NPS must consider the effects of a PWC ban on surrounding waterways that could see changes in boating use.

--NPS behaved arbitrarily and capriciously by discriminating against PWC and PWC users based solely on hull type. Other motorized recreational boats utilizing the same type of marine engine as PWC, with similar maneuverability, sound levels, and speed capabilities, continue to be allowed in the parks.

--Parks are violating the Organic Acts that created them, in addition to NEPA and the Administrative Procedures Act. Most national parks were created for public recreation, yet in this case NPS is treating similar vessels differently on unsubstantiated bases, relying on obsolete, inaccurate data.

"We’re not saying that personal watercraft should be allowed in every park," explained Fontaine. "Clearly, each park is unique, and motorboats may not be appropriate in some environments. But we are confident that objective, scientific studies will find that today’s personal watercraft have come a long way from those sold just five years ago and are among the most environmentally-friendly motorboats on the water. We welcome the National Park Service’s scrutiny."

Fontaine points out that reliable, site-specific studies of the effects of personal watercraft on an individual park would be impossible if there are no personal watercraft in that park to study, hence the need to stay the impending bans. "The decisions to ban personal watercraft were made without proper study. Most superintendents can’t even tell you how many PWC use their waterways each year, so not only are they unable to back up their claim of detrimental effects on their own park, they have no idea how a ban will effect neighboring parks when boaters shift to other waterways."

An April 2001 out-of-court lawsuit settlement between the National Park Service and the anti-boating group, Bluewater Network, calls for 21 parks that allow motorized boating to undertake environmental assessments on the use of personal watercraft. After completing the assessments, the Park Service can decide whether to allow, regulate or prohibit PWC use based on the facts gathered in the assessment process. If the assessment is not completed and a special regulation promulgated by the April or September 2002 deadline, PWC use is automatically banned.

In February 2002, at the request of the National Park Service, the Justice Department sent a letter to Bluewater, requesting an extension of the deadline agreed to in a court settlement of Bluewater’s lawsuit against NPS to complete environmental assessments regarding the use of personal watercraft in 21 national parks that allow motorized boating. Bluewater has indicated that it will not agree to this request.

Legislation currently pending in Congress would grant NPS a grace period extension of two years. "Unfortunately, we’ve run out of time," said Fontaine. "Ironically, it’s usually environmental industry groups demanding that agency decisions be driven by the results of environmental assessments. In this case, anti-boating groups are fighting to short-circuit a process they had a hand in creating. The goal of this lawsuit is simply to ensure that the National Parks rely on sound science instead of emotion and prejudice."

Makers of personal watercraft support reasonable regulations, strict enforcement of navigation and safety laws, and mandatory boating education. Criticism of personal watercraft focuses on stale data, ignoring recent technological advances and initiatives to promote safe and responsible use of these vessels. A summer 2001 independent survey by the Leisure Trends Group showed that a majority of Americans believe personal watercraft use should be permitted in the National Parks.

Personal watercraft are affordable family boats that seat up to four people and have no exposed propellers. Since 1998, the marine industry has invested more than $1 billion in technological advances that have led to a 75 percent reduction in hydrocarbon and NOx emissions, and up to a 70 percent reduction in sound. New direct-injection systems in two-stroke personal watercraft engines are vastly cleaner than older, conventional two-stroke marine engines. The industry continues to innovate, and this year, Bombardier and Yamaha offer four-stroke engine technology in 2002 models of personal watercraft.

For more details, contact: Elinore Boeke at (202) 721-1621, e-mail: eboeke.pwia@verizon.net, or log on to the PWIA website, www.pwia.org.