Rep. Gosar and Lake Havasu City Mayor Nexsen Secure Public Meeting on Proposed Havasu Boating Closures

Apr 22, 2016 Issues: Getting Things Done, Government Oversight and Regulatory Reform, Energy, Public Lands and Water

For Immediate Release

Date: April 22, 2016

Contact: Steven D. Smith

Steven.Smith@mail.house.gov

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced late Thursday night that it would adhere to one of the requests made by the Congressman and Mayor of Lake Havasu City, Mark Nexsen, to hold a  public meeting in Lake Havasu City, Arizona and allow for input from local stakeholders on the draft Compatibility Determination (CD) announced last week that aims to close down significant areas to motorized boating on Lake Havasu:

“Last night’s announcement by the Service adhering to our request to hold a public meeting in Lake Havasu City on proposed Havasu boating closures is a victory for the people of Arizona. I applaud Mayor Nexsen for fighting this bureaucratic overreach and his successful efforts to give our citizens a voice in this flawed process. The Service will now have to defend this terrible proposal in front of the community and the people that will be most harmed by these arbitrary boating closures. I thank Director Ashe for responding to part of our request. However, I would like to restate our request for a 60 day extension of the public comment period, reiterate that we would like the public meeting to occur at a venue with adequate space, and once again, encourage the Service to stop trying to shut down water skiing and wakeboarding on Lake Havasu. The Lake should remain open for all users.”

Lake Havasu City Mayor Mark Nexsen stated, “We are pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to hold a public meeting in Lake Havasu City on the agency’s new proposal to close significant portions of Lake Havasu within the Refuge to motorized boating. I want to thank Congressman Gosar for taking our request directly to Director Ashe in order to make this meeting a reality. While we are grateful that Lake Havasu City residents will now have a voice in this process, we continue to have serious concerns about additional boating restrictions which frankly are confusing and not warranted. Further, we are still hopeful that the Fish and Wildlife Service will agree to our request of a 60 day extension for public comments. Recreational users of Lake Havasu have peacefully coexisted for decades and we believe that this all could be resolved if the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reverse the restrictions implemented in May 2015 and dropped this new proposal that unfairly targets motorized boaters.”

 

Background:

On April 20, 2016, Lake Havasu City Mayor Mark Nexsen sent a letter to Havasu Refuge Manager Linda Miller and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe raising various concerns about the draft compatibility determination, asking for a 60 day extension of the comment period and asking for a public meeting in Lake Havasu City.

On April 21, 2016, Congressman Gosar delivered Mayor Nexsen’s request in person to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe during a House Oversight Subcommittee on Interior Committee hearing.

On April 21, 2016 at 7:59 pm Arizona time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced “that a third meeting will be held in Lake Havasu City, Arizona from 6pm to 8pm on May 2, 2016. Due to concerns about room size, the Mayor’s office and Congressman Gosar’s office are in the process of negotiating a location with the Service that has adequate space for this meeting.

A portion of the transcript of Congressman Gosar and Director Ashe’s April 21, 2016 Subcommittee hearing exchange is copied below:

GOSAR: So, Mr. Ashe. Yesterday, Lake Havasu Mayor -- and I'd like to place this in the record -- Mark Nexsen sent a letter to the Havasu Refuge manager and yourself, raising serious concerns about the draft compatibility determination, asking several questions, asking the Service to conduct an additional public meeting in Lake Havasu and requesting an extension of public comment period by an additional 60 days. Given that you don't even understand what's going on here, and I profess that, you know, you've followed all the laws, which in this case [is] blatantly wrong.

How do you expect the American people to understand this flawed proposal to close down more motorized boating on Lake Havasu in 30 days?

ASHE: How do I expect the American people to understand that?

GOSAR: Yes, to understand [this process], and [that] you still know nothing about.

ASHE: Mr. Gosar, I -- I would suggest and if you want to have a conversation with me about Lake Havasu, that you invite me to your office, so that we can have a conversation. What you appear to want to do is confront me in a public hearing -- in a congressional hearing. If you want me to...

GOSAR: You know, Mr. Ashe. You have absolutely invited this because in March 22nd, I actually had a conversation with the person underneath you, who knew all about this. I find it offensive that you [say you] have no idea what's going on here.

So I'm going to ask you one more time. Are you going to adhere to the Mayor's request and grant a 60-day extension of the public comment period?

ASHE: If the mayor has requested an extension, we will consider it.

GOSAR: Will you adhere to Mayor's second request and host an additional public meeting in Lake Havasu?

ASHE: If he's requested it, we will consider it.

