Gulf Islands National Seashore has begun a comprehensive study that will ultimately decide whether personal watercraft can cruise through seashore waters.
Following a federal court order in 2010, the seashore is launching a $400,000 environmental impact study with two public informational meetings Nov. 18 and 19 — one in its Florida district and one in its Mississippi district.
The meetings, conducted in an informal open house format, will provide six preliminary alternatives for public review and comment to watercraft use in its park waters.
Those options include banning personal watercraft or allowing them to operate with stepped up resource protection measures.
They were developed by seashore and National Park Service staff along with the seashore’s environmental and science consulting firm Louis Berger Group, said Dan Brown, seashore superintendent.
“We are requesting public comment and input to refine those alternatives,” Brown said. “We want to know their thoughts.”
Currently, personal watercraft are allowed in seashore waters with certain restrictions.
Public input will be used to finalize a draft of the environmental impact statement document that will be released for public review in the spring or summer of 2014.
The seashore doesn’t want to leave any stone unturned in this review, Brown said.
U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in 2010 that a 2004 federal study stating that personal watercraft would not impair natural resources was deficient. The study led to exempting the Gulf Islands National Seashore from a National Park Service ban on personal watercraft in 2006.
Kessler’s 2010 order was the culmination of 10 years of work by the plaintiffs — Friends of the Earth, The Wilderness Society and other groups — to protect park resources. Their efforts were hotly debated by the personal watercraft industry.
Brown said Kessler ruled the seashore’s findings were not based on adequate data such as determining the number of personal watercraft that ply seashore waters.
Kessler also questioned why the National Park Service allows personal watercraft despite data in its study acknowledging they negatively affect water and air quality, wildlife, visitor use and safety.
This time around, the seashore is conducting surveys to calculate more accurate data on the personal watercraft use in the seashore, along with evaluating the impacts of the watercraft on seagrass beds, air and water quality, and wildlife and visitor experience in terms of noise pollution, Brown said.
Gulf Islands National Seashore will hold two informal public scoping meetings for the personal watercraft use environmental impact statement from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the following dates:
» Nov. 18: Florida District, Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center, 1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze.
» Nov. 19: Mississippi District, Davis Bayou Visitor Center, 3500 Park Road, Ocean Springs, Miss.
• The National Park Service will accept public comments until Dec. 15. To submit comments or to learn more details on the PWC project, visithttp://parkplanning.nps.gov/guis-PWC-EIS.
To submit a comment: Click the “Open for Comment” link. Then select the “Public Scoping Newsletter” document and then click the “Comment on Document” button.
Written comments also will be accepted at the public meetings or by mail at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Attn: S&RM Division, PWC Project; 3500 Park Road, Ocean Springs, Miss., 39564.
• To receive electronic updates on this project, emailGUIS_PWC_Project@nps.gov, and include your email address and ask to be included on the list. Public comments will not be accepted via email.
• The next opportunity for commenting on this project will be when the draft environmental impact statement is completed, which should be in the spring or summer of 2014.