Jetpacks still a controversial topic for Newport Beach

Jetpacks still a controversial topic for Newport Beach

NEWPORT BEACH – At the third Newport Beach Harbor Commission’s Water Propelled Vessels Ad Hoc Committee meeting, Sept. 3, attendees were asked to cast their vote either for or against jetpack operations in the harbor.

The informal vote tipped toward banning both private and commercial jetpack businesses in the harbor with only the bay’s lone jetpack service operator voting in favor of the company continuing its service in the bay.

Harbor Commissioner Joe Stapleton, who was serving as chairman of the committee, stepped down at the beginning of the meeting citing his position as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce left him to feel “pulled in different directions” and found it difficult to remain impartial. Jetpack America is a member of the chamber. Harbor Commissioner William Kenney led the meeting after Stapleton left the room.

The committee, which consists of Harbor Commissioners Kenney and Duncan McIntosh, was formed in July after the City Council implemented a six-month ban on issuing new Marine Activities Permits to jetpack businesses looking to operate in Newport Harbor.

In his new role as chairman, Kenney asked residents, bayfront homeowners and harbor users to say whether they were for or against jetpacks in the harbor and provide a one word answer as to why.

Noise and safety were the main issues of concern. The operation was also called a nuisance by a resident.

Safety was the issue of upmost concern for Billy Whitford of the Newport Aquatic Center, who described watching a private jetpack operator whipping around the bay near students.

“I don’t want to have to tell the parents of an 8-year-old that their son is not coming home,” he said. Whitford fears that an inexperienced jetpack user will collide with students in kayaks or other small waterborne vessels.

Kenney replied that currently no regulations for private operators are in place but recommended Whitford report this type of use to Harbor Patrol.

“Regulations haven’t caught up with the technology,” said Harbor Patrol Deputy Sean Scoles.

Jetpack America owner Dean O’Malley provided the lone “for” vote and provided the chairman with several letters in support of the company written by customers who’ve flown on the jetpacks.

Many writers described how their time in the harbor extended to dining at restaurants, staying in city hotels and enjoying other city businesses.

Jetpack America is currently the only hovercraft type business operating in the harbor. The permit expires in 2015.

Jetpacks offer riders a chance to be propelled off the water’s surface after being suited in a shoulder harness that resembles a jetpack. Users learn how to steer the device, which sends riders skyward using a water-pumping hose.

The company is allowed to operate in non-federal channels, between 18th Street and the mooring field, the turning basin by Lido Island, the anchorage and off the Rhine Channel.

Residents contend the operation is too close to bayside homes, are unsafe and more hovertype companies should not be allowed in the harbor.

The committee will provide the Harbor Commission with recommendations on prohibiting private users; if the city should allow more commercial operators to operate in the harbor along with potential locations.

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