The Senate is considering a bill, sponsored by Sen. Justin Harrigan, that would make it illegal to operate a jet ski or sailboard close to shore and increase the fines DPNR is able to impose from the current $100 up to $1,000.
The fine would be imposed on the owner of the machine rather than the person operating it, making a rental company responsible for the renter’s misuse. During a meeting Thursday the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee voted to hold the bill for more clarifying amendments.
"My purpose is to address a safety concern," Harrigan told the committee Thursday. He said he recently saw a person using a jet ski on St. Thomas near a crowded beach and tried to warn the person that it was unsafe.
Hal Rosbach of Cane Bay Dive Shop opposed the measure in written testimony, saying it would be difficult to ban all use close to shore and still have a rental business. He suggested there should be designated areas "with signs posted "no swimming" or "swim ONLY" in specific locations marked off with buoys in the so-called designated areas.
"In order for the locals and tourists to enjoy these specific activities, there needs to be a balance. Other islands, such as Bonaire and Turks and Caicos, have areas marked off for swimming where these activities can not cross over," Rosbach said.
The Magens Bay Authority supported the idea of increasing fines, but said in written testimony "it appears that enforcement of existing laws may be a key issue here." The authority’s testimony suggested a meeting with water equipment renters and Planning and Natural Resources Department officials for a "comprehensive discussion" of the regulations and enforcement.
Jessica Magras Parris, representing DPNR, said the agency already fines individuals for violating "no wake" rules, if they are behaving recklessly close to shore, and that DPNR does not oppose raising the fine.
Sens. Sammuel Sanes, Clifford Graham, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Janette Millin Young each said they were concerned the bill and existing law’s ban on all operation within 500 feet of shore may be too broad. They suggested considering amendments to clarify how a user is to take a jet ski or sailboard out from shore, and possibly designating areas for their use.
"I would like to see it more defined and clarified before I can support it," Liburd said.
Voting to hold the bill for more amendments were Sanes, Graham, Liburd, Young and Sen. Marvin Blyden. Sens. Kurt Vialet and Terrence "Positive" Nelson were absent.