Local government officials want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider more public comment on proposals that may close off parts of Lake Havasu to recreational boating activities.
A series of proposals from Fish and Wildlife wants to permanently close a half-mile portion of a popular wake boarding spot to motorized boats and potentially make a 17.5-mile stretch of the Topock Gorge, commonly known as “Speed Alley,” a no-wake zone, Lake Havasu City Manager Charlie Cassens said. The areas all fall within Havasu National Wildlife Refuge.
If the proposals take effect, getting to areas further up the river, like Topock 66 or Pirate’s Cove, would take around 3.5 hours.
“Those businesses will be devastated because no one from Lake Havasu will go five miles per hour, 17.5 miles one way,” Havasu Mayor Mark Nexsen said.
Nexsen said the public has not been given adequate opportunities to speak on the closures before they took effect last spring, and Fish and Wildlife is now making it difficult for Havasu residents to voice their concerns on the no-wake proposals.
“About a year ago, we had a situation on the lake/river where U.S. Fish and Wildlife decided to expand a buoy area in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge area,” Nexsen said. “It may not sound like a big deal, but it is a big deal. It was a half-mile extension and the reason it’s important is that this area for decades had been used by families to teach their kids how to water ski.”
Fish and Wildlife is holding two public meetings on May 3 at the Avi Resort and Casino in Nevada from 1-3 p.m. and another from 6-8 p.m. for public comment.
The city sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday morning requesting for a 60-day extension for public comment and an additional meeting in Lake Havasu City.
The letter also requested more information on the closures and emphasized the economic impact it would have on the small businesses in the area.
“We have seen virtually no documentation to date justifying additional restrictions on recreational boaters in the Refuge,” the letter stated. “Should these restrictions be approved, the citizens and visitors of our community will be adversely affected and our local economy will be damaged.”
In order to obtain more information, the city worked with Congressman Paul Gosar to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the agency for access to e-mails.
“We did not get everything, that was pretty clear,” Nexsen said. “It was interesting to read the e-mails because the only reason they could do what they did was if they were able to create a public safety issue.”
Nexsen said emails revealed that U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials discussed ways to justify the closures for environmental reasons until one party brought up that public safety concerns would allow for more immediate action.
“Due to a couple of complaints by some kayakers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife decided to extend the buoys,” Nexsen said. “No hearing. Nothing. Just did it and really didn’t seem to care. If we tried to contact them, they said there was a huge increase in public safety issues.”
Nexsen continued, “It was two citations that occurred after the people had left the water. It wasn’t because they were running over kayakers. They were cited for not having a spotter on their boat.”
On Tuesday, Gosar spoke at a House Natural Resources Committee and addressed Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe about the closures.
“Rather than attempting to defend his agency’s motorized boating closures for Lake Havasu, Director Ashe decided it was best to act like he knew nothing about them,” Gosar said in a statement following the hearing. “I find that hard to believe given his Deputy Director was well-versed on this topic during a hearing less than a month ago, and because my staff informed the Service that I would be asking the Director about this topic during today’s hearing. I can’t say that I blame him, though, as the Service’s actions on this issue are indefensible.”
When Nexsen and other city officials presented the situation at a Tri-City Council meeting on Wednesday morning in Kingman, officials from Bullhead City, Kingman and Mohave County also expressed their concern about the closures and actions taken by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Government overreach by bureaucrats is just getting out of hand,” Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady said after Nexsen’s presentation.
Kingman Mayor Richard Anderson and Mohave County Supervisor Jean Bishop said they will also stand behind Lake Havasu City as it fights the proposed regulations.
“We’re very concerned,” Nexsen said. “That lake is Lake Havasu City’s economy. Tourism is our major industry and, without it, we’re done.”