On March 20, the Valley County Board of Commissioners proposed an ordinance that would, among other things, implement “wake limitations” on all county waterways, meaning any boats creating a wake taller than 24 inches high must operate at least 1,000 feet from the shoreline.
The ordinance, which will be discussed at two public hearings next week, also includes “no-wake zones” on the Willow Creek and Boulder Creek areas of Lake Cascade, as well as 300 feet from the shoreline on most of Payette Lake. In those no-wake zones, boaters must operate at 5 mph or slower, with no higher than a 4-inch wake.
Currently, the county follows state law mandating a no-wake zone 100 feet from the shore of any waterway, as well as no-wake zones on Upper Payette Lake and within 300 feet of any Big Payette Lake (aka Payette Lake) shoreline.
According to a draft of the ordinance posted online, the legislation aims to “protect the health, safety and general welfare of the public, to enhance boating and other uses; to protect public and private property; and to protect the natural environment and quality of the public waters of Valley County.” It also specifies guidelines for swimmers outside a no-wake area and standards for living on watercraft.
The commissioners declined to comment on the proposal, referring instead to the commission website, where details on the public hearings are posted. The commissioners also encouraged the public to read the proposed ordinance.
Critics worry the wake limitations are misguided at best and, at worst, could harm the summer tourism industry that depends heavily on boaters and other lake users.
Powerboating and water sports in Valley County
According to a 2016 study by Boise State University and Idaho State Parks and Recreation, powerboats (also called motorboats or speedboats) are a major economic driver in Valley County. The study found Valley County is one of the top counties in the state “with highest gains from total economic impact of powerboating” despite having a lower population than many other Idaho counties.
Kory Pukash, who owns a lakefront cabin on Lake Cascade, said the proposed ordinance would drive away wake surfers, water skiers and other recreators in addition to motorboat users.
“The economic impact could exceed millions of dollars if the ordinance is put into effect, as many individuals enjoying wake sports would no longer enjoy the amenities of the Valley County lakes and choose to boat elsewhere,” Pukash told the Statesman in an email.
Additionally, Pukash said, the wake limitations would render some segments of Valley County lakes unusable for wake sports and affect lakefront property values.
“(The proposal) converts one of Idaho’s most premier water ski locations, the Boulder Creek Arm of Cascade Lake, into an entire no-wake zone,” Pukash said. “Not only does that modification eliminate access to the most pristine water skiing water in Idaho, but also turns the 71 homeowners’ lakefront cabins into canalfront cabins, drastically reducing the property values and amenities of use that the property owners have enjoyed since constructing their lakefront cabins.”
Bryan Dykman, a Valley County resident who owns a cabin on Payette Lake, echoed Pukash’s sentiments.
“If these ordinances are put into place, I see a major downturn in tourism, which is a central support system for the hardworking people of Valley County,” Dykman said in an email.
Dykman was one of 3,300-plus people as of Wednesday afternoon who signed the petition in opposition to the ordinance. The petition was started by Justin Williams, a Meridian man who said he’s worked at boat stores and boated in Valley County for most of his life.
“I can see both sides,” Williams said. “A lot of (support for the legislation) is people who aren’t able to sit on their dock because the water is so rough.”
The owners of Tamarack Resort, who announced plans for additional summertime activities on Lake Cascade when they bought the ski area last fall, joined boaters in opposition to the proposal. On Friday, Tamarack shared a letter that the resort’s president, Jon Reveal, sent to Valley County commissioners urging them to rethink the proposal. The resort also sent emails and posted on social media asking followers to take action.
“The ordinance they are considering would impose a 1,000-foot wake restriction zone — from the shoreline — for all 86 miles of Lake Cascade’s shores,” Tamarack’s email said. “This equates to approximately 10,400 acres of Lake Cascade that would be lost to wake sports! According to the Water Sports Industry Association, one of the largest associations in the nation, there isn’t another recreational body of water in the United States that has a wave restriction zone of this magnitude.”
