Jamaica Bay Watercraft Ban Under Review
By Howard Schwach
The Interior Department, which is in charge of all of our nation’s parks, including Gateway National Park, has ordered Gateway and several others to review the personal watercraft ban that was put into effect last month.
That ban effectively removed all personal watercraft from Jamaica Bay and surrounding waters. Even those in Sheepshead Bay were affected because the ban blocked the exit corridor from Sheepshead Bay to the open ocean.
"Our jet skiers are completely shut off," said one marina manager. "There is no way they can get to the ocean without cutting through Jamaica Bay."
The ban is even worse for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents, most of whom spent upwards of two to three thousand dollars for their jet skis. Now, the watercraft sit useless and unused.
"I guess that I can run up and down the canals," one Broad Channel resident told The Wave. "As soon as I get out into the bay, there is some sort of enforcement officer waiting to give me a ticket. It is not fair."
There is some question about the waters surrounding Broad Channel, however. A representative of Gateway reportedly told members of the Broad Channel Civic Association at a meeting last week that sections of Jamaica Bay nearby Broad Channel are not part of Gateway National Park.
According to that report, the waters directly adjacent to Broad Channel and the South Channel along Rockaway are not part of the park, and can be used by personal watercraft without sanction.
"That is only going to make it more dangerous, because you’re putting all of the jet skis into one confined area," says Broad Channel resident Scott Battaglia, the person who e-mailed the report to The Wave.
The National Park Service instituted the ban after it conducted a national study that showed that the skiers were damaging the environment and threatening public safety.
Studies show that the personal watercraft in Jamaica Bay help to destroy the already disappearing marsh grass and drop large amounts of oil in the bay as well.
Others point to the fact that noise pollution from the loud, unmuffled engines is the major problem.
"We have had problems with jet skis in the past, going to too close to boaters and bathers alike," a park police spokesperson told reporters. "And, of course, there is the noise problem."
Brian Feeney, a spokesperson for Gateway National Park, said that his agency would monitor the ban this summer. It is possible that public hearings will be held at some point, but no hearings have yet been set.
Feeney expects that the ban will be modified in some way.
"There probably will be some corridor to allow skiers to get out to the ocean or to the harbor area," he told reporters.
Others say that future plans might include registration and inspection of watercraft and a licensing procedure for riders. It is also possible that the watercraft will be restricted to certain areas of the bay.
Meanwhile, Rockaway and Broad Channel residents who enjoy their personal watercraft are not happy campers.
"The phone is ringing off the hook," Feeney told reporters. "They are enraged."