COEUR d'ALENE - Race the Joe organizers are cautiously optimistic that they may be able to resolve their issues with the U.S. Coast Guard, which would allow them to proceed with jet boat races on May 17-19.
"We have been working on several avenues to try and get this decision reversed," said Kyla Sawyer, spokesperson for Epic Motor Sports, which is co-hosting the event. "We have had countless conference calls between the agencies and I think we are making some progress."
The Coast Guard contacted organizers last week and told them it was not going to issue a permit for the races because the agency needed 135 days to complete an environmental assessment on the potential impacts to wildlife in the area.
Ordinarily the Coast Guard does not get involved in such matters, but in this case Calder resident Jim Boyd, who has been opposed to the races, contacted the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and insisted they get the Coast Guard involved.
In a series of emails to the agency, Boyd pointed out a 2006 Memorandum of Agreement between the two agencies that required the parks department to notify the Coast Guard of any "potential" environmental impacts the race might have.
Boyd insisted that there was a potential to impact bald eagle habitat on the river among other concerns, and that complaint prompted the Coast Guard to deny race organizers a permit for the race.
Without the permit, Sawyer said the sanctioning organization, which also provides insurance for the event, could not sanction the races.
Since then, Sawyer said the whole community has been searching for a way to proceed.
"We may have found a way to obtain insurance from another source," she said. "And we've done some research on what the fines would be if we decided to go ahead and hold the race without a permit."
She said at minimum the organizers could get a warning letter, or up to an $8,000 fine if they proceed without a permit.
"That is an option we are looking at," she said, adding they may not have to go that route if they can convince the Coast Guard to accept another environmental assessment that was conducted in the area last year.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted an environmental assessment on a small section of the river where they are doing levy repairs and determined their activity would not adversely impact bald eagle habitat in that area.
"Bald eagles may roost near the project areas; however the area is urban and highly trafficked due to the proximity of the lumber mill," according to the assessment. "Eagles using the area would be expected to be highly acclimated to human presence and activity."
Bobbi Jo McClain, the USACE biologist on that project, said the area was in a small section of the river closer to the city, and should not be considered an assessment of the entire race course.
Nevertheless, Lindsay Nothern, a spokesman for Sen. Mike Crapo said that is one of the issues that his office and the rest of the delegation are discussing with the Coast Guard and other authorities.
"This is kind of a two-layer process," Nothern said. "First we need to get beyond this immediate permit issue, and long-term we want to address this memorandum of agreement. People shouldn't be able to use something like this to stop a race in the 11th hour."
Nothern said he is hopeful the Coast Guard will consider the USACE assessment to allow a permit this year, allowing organizers time to do a more thorough assessment before the next race.
"There are a lot of people invested in that event," he said. "We are cautiously optimistic that we can get something done."
Sawyer said there are 21 teams signed up for the race and they are anxious to get the issues resolved.
Alex Smith is one of those racers, and he is planning to show up with his two boats, whether they are able to resolve the permit issue or not.
"I just spent $30,000 getting my two boats ready for this race," he said. "Race or not, I am going up there, and all the rest of these teams should join me."
Smith said if there is no race, there is no need for a permit and the jet boaters can do their own thing.
"We don't need a permit for a fun run," he said. "I'm going up there to put on a show anyway. They can't stop us from doing that."
Sawyer said many of the racers are still planning to show up regardless, but she warns anyone planning to run boats up the river needs to adhere to state laws governing speed limits and other issues.
"We are not advocating for anyone to do anything illegal," she said. "But we are still planning for a show and shine event no matter what."
The organizers are hoping to hear back from the Coast Guard later this week.