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A hearing into a proposed change to a navigational bylaw allowing boats to travel at a higher speed on the Clutha River between the Lake Wanaka outlet and the first rapid has heard motorised craft will be prohibited on the river if the Queenstown Lakes District council adopts the current proposed district plan.
On the first day of the council's navigation safety bylaw 2017 hearing in Wanaka yesterday, submitter Ian Greaves said he had more than 10 years' experience in planning, and his interpretation of the proposed district plan rural chapter and clause 21.5.44 dealing with recreational and boating activities on the surface of lakes and rivers was that the use of motorised craft on the Clutha River would be prohibited except for certain activities such as emergency search and rescue and a finite number of jet boat races.
Council legal representatives attending the hearing agreed Mr Greaves had raised an interesting point but that it would depend on the interpretation of the wording.
The hearing followed a council review of current bylaws, including the navigational safety bylaw 2014.
Council voted to consult the public on the proposed changes and when submissions closed at the end of last month 285 opposing the changes and 12 in support had been received.
About 20 submitters attended the hearing, and all but one opposed the proposed amendment to allow boats to travel over 5 knots between the outlet and the Albert Town bridge during daylight hours.
Under the existing bylaw boats are limited to 5 knots on that stretch of water at all times.
Nearly all of the submitters called for a total ban of jet boats and jet skis on that section of river, describing the increasing number of passive recreational users of the river and the number of jet boats and jet ski users as ''an accident waiting to happen''.
Many referred to the fatal accident between two boats on the blue lake at St Bathans on Boxing Day two years ago as a warning it could happen on the Clutha, if the amendment was passed.
Submitter David Ellis said his family owned 4ha and 300m of river frontage and over the past 60 years four generations had enjoyed holidaying there.
He said in the past 10 years there had been a huge increase in the number of floaters, jet boats and jet skiers using the river.
''What we are worried about is the health and safety issue of so many in the water and the inattentiveness of some of those in boats.''
He said ''two weeks ago it wasn't even holidays or summer, yet the river was packed with tourists floating down and three jet skis riders were going from side to side and egging each other on''.
Mr Ellis and his wife Jane drove down from Christchurch yesterday morning to speak at the hearing because they ''felt so strongly'' about the dangers to swimmers if the amendment was passed.
Mrs Ellis said banning motorised boats on that section of the Clutha River would open up opportunities for rafting companies and ''create a point of difference from Queenstown'' which is famous for its jet boating.
Grebes project director John Darby told the panel he was a qualified kayaking instructor for many years and had had the experience of being confronted by a power boat when taking a party of learners down a grade one rapid.
''Theoretically both parties should know how to avoid each other but ... the reality is that when such events take place, panic inevitably takes place with the result that the kayaking party tends to become split and scattered across a wide stretch of the rapid.''
He said the head of the Clutha River was a safe and excellent teaching venue for instructing kayakers and for those enjoying the more passive river-based recreational activities, and it would be sad if this element of safety were to be compromised by fast-moving craft.
Marie Lewis is the owner-operator of a bed and breakfast on the Clutha River and said her guests always commented on the peace and tranquility of the river ''which is a rare commodity and disappearing fast''.
Anglers from around the world came to stay at her bed and breakfast to fish the Clutha and if the amendment was passed the reputation of the river would be ruined, she said.
The hearing resumes today in Queenstown.
A recommendation is expected to be presented to a full council meeting on December 14.