Committee Considers Jetpacks in Harbor

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The future of water propelled jetpacks and flyboards in the harbor was up for discussion among residents and city officials this week.

More than a dozen people attended the Water Propelled Vessels Ad Hoc Committee meeting Thursday.

The committee is headed up by Harbor Commissioners Joe Stapleton, Duncan McIntosh and William Kenney.

“It’s my opinion that the goal of this committee is to look at what’s best overall for the harbor in general,” Kenney said.

There are many issues to consider, he added, including noise, location, safety and private versus commercial operations, all of which were discussed during the hour and a half long meeting.

Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller and Assistant City Attorney Michael Torres attended the meeting as well.

“This is a new technology,” Torres said.

The city didn’t envision these type of users in the harbor, he continued, so the ad hoc committee is now tasked with reviewing all the issues that arise with this type of technology and these type of water powered vessels.

“So that gives us the ability to say, ‘We don’t want them,’ ‘We do want them,’ ‘We want more of them,’ (or) ‘We want less of them,’” Stapleton said. “At least now we know we have some ground to stand on, as far as putting teeth into this if that’s something we want to do based on the findings of this committee.”

City Council has placed a moratorium on new jetpack businesses allowed in the harbor until the issue could be studied further.

JetLev Southwest already had a permit in place, which allows them to continue to operate. Their permit expires spring 2015, said JetLev Southwest President Dean O’Malley.

Other businesses will have to wait.

“From the day we were told not to operate in the bay, we have not operated in the bay,” confirmed Fly Jet Sports CEO and President Gus Caicedo.

They still fly in Newport, but outside the bay, he explained.

Stapleton also gave an update on the issue to the Harbor Commission on Aug. 13.

“For me, it comes down to quality of life for our residents that live on the water and, most importantly, safety of fellow boaters,” he said during the commission meeting.

“It increases the level of intensity on the harbor,” said commissioner Brad Avery. “Whenever I’m around it, I’m really aware of it. Not in a negative sense, it’s just sort of there.”

It’s a difficult balancing act of deciding how much and what to regulate, allowing everyone to use and enjoy the harbor, while remaining business friendly and keeping up the resident quality of life and safety level, commissioners agreed.

Many residents have spoken up about the issue.

“It was cute the first couple weeks they were in operation, but now it’s really, completely out of control,” said George Farah at the Aug. 13 commission meeting.

Farah was joined by a handful of his neighbors, all of whom had several concerns including safety, the noise level and quality of life. They urged commissioners to consider other locations or prohibit it altogether. This type of activity is not appropriate for Newport Harbor, one resident noted.

Farah and other neighbors echoed these sentiments during the ad hoc committee meeting on Thursday.

It has become “pure stress.” Farah said, and “it’s beyond our control.”

“None of us bargained on this,” when they bought their homes, Farah said.

O’Malley said he was working on addressing their concerns.

“We just have to take the issue and try to work through this as best we can,” he noted.

Noise was a top complaint by residents at both meetings.

They can even hear the jetpacks inside with the doors closed, Farah noted.

“We have taken steps to try and improve the noise,” O’Malley said,

They have lined the inside of the pod with noise dampening foam, he explained, as well as tried different nozzle sizes

It has improved the noise levels, but not eliminated them, he said. It’s a step in the right direction, he added.

“I can’t promise that [the noise] will be eliminated so that it will be silent, but my goal is to bring it into a reasonable range,” O’Malley said. “We want to be respectful of the neighbors, we have to be mindful of the other users of the harbor space.”

Both Stapleton and McIntosh visited residents home to evaluate the noise level.

But the days they visited were not typical, Farah said at the Harbor Commission meeting.

“What the commissioners saw is not what we normally see every day,” he said.

When the operator knew the commissioners were nearby, listening and considering the noise levels, they stayed low and didn’t accelerate, Farah argued.

This test was again discussed during Thursday’s ad hoc committee meeting. Resident Randy Curry suggested the commissioners do the survey again without the operator knowing.

“I’m going to make a personal effort to go out when you guys (JetLev) don’t know I’m there,” Stapleton said.

Several residents also suggested moving the operation around the bay. Spreading the noise around among the various neighborhoods so no one community has to constantly hear it.

It’s a residential harbor, O‘Malley said, so there are homes on virtually every slice of water.

“Why expose any neighborhood?” Farah questioned.

There does not seem to be a single location in the entire bay that works best, said another resident. And other areas won’t work at all.

The Upper Bay presents a whole other set of challenges, Miller noted. It’s a protected area, he explained.

“I don’t think an operation such as (JetLev) would ‘fly’ in the upper bay,” Miller said.

O’Malley proposed near Marina Park as a temporary solution.

“Our goal is to find an area that is safe and has as little of an impact as possible on those around us,” O’Malley said.

Safety was also an area of concern for both commissioners and residents.

They also spoke about  commercial versus private operators.

With the decreasing cost of the equipment, it is possible for private users to purchase it in the future, Miller noted.

“If people buy these things, we’re going to have an enforcement issue whether we prohibit them or not. They’re still going to come down here and try to get in the water with them,” Kenney said. “That’s just a  fact of life.”

The commissioners eliminated the idea of allowing an unlimited number of commercial operators in the bay. There needs to be a limit or none at all, they agreed.

They were also leaning toward prohibiting the private use of water propelled vessels altogether.

“In my own opinion, we can certainly make findings that would justify a prohibition on the private side, for safety, congestion and noise issues,” Kenney said.

Commissioners and staff members will gather more information to help make some firm decisions for a recommendation at the next committee meeting.

Kenney is tasked with determining what restrictions on noise, area, safety, supervision, throttle control or other factors would need to be regulated if they decide to recommend allowing a limited number of commercial operators.

Stapleton and Miller will come up with preliminary findings for prohibiting private operators, if that’s the committee agrees upon.

Torres will look into any liability issues.

McIntosh will consider location possibilities.

The next Water Propelled Vessels Ad Hoc Committee meeting is scheduled for Sept. 3 at 4 p.m., likely in a conference room at the civic center. An update  will likely be presented to Harbor Commission on Sept. 10.

“It’s all about trying to find a workable solution,” O’Malley said. “Honestly, if we don’t have a workable solution and we’re not welcome here, we understand that. But obviously I do want to try and figure out something that does work for everyone.”

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