Rep. Gosar Spearheads Bipartisan Letter Requesting 60-Day Extension of Comment Period for Lake Havasu Boating Closures

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Washington, DC, April 29, 2016 | comments
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after spearheading a bipartisan letter signed by 21 members of the House of Representatives to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Regional Director and Havasu Refuge Manager requesting a 60-day extension of the public comment period for the draft recreational boating Compatibility Determination (CD) for Havasu National Wildlife Refuge announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) on April 12, 2016, which threatens to close significant portions of Lake Havasu to recreational boaters:
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For Immediate Release

Date: April 29, 2016

Contact: Steven D. Smith

Steven.Smith@mail.house.gov

Today, Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after spearheading a bipartisan letter signed by 21 members of the House of Representatives to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Regional Director and Havasu Refuge Manager requesting a 60-day extension of the public comment period for the draft recreational boating Compatibility Determination (CD) for Havasu National Wildlife Refuge announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) on April 12, 2016, which threatens to close significant portions of Lake Havasu to recreational boaters:

“Prohibiting tubing, water-skiing and wake boarding in an area utilized by recreational enthusiasts for decades, two days before Memorial Day Weekend, without public comment and without merit is appalling. Pursuing massive new unwarranted boating restrictions not based on science less than a year later is outrageous. Countless stakeholders and members of Congress from both parties have voiced opposition and are calling on the Service to heed their concerns. Given the significant flaws with the CD, I’ve called on the Service to drop this proposal. At minimum, the comment period should be extended 60 days as few people understand what is actually going on, including staff within the Service.”

On April 20, 2016, Lake Havasu City Mayor Mark Nexsen wrote the Service on behalf of the City and expressed significant concerns with the CD and requested an immediate 60-day extension of the public comment period. In his letter Mayor Nexsen stated, “To truly benefit from public input, it is important to provide a more robust opportunity for involvement than what you currently propose. We strongly request the Fish and Wildlife Service grant an immediate 60 day extension for public comments…We have seen virtually no documentation to date justifying additional restrictions on recreational boaters in the Refuge. Should these restrictions be approved, the citizens and visitors of our community will be adversely affected and our local economy will be damaged.”

The Lake Havasu Area Chamber of Commerce opposes the CD and also asked for a 60-day extension for public comments in a letter to the Service dated April 22, 2016, stating, “The federal government's proposed action in the Refuge will be like a nail in the coffin for Lake Havasu City and our neighboring river communities with any efforts we are currently working on or have planned to create a sharing, strong, local economy. We are not advocating that protection of native wildlife and fish should be ignored, but we are also not satisfied with the information provided that supports your desire to take this action. There are also many questions from community stakeholders that require answers.”


Background:

The full text of the bipartisan letter requesting a 60-day extension of the comment period for the CD can be found HERE.

The 21 bipartisan cosigners of the letter include: Mark Amodei, Ken Buck, Jason Chaffetz, Paul Cook, Kevin Cramer, Jeff Duncan, Trent Franks, Paul Gosar, Cresent Hardy, Walter Jones, Cynthia Lummis, Tom McClintock, Martha McSally, Dan Newhouse, Devin Nunes, Steve Pearce, David Schweikert, Kyrsten Sinema, Scott Tipton, Greg Walden and Ryan Zinke.

Yesterday, Congressman Gosar met with Regional Service Director Benjamin Tuggle to reiterate concerns about the CD. He sent a follow up letter which can be found HERE.

Congressman Gosar’s three primary requests of Director Tuggle in the meeting and subsequent letter include:

1. Stop moving forward with the current CD announced April 12, 2016 that aims to prohibit water-skiing, wakeboarding and tubing in significant areas on Lake Havasu. If the Service is intent on pursuing such large restrictions, the agency should instead go through the normal scoping process, prepare an environmental impact statement and fully comply with National Environmental Policy Act from the outset. 

2. If Director Tuggle chooses to move forward with the CD, Congressman Gosar asked that he personally make the final decision as to whether or not to implement the CD and remove that decision from the current refuge manager. The current refuge manager has demonstrated a clear conflict of interest and disregard for public involvement in this process. 

3. Congressman Gosar again requested a 60-day extension of the public comment period.


Additional Information/Timeline of Events:

On April 12, 2016 the Service announced a draft recreational boating Compatibility Determination (CD) for the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and the agency’s intent to pursue significant boating restrictions on Lake Havasu. Click HERE to read more. 

The Service is currently taking comments for 30 days on this flawed proposal which can be sent to the following email address: Havasu_Boating_Comments@fws.gov

 As a result of requests by Congressman Gosar and Lake Havasu City Mayor Mark Nexsen, the Service will host a public meeting and allow comments on the CD on Monday May 2, 2016 from 6-8pm at the Relics and Rods Hall Lake Havasu City Community/Aquatics Center, 100 Park Avenue, Lake Havasu City, Arizona 86403.

Written comments on the CD can be sent to:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
Attn: Draft Recreational Boating CD
317 Mesquite Avenue
Needles, CA 92363

Written comments may also be emailed to:  Havasu_Boating_Comments@fws.gov

The CD aims to close significant portions of Lake Havasu within the Refuge to boating and prevent water-skiing, tubing, wake boarding, and other recreational towed devices within the 4,000-acre manmade Topock Marsh and on an additional 520 acres on Lake Havasu Reservoir.  Motorized boating is already restricted by the Service within on 17 ½ miles within the Refuge. Further, the proposed restrictions for Topock Marsh will likely prohibit bass boats and other large fishing boats from entering these waters.    

 According to the Service’s own estimates, nearly three million visitors vacation at Lake Havasu each year and a typical holiday weekend draws nearly 50,000 boaters to the area. According to a 2008 Lake Havasu City Tourism Survey, nearly 75% of tourists are interested in water skiing, wakeboarding or boating while visiting Lake Havasu. The survey also revealed tourists spend more than $200 million and support nearly 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

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. May Nexsen and Congressman Gosar’s efforts resulted in the Service scheduling a public meeting in Lake Havasu City.

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 the May 2015 boating restrictions and demanded the agency reopen this part of Lake Havasu to motorized recreational 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. The Service provided Congressman Gosar’s staff with rough details of the forthcoming CD. 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 wake activities 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.

On April 19, 2016, Congressman Gosar questioned U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe about the unwarranted boating closures made last May and the CD. 

The CD falls on the heels of a closure made by the Service last May that prohibited motorized boating within the reservoir in a ½ mile area that had been utilized by recreational enthusiasts for several decades. Specifically, on May 20, 2015, the Service posted an alert on its website that established new boating restrictions and expanded the “no wake zone.” This order was “effective immediately” and the newly closed areas were quickly marked with regulatory buoys and signs. The Service enacted this closure two days before Memorial Day Weekend without engaging local stakeholders or providing any opportunity for public comment. Numerous stakeholders have claimed that this closure was not based on science or merit.

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 poor response to the June 24th letter. In the letter, the Service stated the arbitrary May 2015 restrictions were allowed under its regulations in the form of (50 CFR 32.22). 

The Service has changed its justification as the CD states the May 2015 restrictions are lawful under 50 CFR 25.21 (e). This regulation allows closures in the “event of a threat or emergency endangering the health of the general public or Refuge resources.” This isn’t the EPA Animas spill and there is no pending threat or emergency. Further, the CD states that a NEPA categorical exclusion was allowed for the May 2015 restrictions “due to the absence of controversy related to environmental impacts.” There was plenty of controversy and the local refuge manager knew about it as documented in multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.

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 the May 2015 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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