News Notes

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Connecticut Reps vote to muffle boat noise

Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell in July signed a bill that helps reduce noise pollution from powerboats on state waters.

The bill, introduced by state Reps. Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, and James Spallone, D-Essex, increases fines for boaters who fail to submit to on-site engine-noise tests administered by state Department of Environmental Protection marine enforcement officers.

The new law increases the fine for refusing the noise test to between $350 and $550 for a first offense, and between $450 and $650 for each subsequent offense. Noisy boaters had been fined $220 for exceeding the decibel limit, which varies depending on the year of the boat, or received a $170 fine for failing to take the noise test. Local boaters had often refused the test, taking the lesser fine.

— Jason Fell

New York may raise

minimum age for PWCs

Children under the age of 14 in New York may soon be restricted from operating personal watercraft. A bill suggesting the change has already passed the state Assembly and appears to be headed to a full vote in the Senate.

Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington, D-Suffolk County, and state Sen. Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, sponsored the measure that calls for the minimum age to operate a PWC be changed from 10 to 14.

Eddington says in a news report that she decided to sponsor the bill after two recent accidents involving children younger than 14 operating PWC.

If the bill is approved, youths aged 14 to 18 would have to pass a boating safety course in order to operate a PWC. Under the bill children younger than 14 would be permitted to use PWC while “properly accompanied.” Most PWC can reach speeds approaching 60 mph.

Maureen Healy, executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, is pleased with New York’s effort to raise its minimum age for people to use PWC.

“The Personal Watercraft Industry Association applauds the New York state legislature for adopting legislation that raises the minimum age of operation to 14 for PWC,” Healy says. “While the industry advocates a minimum age of 16, we clearly think this is a step in the right direction.”

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association Web site, www. nmma.org, there were approximately 1.48 million PWC owned in 2004.

— Jason Fell

Fire Island Seashore

sets watercraft rules

After a three-year ban, personal watercraft were granted a conditional welcome back to Fire Island National Seashore in July.

The new rules from the National Park Service unit on Long Island require PWC and other water scooters to stay 1,000 feet from shore along Great South Bay except in wilderness areas, where they must remain 4,000 feet offshore.

They remain banned on the park’s ocean side and from park service marinas, but they can enter channels near developed communities.

The policy will “protect the seashore’s resources while allowing for appropriate recreational use,” says park superintendent Michael Reynolds.

A 2002 settlement of a lawsuit resulted in PWC being barred from 21 national park units pending scientific studies on their environmental impact. So far, 15 have reopened their waters to PWC after completing studies.

“Another national park has affirmed that personal watercraft are among the cleanest and quietest boats on the water,” Maureen Healey, executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, says of the Fire Island decision.

And it could be a boon to business, says Robert Arcate, owner of East End Jet Ski in Hampton Bays. “Rules, licensing and education help the industry in the long term by making the use of personal watercraft safer and environmentally friendly,” he says.

— Rachel Leifer

Coast Guard searches

for napping 4-year-old

Coast Guard officials and a number of volunteers in July spent nearly two hours searching Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio, for a 4-year-old boy who turned out to be napping under blankets aboard his family’s 35-foot Egg Harbor cabin cruiser.

Friends and relatives of Eric Lile screamed with relief, a news report says, when the boy emerged from the boat’s cabin unharmed. Searchers feared he had fallen overboard without a PFD.

Two Coast Guard helicopters, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources dive team, local authorities and between 50 and 60 private boats searched an area between Catawba and Kelleys islands for the boy. The boy’s uncle, according to the report, said family members had searched the boat but were unable to find the boy.

“This situation could have potentially been much worse than it was, especially since he wasn’t wearing a life jacket,” says Coast Guard Petty Officer Matthew Schofield. “We were very glad it turned out the way it did.”

— Jason Fell

Connecticut closes

islands to boaters

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection announced in July the emergency closure of Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook until Sept. 9. “This closure is necessary to prevent continuing human disturbance of several state-listed nesting birds at these islands, including snowy egrets and great egrets [state threatened species], glossy ibis and little blue herons [state special concern],” says DEP commissioner Gina McCarthy. “A tremendous amount of disturbance has occurred at these islands this year and has already resulted in the death of some nestlings.”

Both islands have been designated as Natural Area Preserves and Important Bird Areas by Audubon Connecticut.

Examples of the disturbances to these rookeries include illegal campouts, unleashed dogs roaming the island, and human visitors entering the fenced, seasonally closed nesting areas.

DEP reports conservation officers will patrol the islands, particularly on weekends and after dark. Anyone caught trespassing on the islands will be arrested. Landing of watercraft on the beaches is also prohibited.