Lift the 11am-4pm Deep Creek Lake Personal Watercraft Restriction
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My name is Carol Jacobs, President of Aquatic Center, since 1993. The Aquatic Center is the largest volume personal watercraft dealer in Maryland. My staff sells Sea Doo, Yamaha, and Kawasaki brands throughout the United States. We also have a rental operation on Deep Creek Lake. For years, lake home owners and boaters have approached me with concerns about the removing the personal watercraft regulation on the lake. The information that I am about to provide you pertains to the Aquatic Center and my experiences. Please take into consideration that each petitioner has their own voice and they need to be respectfully thought of and responded to individually, for they may have very different reasons to want to see the restriction lifted.
In 1989, when Penelec owned Deep Creek Lake, a law was passed to restrict Personal Watercraft (PWC) use from 11am-4pm on weekends and holidays for fear of future carrying capacity concerns. At that time, PWCs were only of the stand-up type, which admittedly were noisy and intrusive, due to requiring a large surface area to employ a self-circling device.
In July of 1995, many PWC owners petitioned the lake manager to lift the use restriction. The lake manager lifted the restriction provisionally, for the month of June, to evaluate whether it would create any negative impact. Frank Wood, formerly the Superintendent of the Maryland Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Police for 26 years and consultant for the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA), who was at this meeting, did not like any PWC restriction at all and wanted it completely lifted, not just June. He said, “I do not know how they are getting away with it. It is not consistent with the State Boat Act.” Then, he referred to the Maryland Code, Sub. 7 State Boat Act. 8-704 (1), which states, “The numbering of vessels for identification, safety equipment on vessels, and operations of any vessels subject to this subtitle so that each vessel of a type or size complying with the regulations may be operated with equal freedom or under similar requirements as other vessels of that type or size on all waters of the State. The numbering system used shall conform to the one adopted by the federal government. These regulations may not conflict with any federal law or regulation applicable to vessels on the waters in the State;”
In 2001, a few members of the Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board (PRB) were opposed to PWC use on the lake without severe restrictions. They wanted to further restrict the hours of operation because of carrying capacity and to also add restrictions on docking, permit site, size, horsepower, etc. Many PWC owners sent opposition letters to the PRB Board, who in response commissioned to conduct a carrying capacity study to evaluate the need for more restrictions.
In 2002, PWC manufacturers began producing four-stroke personal watercraft, which ran cleaner, quieter, and had new safety features, such as off throttle steering. Additionally, the new designs imposed much less environmental impact than the older two-stroke watercraft.
In June 2004, the study concluded that Deep Creek Lake had no carrying capacity problem. In fact, the study noted that sail boat races and water-skiers dominated the lake's capacity. ERM, the group that prepared the study, proposed that if the carrying capacity were to become a problem in the future, then these activities should be regulated at peak times.
In 2009, personal watercraft manufacturers started adding brakes. Many lake homeowners were attracted to the quieter, cleaner four-stroke, safer watercraft began purchasing them to replace their older two stroke units. Please note, many seniors ride personal watercraft now due to their design changes. Personal watercraft are clearly not the same vessel that was introduced in 1989, when the 11pm-4pm restriction was put in place.
In October 2015, Mark Talty, formerly an Attorney for DNR, said that the only internal position that DNR has taken on the existing regulation restricting PWC use is that it is legal. He further states, “That does not mean that the policy and review board in their review of the lake, you all with your view over general boating issues throughout the state, can’t make the determination that the restriction that’s currently in place at Deep Creek Lake is no longer necessary.” He also states, after the PRB puts it on their meeting agenda, receives public comment, then has a discussion and determine whether or not they feel there needs to be a change. Then, it would go to the Boat Act Advisory Committee (BAAC) though the normal regulatory change process. DNR will begin studying the area during the next boating season (Apr. 15 – Oct. 15).
Whether or not to have the BAAC and DNR study the PWC 11am-4pm restriction on Deep Creek Lake during the next boating season.
The Deep Creek Lake carrying capacity is 702 vessels. (ERM, 2004) However, ERM reduced the tolerated carrying capacity to 452 vessels based on property owner’s surveys that indicated that there were too many power boaters. There is 22 years of data that indicate a flat line in boating count numbers over the last 12 years. Out of 22 years and over 250 flights, the tolerated carrying capacity of 452 has only been reached 21 times. The bulk of which happen, during only one sunny day, on the 4th of July weekend. The boat counts have never reached the army corps carrying capacity figure of 702. On average, the 452 vessel carrying capacity is reached one day per year, while personal watercraft are restricted, for no reason, 35 days per year.
