DNR Asked To Limit PWC Watershed Access

growing number of rented personal watercrafts (PWCs) finding their way into the
shallow creeks and streams in and around the coastal bays has led to a
discussion about limiting their access in resort area waterways.

The issue came to light
in recent weeks when a West Ocean City property owner raised concerns about the
proliferation of PWCs in an area of Herring Creek fronting his property. Sussex
Rd. resident John Townsend late last month brought the issue of rented PWCs
turning sensitive Herring Creek into their personal playground to the attention
of County Commission President Bud Church along with some of the environmental
advocacy groups in the area.

In a letter to Church,
Townsend explained the typically serene area of Herring Creek in West Ocean
City was being disrupted morning, noon and night by PWC renters. He said the
issue has both environmental and public nuisance overtones.

“To say this is
distracting is an understatement,” the letter reads. “While it appears the
guides put forth their best effort in managing the group, it is beyond their
ability to control each of the craft at all times. These vacationers violate
many of the rules as they attempt to operate in this confined area. They
consistently operate above six knots when within 100 feet of other boaters,
operate in shallow water and disturb wildlife, all in violation of DNR rules.”

Church said this week he
was preparing to ask state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials
about the possibility of limiting PWC activity to more open areas of the
coastal bays and the ocean, where their impact on private citizens and the
environment would be curtailed. Church was set to meet with DNR officials late
yesterday in South Point on a separate issue and said he planned to broach the
subject at that time.

“This has been an issue
for some time and I’m going to ask the DNR to look into how this is handled in
other areas,” he said. “There are really two parts to this. They are noisy and
loud like a million bumblebees buzzing around, but there are also environmental
issues involved. In many cases, they are going into those shallow creeks and
tearing up the bottom and eroding the shoreline.”

In his letter to Church,
Townsend said he hoped to raise awareness of the environmental damage to the
creeks caused by the proliferation of rented PWCs in the area.

“Interestingly enough,
the creek goes from crystal clear in the late spring to an estuary with mere
inches of visibility,” the letter reads. “The typical passing of boat traffic
may cause some of this, but I would speculate the vast change in turbidity is
from the operation of these vessels in the shallow areas outside the entry
channel to the creek.”

Townsend said he raised
the issue not to drive the PWC rental companies out of business, but rather to
explore the possibility of limiting their access to more open areas in the

“I have no interest in
impeding the operator’s ability to earn a living, or a renter’s good time,” the
letter reads. “It would seem to me that simply varying their activity over the
larger areas of the bay would suffice. I believe the attraction of our
waterfront is the calmer water, which offers them greater speed and maybe a
little more comfort. I do not think any of this should be at the residents’
expense on a daily basis.”

Church said he looked
into the issue in advance of his meeting with DNR officials and found
Townsend’s concerns to be valid. He said the business owners and guides appear
to direct their renters away from the shallow creeks, but often have a
difficult time accounting for all of them.

“For the most part, I
think the guys who run the concessions generally do a good job with keeping
their renters out of those shallow, fragile areas, but it’s becoming more and
more of a problem recently,” said Church.

Assateague Coastkeeper
Kathy Phillips said this week it is not an entirely new issue. About two years
ago, residents in another area complained about the proliferation of PWCs in
their community and Phillips petitioned the DNR to post jet ski-specific “no
wake” and speed limit signs in the problem area that were just recently
erected. Phillips said she has seen first-hand the damage caused by the area in
Herring Creek in question.

“There are plenty of
areas out in the bay where their impact is considerably lessened,” she said. “I
can’t think of any good reason why those jet skis should be up in those creeks.
The wave action created is damaging the marshes and they are chewing up the
bottom on a low tide. There are globs of what I call marsh muck everywhere and
the water clarity is being greatly impacted.”

Phillips said she was
happy Townsend broached the subject and that Church was going to pursue it with
the DNR. She called on Worcester County to take a closer look at its own laws
governing PWC access to sensitive areas.

“In the future, it might
be a good idea for the county to assess the impacts of new jet ski rental
businesses on the surrounding waterways and perhaps consider tighter
regulations on where they can operate, or actually limit the number of
locations of these types of businesses,” she said.