The days of noisy, drunken summertime gatherings of boaters in Kirkland might be over. The city wants to crack down on a popular practice known as rafting.
If you’ve ever been to Juanita Bay in the summertime, Kirkland Police Lieutenant John Ashlip says you understand the problem.
“Sometimes a hundred boats are congregating and often many of them are rafted together [with] a lot of alcohol consumption and partying and booming, extremely loud stereos going on from mid-morning, sometimes until late into the night,” said Ashlip.
On Tuesday, the city council will consider an ordinance that will ban the linking of more than two boats. Police think it’s this “rafting” of boats that promotes the disruptive and reckless behavior, sometimes including the ramming of other vessels as these rafts of boats drift.
The new law would also restrict sound from audio systems that can be heard more than 50 feet from the watercraft.
The proposed ordinance has made allies of the younger, speed boat crowd and the yachting community, which also likes to “raft” together.
“So, they are stopping me on my 65-foot yacht from tying to [a friend’s] 55-foot yacht and having a nice, quiet afternoon sitting on the back deck of our boats, talking or discussing business with no music playing,” said Tim Dies, a member of the Queen City Yacht Club.
Dies says police need to target the right group and the right problem. “They need to be attacking the 25-foot ski boat people that are out there rafting together, getting drunk, causing a lot of noise and their boats are drifting and crashing into other boats,” he said.
Backers of the ordinance include environmentalists who fear for the wildlife that populate the bay and nearby Juanita Wildlife Park.
“I can’t say that we can document it [a threat or injury to wildlife] but I have heard first hand accounts of watercraft chasing swans in the last year and once they leave they usually don’t come back for long periods of time,” said Tim McGruder with Eastside Audubon.
The city claims that boating noise is a growing problem among park users and nearby residents. But critics, including Dies, say the city is trying to appease waterfront homeowners.
“I can guarantee that they’re pandering to some people that own waterfront property in Juanita Bay who are extremely wealthy,” claimed Dies.
McGruder says opponents are a diverse group and the new ordinance is reasonable. “We’re not talking about 100 percent restriction, we’re talking about regulating it to the point where people can continue to use it [Juanita Bay] as a recreational resource and the habitat can still remain at a high level.”
Dies says if the city bans rafting, the local economy could feel a backlash.
“The city of of Kirkland is going to find out that a lot of our members and other people in the boating community will refuse to go to the Kirkland city docks to tie up their boats, pay the moorage fees and also use the restaurants and shops in downtown Kirkland,” he warned.
The city council could take action Tuesday.