PORTLAND (AP) – Maine’s highest court ruled Thursday that the state’s ban on personal watercraft on Lake St. George is constitutional in a case that had ramifications for hundreds of lakes and ponds with watercraft bans.

Mark Haskell of Camden invited a warden to issue him a summons three summers ago for riding a Sea-Doo because he objected to the state’s ban on personal watercraft on the lake. He argued that the ban was unreasonable and arbitrary.

A Superior Court justice agreed that the ban was “unduly arbitrary,” but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court vacated that decision on Thursday.

In its unanimous decision, the supreme court ruled that riding personal watercraft on Maine lakes and ponds is not a fundamental right and is subject to restrictions.

“Regulation of one form of watercraft while other forms are unregulated does not make this regulation unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious,” Justice Donald Alexander wrote in the seven-page decision.

The case was being closely watched by conservation groups, as well as personal watercraft users and other recreational boaters.

Maggie Shannon, executive director of the Maine Congress of Lake Associations, called the ruling “momentous.”

“We’re pleased by today’s decision because it preserves some degree of local control about what happens on Maine’s sensitive inland waters,” Shannon said. “This is appropriate because local stakeholders have the most to lose if a lake loses its recreational appeal.”

The Legislature in the 1990s passed a state law banning personal watercraft on hundreds of lakes and ponds across Maine. Lake St. George was added to the list in 2003 at the request of the town of Liberty.

Haskell, who owns a lakeside camp in Liberty, bought himself a new Sea-Doo with the intention of challenging the law. He was issued a civil citation on the Fourth of July weekend in 2005.

During the trial, witnesses testified that both inboard and outboard motors were allowed on the lake and that many of them were louder and created bigger wakes than his personal watercraft.

In rejecting the ban, Justice Donald Marden said the threat to the public welfare is created not by the boat, but by the operation of the craft.

In appealing to the state supreme court, Assistant Attorney General Jerry Reid said riding a personal watercraft is not a fundamental right and that it’s appropriate for the state to approve bans at the municipal level.

“The Legislature has a broad right to regulate public uses of great ponds,” Reid said after the court issued its decision.

Michael Kaplan, the Portland attorney who represents Haskell, said the case will now go back to the District Court level.

“I wasn’t terribly surprised by (the court ruling), but of course I’m disappointed,” he said.


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