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Tar Heel Regatta Unpopular With Some Residents Near Lake Wheeler

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WAKE COUNTY — This weekend's Tar Heel Regatta on Lake Wheeler is a popular event, but for some neighbors living near the Triangle Lake, it pits environmentalists against boaters.

Many profit from the regatta: fans get an exciting day on the lake, the winner takes home a $20,000 purse, and Raleigh's Optimist Club gets a $15,000 donation that they will use to help kids.

"The most exciting thing is the speed and thrill of the boat going across the water so fast," says Bobby Murray, Jr.

Where some see sport, others see a mess and are concerned that the environmental cost of the race this is too high.

John Argentati likes to kayak and wants the city to ban motor boats on the lake.

"Lake Wheeler is not a speedway," he says. "We think that it's completely irresponsible for the city of Raleigh to allow a powerboat race of this magnitude on a small, fragile water supply like Lake Wheeler."

Lake Wheeler empties into Lake Benson. In three years, Raleigh will get some of its drinking water from Lake Benson.

"We expect the city of Raleigh to monitor this lake to make sure that MBTE or other toxic chemicals are not ending up in the lake," Argentati says.

"After 33 years, if it had never been a problem, why is it a problem now?" Murray asks.

Race organizers say professional boats let out much less pollution than the recreational motor boats that are usually here.

"We do everything we can to prevent any pollution from happening. We set up, through our city contracts oil booms in case we have a spill. We have sawdust in case we have any kind of a spill."

In January, Raleigh City Council banned "jet skis" or personal watercraft on Lake Wheeler. The city also promised to regularly test the lake's water.

Regatta organizers hope to stage another race next year, but they are keeping an eye on the Raleigh City Council.