City resident Tom Winner brought the idea to aldermen at a special Parks and Lakes Committee meeting. He says the lake has hosted boat races off and on in its history, most recently in the 1980’s.
Winner says he’s working with the National Boat Racing Association to get a race scheduled on Lake Jacksonville the weekend of September 14th and 15th.
“It’s an opportunity to do something different at the lake that hasn't been done in a long time," says Winner. "It's also an opportunity for people to attend a function that's free. There will be no admission charged into it. It'll be a two-day race on a Saturday and Sunday. The race will commence at around 1:00 and they'll end at 5:00."
Winner says the lake would have to be closed by 9:30 each morning of the race. He hopes to have entertainment in the evening including a band and alcohol vendors.
Several aldermen had concern about erosion that might be caused by the race boats traveling at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour on a lake that is currently more than 28 inches below full pool.
Winner says it shouldn’t be a concern.
“They're just not that big of boats or great big motors," says Winner. "They're small props. Certainly nothing compared to the boats that run out there on the lake everyday. Erosion is a problem you have to take care of as it comes along. Right now, we're just suffering from a terrible lack of water and that's nobody's fault at all. So, we'll hope for that and maybe that will get better."
Alderman Tony Williams says City Council still has questions that will require some research.
“Even though they say that the initial effect of racing on the lake is not going to be very much because the boats aren't that large we still need to research that to see how it's going to take place," says Williams.
Winner told aldermen the National Boat Racing Association has an insurance plan that will cover spectator liability meaning the city won’t be on the hook in the event of an accident.
“They’re going to have a $5 million insurance policy but we need to sit down and find out what it's really going to cost in order to insure this event," says Williams. "Because the event is not just on the lake, it's going to be on the shore, too, if they're going to have drinking. We want to make sure that the city is covered and we want to keep our citizens safe at the same time."
Winner says, as event organizer, he’ll be in charge of looking for volunteers and securing ways to fund the event. He doesn’t expect the races to cost the city money, but doesn’t believe the city will make any money from the event.
Parks and Lakes Superintendent Bruce Surratt says if City Council doesn’t allow the races this year, the dates will be filled with one of the 35 to 45 lucrative bass fishing tournaments the lake hosts every year. Surratt says he’s already received some complaints from campers worried about the noise from the races and not being able to use their boats that weekend.
Aldermen hope to make a decision on the event at its final meeting in February.