State sinks boating restrictions on Great Hosmer Pond

A sculler skims over Great Hosmer Pond in Craftsbury. File photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger
The Department of Environmental Conservation has backed away from imposing new rules that would have restricted human-powered watercraft on Great Hosmer Pond, while allowing powerboating and water-skiing.
The proposed rules would have banned rowing and sculling on the pond between 1 and 4 p.m., and again between 7 p.m. and sunrise, from late May to early September. DEC Commissioner Emily Boedecker said last week that she will not seek to put the ban in place.
The decision leaves unresolved the long-running dispute between powerboaters and human-powered boaters on the 149-acre body of water.
Jon Groveman, water policy director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, called Boedecker’s decision a welcome development.
The VNRC had said in October that it would file suit to block the new rules.
“When we got involved,” Groveman said, “our main complaint was: Why was the state government, with a top-down approach, imposing their will on the community without any data on what they thought the problem was or what the solution was?”
“We thought they made things worse in the way they approached it,” Groveman said.
Boedecker threatened last summer to restrict rowing and sculling on the pond if regular users, both motor-powered and human-powered, were unable to resolve their differences.
The Vermont Natural Resources Council’s threatened lawsuit in October was over the DEC’s failure to follow legal procedures for initiating the rule-making process.
The VNRC suit said Boedecker’s proposed rules would be the first in the state that would have prohibited access to a public body of water by nonmotorized boats in order to offer greater access to motorboats.
Boedecker and others have disputed that characterization, saying the dispute is not simply one between powerboaters and water-skiers on one side and scullers and rowers on the other.
“Fundamentally it is an issue of residency, investment and the carrying capacity of a waterbody,” Boedecker wrote in a letter Thursday.
Boedecker noted in an interview that the Craftsbury Outdoor Center employs electric-powered motorboats to accompany large groups of rowers and scullers. She also said some Vermonters who have invested in property near the pond feel that the rowers and scullers are “a disruption.”
Among the more vocal opponents of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s use of the pond for its rowers and scullers has been Sarah George, the Chittenden County state’s attorney, whose family has owned summer camps on the pond for decades. Only a handful of motorboats use the pond with any frequency, George has said, adding that she water-skis on the pond more than anyone else.
George has recently said she no longer wants to speak on behalf of that effort, but in the past she has accused the outdoor center of monopolizing the pond.
The dimensions of the pond could be a key factor in determining its future use. Great Hosmer Pond is long and thin, only 90 feet wide at its narrowest point. Under Vermont law motorboaters cannot exceed speeds of 5 miles per hour within 200 feet of the shore — an area known as the “shoreline protection zone.” Almost all of Great Hosmer Pond falls within a restricted speed zone.
There are only two small sections at either end of the pond where motorboaters may legally exceed the 5 mph speed limit. Water-skiing requires speeds approaching 20 mph, according to the sport’s governing body, USA Water Ski.
Motorboaters on Great Hosmer Pond regularly violate state law, Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore wrote last year in a draft memo to other members of Gov. Phil Scott’s administration. However, rather than enforce the law, which is under the purview of the Department of Motor Vehicles, Moore’s draft letter sought to have the law changed.
In a Jan. 11 letter to media outlets and other interested parties, Boedecker said she doesn’t believe formal rule-making will solve the problem, and suggested other possible paths to a resolution, including giving greater consideration to businesses and individuals who apply for a permit under Act 250.
Boedecker also suggested imposing a permit process for group use of public waters.
Boedecker also has suggested reviving the defunct Water Resources Board as a citizens forum focused on finding consensus-based resolutions to user conflicts on public waters, which has the support of Craftsbury resident Gina Campoli.
Campoli said the Department of Economic Conservation, or its parent Agency of Natural Resources, may not be the best equipped to deal with disputes over access to public waters. Both are staffed mainly by scientists, Campoli said, and the issues at question in the controversy over Great Hosmer Pond are not scientific ones.
Some of the solutions Boedecker has floated would require action by the Legislature. Boedecker said Tuesday that she plans to talk to legislators who represent the Craftsbury area to see whether that approach holds promise.
Read the story on VTDigger here: State sinks boating restrictions on Great Hosmer Pond.