Hydroplane races on Lake Quinault prompt confusion from property owners

It’s been more than two months since non-tribal boats have been allowed on Lake Quinault, so many property owners were shocked to hear the roar of mini hydroplanes racing up and down the picturesque lake last weekend.

Angela Borgen, who owns a vacation home on the lake, said she witnessed the hydroplanes practicing on the lake Aug. 15 and 16, and racing Aug. 17 and 18. She said she was confused by the spectacle, considering the Quinault Indian Nation prohibits all non-tribal boats from entering the water.

“We went down and saw these people racing — doing these things we’ve been told we’re not allowed to do,” Borgen said. “And these pilots, I would have to say, were at least 90 percent non-tribal people.”

Quinault Indian Nation officials have spent the summer asserting their authority over the lake, which is owned by the tribe. The Quinault Business Committee, one of the tribe’s governing bodies, voted June 4 to close the lake to all non-tribal boating and swimming. Non-tribal fishing was banned in April, and the tribe cited pollution as a reason for the closures.

“We are very concerned about water quality in the lake,” said Quinault President Fawn Sharp in an April 16 press release. “We are concerned that non-tribal septic systems from surrounding homes and businesses may have resulted in a severe problem with untreated sewage and caused serious health concerns.”

But the tribe hasn’t provided any data, such as fecal coliform levels or other pollution indicators, to show how unhealthy the lake is.

The tribe lessened restrictions in early July, allowing non-tribal members to swim in the lake.

And while lake usage is ultimately determined by the tribe, there is a long-standing precedent of non-tribal property owners using the water for recreation. Only a small portion of the lake is bordered by tribal land. The rest is bordered by the Olympic National Park, the Olympic National Forest and privately owned, non-tribal property.

Borgen grew up in the Lake Quinault area, but she and her husband now live in California. The couple has owned property on the lake for two years and spends summers on the lake. She said that after spending so much time on the lake, she has grown to love it — and she’s tired of being told that she’s mistreated it.

“We are told that we don’t respect or care for the lake, and it’s obvious to us that (tribal members) don’t respect it,” Borgen said. “They didn’t even take the boats out of the lake to fill them with gas, so we definitely saw them spill some gas into the lake.”

Borgen’s neighbors echoed her surprise in seeing the hydroplane races on the lake. Rainforest Resort owner Dave Morisson said he was surprised shocked to see the hydroplanes, but took it as a sign that the lake isn’t really that unhealthy.

“I was glad to see it happen because it shows that it’s safe to have hydros and boats out there,” Morrison said.

Sharp couldn’t be reached for comment regarding the hydroplane races or the lake’s current condition.