Shoshone County: It’s a go on the Joe

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The Shoshone County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a special use permit for the second annual Race the Joe! Tuesday. The decision came after they listened to public testimony for and against the race Jan. 16 during a pubic hearing in Calder.

The commissioners agreed that they would consider the impact the event, scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, will have on the area. There was concern whether the event would cause problems on an already congested weekend. Twenty-five people attended the public hearing Jan. 16 to share their thoughts on the race. The St. Maries Chamber of Commerce and Epic Motorsports are organizing the second annual Race the Joe! Residents who continue to oppose a jet boat race on the St. Joe River expressed the same concerns as pervious years.

Boat 399 kicks up a rooster tail as the front end lifts up out of the water and the boat picks up speed for a straight stretch during the 2013 Race the Joe! event.

Boat 399 kicks up a rooster tail as the front end lifts up out of the water and the boat picks up speed for a straight stretch during the 2013 Race the Joe! event.

They are worried two days of racing will have negative impacts on the river. Opponents of the race were also upset with the organizers decision to have the races on Memorial Day weekend, which is the first camping weekend of summer.

Sharon Boyd, who did not attend the meeting, submitted a letter stating her opposition to the race.

“I want to say that I am and will always be against having them,” she wrote. “The same reasons I’ve stated for the past two years still apply: endangering the environment, the habitat, the health of the river and the disturbance of wildlife and migratory birds.”

Mrs. Boyd wrote by having the race on Memorial Day weekend organizers will not only exclude all of the local residents from enjoying the river, but those who travel to the area to spend the three-day weekend camping.

“There are only a couple of three day weekends in the summer for people to enjoy a longer stay in the St. Joe. And Epic Motorsports is denying them the enjoyment of being on the river for one of those weekends,” Mrs. Boyd wrote.

Rayna Farrell, who was not in attendance, submitted a letter to the Shoshone County Commissioners voicing her opposition to the races. She stated that the county needs to be diligent and protect the St. Joe River.

“If we are short-sighted and degrade the river for a weekend of fun and profit we will pay for it in the future,” she wrote.

She cited concerns that included erosion along the banks of the river as well as the spread of invasive species.

“The effects of erosion is cumulative. When the quality of the clarity of the water is degraded, algae and weeds increase. Shoshone County, especially, has a lot to lose. Your part of the St. Joe River is known internationally as a world class fly fishing destination, with added kayaking, camping, hunting, etc.,” she wrote. “Any degradation of this gem of a river will certainly negatively effect the river’s reputation for these sports and affect future tourists dollars.”

Liz Codoni submitted written testimony at the meeting. She cited concerns that included erosion along the river bank and harmful effects of the races on wildlife including fish and migratory birds. Again, she asked the commissioners to deny a special use permit to the race organizers.

“Last year, I pointed out that the Shoshone County portion of the Joe already draws recreational users who come to camp, fish, float and hunt, and that these multiple uses are not compatible with jet boats,” she wrote.

Ms. Codoni said the organizers are “monopolizing” the river on one of the “busiest weekends of the year.”

“And if these folks go somewhere else to camp in peace this year, who’s to say they’ll be back,” she wrote.

She added the area does not need “generated business” because their portion of the Joe is already world famous.

“And if the migratory songbirds have really found other, less noisy grounds.that issue will not close with this hearing, and we may have to live for years with your previous years’ errors in allowing the races,” Ms. Codoni wrote. “There is no need or reason to let these boats in and every reason to say no.”

Supporters of the boat race disagreed.

Darren Arave, of Kellogg, who used to race jet boats, said the jet boats have little to no wake.

“It doesn’t erode the banks,” he said, adding there have been no long-term effects on other rivers that have held events for decades. “It doesn’t’ hurt the environment whatsoever.”

Mr. Arave added it is a great sport. He said he does not believe it will take anything away from people on Memorial Day weekend.

“It will just give them something else to do,” he said. “There will be more people and I hope there is to watch the races.”

John Walters also spoke in favor of bringing the races back to the St. Joe River. He said the races are an opportunity to bring some business to the area.

“There’s no money up here in hunting anymore. The wolves have pretty much ruined that,” he said. There’s not enough money up here. Don’t care how you cut it. The Forest Service has failed us. Fish and Game has failed us. This is an opportunity to bring some money into the area. We need it and we got to have it.”

Mr. Walters said many people who come from Washington never spend money at the local businesses.

“They head home as soon as they are done fishing. They drive over on Washington gas and head home on Washington gas. They don’t spend a dime,” he said.

He added the boat races give residents in the area something to look forward to. He said there are few events up the river. He said the races are also an opportunity to show off the St. Joe River.

“I don’t get money in my pockets from them, but I do get a lot of enjoyment out of them,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place here and the boat races give us the opportunity to show it off. I think it’s selfish of people to not be willing to share the river for one weekend for a few days.”

Kyla Sawyer, with Epic Motorsports, who is helping the St. Maries Chamber organize the race, spoke to the concerns raised by individuals at the hearing. She said organizers are simply asking for a special use permit for two days of racing similar to what spectators saw last year. She said while they could go round and round on the issue of erosion, the fact is that jet boats are allowed to be on the river.

She added organizers watch water levels and try to pick a time of year when it is high water so the shoreline is underneath the water during the races. Ms. Sawyer admitted that while she was not an expert on bull trout or eagles, the agencies that were contacted did not have additional requirements to be followed. Also, she added that the biologists who were hired to watch the eagles during last year’s race reported there was no harm or take to the eagles. The eagles did not abandon their nests. She added the two entities have also applied for a take permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which is not required of them.

Ms. Sawyer said the boats are inspected for invasive species and 90 percent of each boat can be visually inspected. While residents raised questions about the 10 percent that cannot be visually inspected, Ms. Sawyer said they would need to discuss that with the Department of Agriculture, which sets the policy.

Ms. Sawyer said the races would not exclude locals and visitors on Memorial Day weekend. She said it is a free event and they want to include as many people as possible. People are able to watch from any public shore. She said this will be the first year the race has been on Memorial Day weekend and organizers would have to evaluate the success of the race afterwards. One of the reasons Memorial Day weekend was selected, she said, was because racers asked if the race could be pushed back so they would have time to travel up to St. Maries following the World Jet Boat Race, which is being held in Mexico.

Ms. Sawyer reminded the commissioners and the audience that organizers carry a $5 million aggregate insurance policy and the event follows all rules set forth by the American Power Boat Association, which sanctions the event.

Renee McQuade, president of St. Joe EMS, who was, neutral, said the main concern she has is the availability of EMS personnel. She said they would not be able to commit a presence at the jet boat races as they have done in the past. She said she spoke with Deanna Wine, director of St. Maries Ambulance, who also said similarly.

“I think a different weekend would be a better option,” she said.

Ms. Sawyer said EMS availability is mandated by insurance and so they would need to find a way to make sure volunteers are available even if they have to bring them in from another county.

Dan Martinsen, planning and zoning director for Shoshone County, explained that it was determined in December after a conference call that the portion of the river where the race will be run does not fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard.  Mr. Martinsen said several agencies were contacted about the race including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Water Resources, Department of Lands and the Idaho Fish and Game. None made any additional requirements.

He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife does have permitting requirements or potential regulations when it comes to endangered species.  He said at the time of the public hearing, the applicants had met all the standards or were willing to meet them.

Before closing the public hearing, Commissioner Larry Yergler suggested the applicants might consider another weekend for next year’s race.

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