The restriction creates a logistical nightmare for livery operators. Instead of safety training and renting for relaxed staggered use, we are forced to cram all renters into a 4pm to 8pm time period. Customers rarely rent watercraft in the mornings due to the cool temperatures in the mountains. On non-restriction days, rentals usually begin after lunch time, unless they are taking it for the entire day. Customers are asked to arrive 45 minutes prior for training. At 4pm, prior safety training and preparation goes relatively smooth. However, the lake gets congested and rough sending all of the watercraft out at the same time, which diminishes the customer’s enjoyable experience. At 4:15, the parking area is full and the next group of customers arrive. There is now limited parking and life vests. We have to provide as much dry land training as we can, gas the watercraft as they return, swap wet life vests, and put the next group of customers on the watercraft. It is like watching a NASCAR pit stop. If we do not hurry and keep things moving, then we lose the 7-8pm rental due to sunset time. While we may not get more rentals by lifting the restriction, customers will get better safety training and a better recreational experience with less congestion, when visiting Deep Creek Lake, due to staggered use.
Many marinas sell out of the rental boats on Deep Creek Lake because the state limits the number of rental boat slips each marina can have. Also, many of the marinas rent out boats daily or weekly. Tourists do not come to the lake simply to look at it. Some want to go out on the lake for an hour. They come in Saturday and inquire about renting on Sunday. They look at the empty lake and are completely baffled by the restriction because it is not at other lakes or places that they have visited. They realize that they have to check out by 11am and cannot rent after 11am, they decide that 4pm is too late and decide to drive home. Sunday rentals for personal watercraft are almost non-existent due to the restriction, except for holiday weekends, when tourists leave on Monday.
Lake home owners complain the most about the restriction over the years. They constantly ask, “What are you doing about this?” They want to use their watercraft on the weekends, when they have time off to travel to their lake homes. They have invested in these vessels and paid Maryland DNR State excise tax and DNR registration fees. Therefore, if customers approached me this year, then I invited them to sign the petitions that I have provided for you.
Watercraft owners that do not have lake homes avoid Deep Creek Lake. For instance, I was at the National Capital Boat Show and a customer asked where I was located and I told him Deep Creek Lake. He got irate and said that we would never be back to that place again. He had launched his personal watercraft in the lake and then he was told that he could not ride it until 4pm. He said that he drove directly home to Virginia and would never be back. Also, many online real estate listings, such as Refin, now must disclose in their listings, “Types of Water Use: Personal Watercraft (PWC), Limited Hours of Personal Watercraft Operation.” The restriction hurts tourism. These are exactly the types of wealthy tourists that you want to visit and also buy real estate in Garrett County.
The personal watercraft restriction and other restrictions specific to Deep Creek Lake confuses tourists and makes us look unfriendly and not fun. For instance, the recent Baltimore Sun article about restricting Jet Packs was not necessary, “Restrictions placed on use of jetpacks at Deep Creek Lake.” (AP, 2015) Jet Packs can only run on personal watercraft, which were already restricted. There have been no accidents or injuries on jet packs in Maryland. This is just history repeating itself. No industry specialists, on jet packs or personal watercraft, were included in making this new regulation. It is an unnecessary regulation, which is arbitrary and capricious, and provided Deep Creek Lake with more bad press. People visit Deep Creek Lake seeking this type of adventure recreational experience.
Please respect the petitioners and have the BAAC and DNR move forward to study the PWC 11am-4pm restriction on Deep Creek Lake during the next boating season (Apr. 15 – Oct. 15) This PWC restriction was originally put into place for carrying capacity concerns. We have seen that by lifting the regulation in June that there have been no issues. The lake is self-regulating and there has been no increase in boating traffic counts. Furthermore, we have never hit the true carrying capacity of 702 boats. We have only hit the tolerated carrying capacity of 452 boats one day a year, so why are we restricting watercraft 35 days a year? There is no need for a regulation one day a year that provides us bad press, more congestion, less safety training, less income, less jobs, less sales, and less amusement tax for our community. Thank you, for your time and consideration.
Carol Jacobs, President of Aquatic Center Inc.
ERM, I. (2004, June). Deep Creek Lake Boating and Commercial Use Carrying Capcity Study. Retrieved from http://www.dnr.state.md.us/irc/docs/00015716.pdf
AP, (2015). Restrictions placed on use of jetpacks at Deep Creek Lake . Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-deep-creek-jetpacks-20150720-story.html
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