Monday, April 22, 2024

BCSO: 2022 boating season challenging

Staff Writer | October 28, 2022 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — It was a challenging boating season, Bonner County Marine Sgt. Dan Albanese said, noting complications posed by a limited staff, high waters, and a fatal boating accident, he told the Lakes Commission Wednesday.

While the 2022 boating season was slower on paper, the county saw a near flood emergency, a fatal boating accident on the Pend Oreille River which claimed the lives of four boaters, and a number of wake zone violations.

With a very understaffed marine division, Albanese said the fatal accident strained the division's resources. During the five-day search, he estimated rescue crews spent more than a thousand man hours looking for the missing boaters.

An investigation later determined the boaters were not only speeding, traveling more than 100 mph, they also had been drinking, Albanese said.

“Alcohol and boating is not a good mix,” he said

Albanese also ran down the policing activities undertaken this boating season, which saw around 50 citations.

Most of the citations were wake zone violations plus a handful of drunken boating charges, he said. The county passed an emergency wakeless zone increase from 100 to 500 feet during high waters in late June. The increase was reversed before the Fourth of July weekend.

“I could write 100 citations a day to kayakers who don’t have an invasive species sticker,” he said. “I don’t, but I could.”

“We don’t have enough guys to run all the boats,” he said. The sheriff office’s marine division had 19 staff just a few years ago, he said. Now, the department has 10, making enforcement on local waterways a challenge on the best of days.

Albanese said while overall boat traffic was down this year, Priest Lake is seeing more activity. That lake has been busier and the campsites have seen more use, with residents noting the more frequent loud music and drinking.

Regulating potential violations, however, is difficult when some days there are only two boats in the water, he said.

Furthermore, the sheriff’s office occasionally has to tow boaters to shore. While they try to only do this as a last resort, Albanese said they are often hemmed in since there are no professional towboat operations available.

When this happens, sometimes the entire division can be bogged down for several hours, leaving no one readily available should another situation arise.

All in all, “there was more compliance this year,” the sergeant said. Though, he credits record high gas prices, at least in part, for this newly found lawfulness.