GOSAR: Well you know, I'm -- I'm really taken back by your arrogance, that you -- you are here to serve, which is what I'm here to do. And when you hear a necessary need that has been brought up like this, that is so egregious in this application, I expect better from you.

Timeline of Events:

On April 13, 2016 the Service announced a draft recreational boating Compatibility Determination (CD) for the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and the agency’s intent to pursue massive motorized boating closures on Lake Havasu. In the CD announcement, the Service stated it would only hold two public meetings in Nevada on the same day, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, at the Avi Resort and Casino. The Service is also taking comments for 30 days on these unwarranted closures. Click HERE to read more. 

On March 22, 2016, Congressman Gosar hammered U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Jim Kurth during a House Committee on Natural Resources committee hearing over this arbitrary closure and demanded the agency reopen this part of Lake Havasu to motorized boating. Click HERE to watch the video.

Following that hearing, Service staff reached out to Congressman Gosar’s staff and scheduled a conference call. The call took place on March 31, 2016, and lasted 1.5 hours. During the call, Service staff repeatedly tried to mislead the Congressman's staff by indicating that the agency had heard Congressman Gosar’s concerns. The Service stated they would be commencing a public comment period and holding a public listening session on this matter sometime in April and May respectively. When pressed on the call, Service staff indicated that reopening the ½ mile arbitrarily closed in May 2015 would not be an option in the new CD. Congressman Gosar’s staff asked if reopening any of the 17.5 miles currently closed to motorized boating within the Refuge would be an option and the Service responded saying no, making very clear that the intent of the agency’s new CD is to pursue more motorized boating closures on Lake Havasu.

On the March 31, 2016 conference call, Service staff indicated that an increase in boating violations in this area were part of the reason for this closure and that there had been 12 citations since 2012. That’s around three per year. The Service also indicated that the impact on migratory bird habitat contributed to the closure. Yet, Service staff admitted that they had no data or environmental studies which documented any wash outs of threatened or endangered species nests prior to making this arbitrary decision. In fact, when asked if wakes had harmed wildlife in this area, staff stated, “I assume the answer is yes.” “Assume” proves no evidence actually existed.

Following the March 31, 2016 call, Congressman Gosar submitted pointed questions for the March 22 Committee hearing record. Service staff also promised to send maps and various follow-up information in response to questions from the Congressman's staff. To date, neither Congressman Gosar or his staff have received a response to questions for the record or any of the information the Service promised to send. 

On April 19, 2016, Congressman Gosar questioned U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe about unwarranted boating closures made last May in a ½ mile backwater area in Lake Havasu as well as massive new boating closures the Service is now pursuing as a result of the Draft Compatibility Determination announced April 12. 

On May 20, 2015, the Service issued a News Release that established new boating restrictions and expanded the no wake zone, effectively closing motorized boating in an ½ mile area that had been utilized by recreational enthusiasts for decades. This order was “effective immediately” and the newly closed areas were quickly marked with regulatory buoys and signs. This order was implemented by the acting refuge manager without engaging local stakeholders or providing an opportunity for public comment. These arbitrary closures also became effective two days before Memorial Day Weekend, a very important tourist weekend for Lake Havasu. On a conference call on March 31, 2016, the Service admitted that the idea to close this area was first initiated by complaints made by two paddle boaters.

On June 24, 2015, Congressman Gosar sent a letter to the Service demanding the agency rescind the new restrictions implemented on May 20, 2015, and pursue a community-supported plan for resolving this situation. Click HERE to read the letter.

On July 10, 2015 the Service sent a poorly worded response to the June 24th letter stating that the “Service recognizes the importance of public involvement in decisions regarding visitor use on the Refuge. Also in the July 2015 letter, the Service stated this arbitrary closure was allowed under its regulations in the form of (50 CFR 32.22). However, this particular regulation deals with regulations for hunting and fishing in the Refuge, not motorized boating.

On August 28, 2015, Congressman Gosar’s office submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking all relevant information on this closure. Click HERE to read the letter.

On December 10, 2015, the Service responded to Congressman Gosar’s request. The FOIA request revealed that two residents made up lies and encouraged the agency to take this action. The FOIA request also revealed that the agency initially opposed taking such action. Multiple emails from the acting refugee manager indicated that the agency believed it couldn’t arbitrarily close the channel and if they chose to pursue such a closure the agency would be required to hold a 30-60 day public comment period. An email from the acting refugee manager’s boss stating that a closure would likely meet resistance and require NEPA compliance was also discovered in the request. Ultimately, the Service failed to comply with NEPA prior to making the May 2015 closures.

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