Businesses and councils throughout North America have their eyes fixed on Prospect Lake in Saanich where a precedent-setting bylaw has banned jet skis. And the full weight of industrial giant Bombardier Inc. and the federal government could soon descend on efforts to keep Prospect Lake free of the high-powered water skimmers.
The ballooning popularity of personal watercraft--often referred to as jet skis--has led to bitter conflicts as they compete for lake and ocean space. Opponents hate the noise, speed and ability to zip up to private wharves, while supporters say they are no noisier than power boats and constitute a legitimate water sport.
The battlegrounds have narrowed to Prospect Lake--where Saanich council has circumvented federal power over waterways by passing a bylaw prohibiting anyone from making a noise while operating a personal watercraft--and the San Juan Islands, where three county commissioners will decide today whether to appeal a court decision which struck down a ban on personal watercraft.
The San Juan ban was appealed by Bombardier Inc., the Montreal company which manufactures Sea-Doos, the top selling personal watercraft in the world. And now Bombardier is keeping a close watch on Prospect Lake.
However, the company is hoping the federal government will step in first. A Coast Guard report on personal watercraft is due to be released any day, said Glyn Johnston, Bombardier manager of public affairs and government relations.
"I don't think we will have to challenge this one because we know the Coast Guard controls the waterways of Canada and it is not a local jurisdiction."
The company has no problem with all boats being banned from some areas, but council cannot pick on jet skis, he said.
Jack Buxcey, owner of Ocean Wind Board Sailing, which rents Sea-Doos beside Elk Lake, knew the Capital Regional District was unable to ban the craft from Elk Lake because of federal jurisdiction and was flabbergasted when Saanich passed the Prospect Lake noise bylaw.
"Bombardier is worried about it snowballing. Every district and community through North America is looking at this noise suppression on Prospect Lake," Buxcey said. "This is a Canadian company and the municipality is trying to strike down this business that employs 7,000 people in manufacturing Sea-Doos--why would they want to do that?"
Buxcey would not recommend Prospect Lake for personal watercraft because it is too small, but says the bylaw discriminates against jet skis. Education, not bans, is the answer to the conflict, said Buxcey. Anyone operating a craft should be 16 years old, take training and have a valid driver's licence, he said.
Saanich councillor Frank Leonard met the full force of the Bombardier lobby when the CRD looked at banning jet skis on Elk Lake. "We could see it was going to be a huge battle because we had to go through federal regulations. It became obvious that Bombardier was a huge lobby in Ottawa."
The noise bylaw on Prospect Lake, brought in after complaints by residents, seemed a good way to avoid the federal problem. "If enjoyment of someone's home and property is ruined, now we can lay a charge," Leonard said.
Saanich solicitor Chris Nation believes the bylaw will stand against any challenge.
Residents made it clear that it was the type of noise produced by jet skis, rather than the decibel level, that was a problem, which is why the craft are singled out, he said.
Gary Moonie, Prospect Lake Community Association liason officer, helped organize opposition to the jet skis, which he said sound like a vaccuum cleaner being switched off and on in your ear. "It's a small lake and sound travels," he said.
Bombardier's potential involvement infuriates Moonie. "A very irritating aspect is the very idea that a large manufacturer has the right to pre-empt public resources for its own profit. It's totally unethical," he said.
In San Juan the battle against Bombardier is taking on David and Goliath proportions, said an employee in the county commissioners office. "It's the little man against the huge industrial bully that has all the money," she said. Money for legal costs is being donated by San Juan residents because people feel so strongly about the issue.
Follow-up--October 17, 1996
The precedent-setting noise bylaw banning jet skis on Prospect Lake is a virus which must be snuffed out before it spreads, says Sandy Currie, executive director of the Toronto-based Marine Manufacturers Association. "It's like a mushroom, like a virus, and the situation should be dealt with quickly and efficiently," he said.
Currie believes Saanich council leaped over its limits and into federal territory when it passed the bylaw. Canadian waterways are federally regulated, but Saanich council believes it has the right to control nuisance noises.
"The municipality has basically thumbed its nose at all procedures. They have taken it on themselves to pass a bylaw which seems punitive, arbitrary, and very discriminatory," Currie said.
The association, which represents the manufacturing sector of the recreational marine industry, hopes a Coast Guard report on personal watercraft, to be released shortly, will make Saanich council change its mind. If not, the association may be forced to challenge the bylaw in court, Currie said.
"We haven't yet decided to throw in the troops and high-priced lawyers," he said. "I hope that if they have a look at the report and really think about what they are doing, cooler heads will prevail."