A seaplane, as seen from below, taking off from Lake Union, August 18, 2018.
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A seaplane, as seen from below, taking off from Lake Union, August 18, 2018.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Lake takeover by seaplane? Kenmore Air says critics don't get it

A coalition of groups around Lake Union is gathering petition signatures to stop what they see as an attempt by Kenmore Air to cordon off a part of the lake as a designated airstrip.

A petition to "Save Lake Union" has gathered over 1,500 signatures.

Kenmore Air says the community groups have it all wrong.

The company is not looking for a dedicated airstrip, Kenmore Air director of operations John Gowey said, but rather wants beefed up enforcement of the system already in place to clear a path for seaplanes — series of five buoys that are installed during the summer and flash before Kenmore Air seaplanes take off or land.

Other users of the lake have to stay 200 feet away, but the distance is not enforceable, Gowey said.

The Seaplanes Environmental Coalition launched an online petition this week after the group discovered a letter to the Seattle Harbor Patrol Chief from Kenmore Air president Todd Banks through a public disclosure request.

In the letter, Banks asks that Harbor Patrol “keep vessels and water sport craft clear of the seaplane landing buoys” and enforce laws that prohibit having an open container of alcohol in a public place (for example, while boating).

“If Harbor Patrol cannot effectively police the current buoy system full-time, we would like to discuss necessary next steps,” the letter says.

Those "next steps" the letter details include a dedicated patrol boat and “a demarcated landing zone area of Lake Union for the exclusive use of seaplanes.”

“What I understood from that letter is that they wanted a dedicated, off-limits runway down the middle of the lake” in which anyone would have to go around “their airport” to get to the other side, head of the Seaplanes Environmental Coalition Peter Erickson said.

But he said the lake should be available for the masses that use it, including commercial vessels, sailboats and swimmers.

“It’s a treasured resource in the middle of the city used by the citizens, not by a sole business. It’s shared by many businesses and many citizens and it needs to stay that way,” Erickson said.

“I agree with him,” Kenmore Air's Gowey said. “It does need to be used by all people all the time. The thing is, we’re one of those people.”

Advisory buoys are not equipped to handle the volume of boaters, paddle-boarders, and others during peak times in the summer — Fridays and weekends after 2 p.m.

So Kenmore Air is asking for Harbor Patrol to keep the 200-foot-zone on either side of the buoys clear and prevent boaters from stopping and sitting there, as they do now, Gowey said.

Boats could still pass through the zone, though, he said.

“I think the concerns presented in the petition are based on some misconceptions,” Gowey said.

It’s not the regular lake users who are the problem, but the occasional boaters who show up on nice summer days and tie up to the advisory buoys, he said, or move 20 feet away and just sit there.

Kenmore Air has met with the Seattle Mayor’s office once and expects more discussions to come, Gowey said.

The Seattle Police Department is reviewing the request from Kenmore air, as written in the August letter, and the department will have more to say in advance of the 2020 boating season, spokesman Sean Whitcomb said.