“This is not just another event, it’s a new industry” claim the promoters of the proposed 2013 Alaskan Wet Dog race, a 2,062 mile personal watercraft race across Prince William Sound, around the Kenai Peninsula, up and down Cook Inlet, along the Kodiak Archipelago, down the Alaska Peninsula, around False Pass, up to Bristol Bay and then upriver to Lake Iliamna. In May, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted a land use permit to hold the race.
Promoters call it “a new era of extreme events,” the world’s longest personal watercraft endurance race. They expect participation from 1000 racers, with an entry fee of $35,000 and a million-dollar prize. (The name of the event shows that it is a take-off on Alaska’s annual Iditarod sled-dog race and Iron Dog snowmachine race, and promoters seem to intend another annual event.) Personal watercraft are tiny, fast powerboats ridden like motorcycles and snowmobiles (known in Alaska as snowmachines), and are often known by the brand name Jet Ski. The races are usually closed loop courses on lakes and rivers, although there have been long distance races held abroad.
The Sierra Club Alaska Chapter and numerous other conservation organizations have joined the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition’s appeal of DNR’s land-use permit. The appeal charges that DNR has failed to undertake an in-depth comprehensive analysis of the impacts of the race on state waters, lands, and wildlife, and on affected coastal communities and concurrent users of the state waters, including kayakers and subsistence and commercial fishers.
Of particular concern are the effects on seabirds, marine mammals, fish, and other mammals due to the noise, air and water pollution, and visual disturbance. Racers will enter Cook Inlet beluga-whale critical habitat, creating noise disturbances that could deflect the endangered whales from feeding areas, scare off prey, and disrupt whale communications, the appeal states. In addition, an estimated 500,000 gallons of gas would be consumed by 1,000 racers, not counting the more than 100 support vessels that are planned to assist, requiring tens of thousands of re-fuelings at sea, with a danger of oil spills.
At the federal level, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has opposed the race and the permit. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chugach National Forest, and two national parks (Kenai Fjords and Lake Clark) have raised many concerns in their comments to DNR. Race promoters have promised racers will not come ashore on these federal lands, although it is hard to see how this could be enforced.
adapted from Sierra Borealis, the Alaska Report of the Sierra Club’s Alaska Chapter.