In Reveal’s letter to the board of commissioners, he raised the same concerns over property values and economic impact. Reveal recommended the commissioners strike the proposed 1,000-foot wake limitation from the ordinance.
Supporters of the ordinance
The proposal is not without its supporters. Several commenters responded to Tamarack Resort’s Facebook post on the issue and said they believe the limitations are necessary.
One commenter said their dock was “pulled off (its) supports last year due to excessive wake disturbance.”
“Isn’t it being done to help wildlife and protect nature? Find another lake to be annoying on,” wrote another.
Valley County Commissioner Dave Bingaman also commented on the Facebook post, saying Tamarack’s description of the ordinance as “devastating ... (adds) intensity to an already divisive issue.”
“... This draft is not based on what the commissioners want, it is in response to impacts on the resource, the users, and reflects input from a wide variety of groups that began last fall,” Bingaman wrote in response to one commenter.
“We have a couple choices, do nothing or enact a change that allows different folks to enjoy our lakes in the ways that they want to,” Bingaman added. “Either way folks are not going to (be) completely satisfied. Why should one type of recreation be favored above all others? We are looking for a balanced plan, also it is key to remember that this is a draft, subject to further revisions.”
Does ‘no-wake zone’ address lake issues?
Studies on wake-related erosion show mixed results. Some studies conclude that wakes are harmful, while others, like one cited by the Water Sports Industry Association, argue that wind-driven waves are just as detrimental as man-made ones.
Tamarack’s Reveal asked commissioners to conduct a local study to put the debate to rest.
“Results from a Valley County study should be used to develop a Valley County ordinance,” Reveal said in an email statement to the Statesman.
In his letter to the commission, Reveal said Tamarack is “prepared to partner with the county for this study, both in resources and the time commitment that it will take to conduct the research. Tamarack is aware of other entities who are also willing to participate in this effort.”
“Tamarack raises these specific concerns not to be the contrarian, but because it is seeking to understand the justification for proposing a 1,000-foot wake limitation zone for Lake Cascade,” Reveal said in his letter. “There have been no studies, research or conclusions made available that the county would have relied upon to reach the point of proposing a 1,000-foot wake limitation zone for any of Valley County’s bodies of water. Considering all the information that is available, it doesn’t seem reasonable to pursue the path as outlined by the proposed ordinance.”
Williams, the longtime boat retailer, said there are other elements to the ordinance that don’t seem reasonable, such as the 24-inch wake limit on boats less than 1,000 feet from the shore.
“Every boat is going to produce bigger than a 24-inch wake when taking off,” Williams said in a phone interview.
“Our estimate is that most people wouldn’t be able to properly judge how far 1,000 feet is off of shore,” he said. “It would also be highly arguable that a wake isn’t 24 inches tall, unless law enforcement jumped in the water at the time the boat was moving and tried to measure it.”
Anyone who violates the ordinance faces up to $1,000 in fines — a jump from the current $100 fine — possible jail time and banishment from Valley County waterways if they reoffend.
“This is extremely excessive for a violation that is nearly impossible to enforce,” Pukash said.
Opponents of the proposal said many of the issues the new ordinance aims to address could be managed by better enforcement of existing rules.
“I am ... concerned that we are adding new rules to the system when in fact the current wake zones are not regulated as often as they should be,” said Dykman, who grew up in Valley County. “By extending or adding new rules, more confusion on our lakes would be created.”
Public comments on Valley County’s no-wake zone proposal
The Valley County Commission is no longer accepting written public comments on the proposed ordinance, but two public hearings will be held next week to discuss the proposal.
The first hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday (April 22) at the American Legion Hall in Cascade at 105 E. Mill St. The second hearing will be held at Idaho First Bank at 475 Deinhard Lane in McCall at 6 p.m. on Tuesday (April 23).
Those opposed to the ordinance said they plan to attend the hearings.
“This is an issue that many of those who live and recreate in Valley County are obviously extremely passionate about,” Reveal said in his statement. “The comments we’ve heard from our guests and homeowners reflect that, and we look forward to the upcoming meeting of the County Commission so their voices can be heard.”