State moves to limit scullers’ use of disputed pond

Craftsbury Outdoor Center coach Carol Bower, a member of the 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic Team, sculls on Great Hosmer Pond. File photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger

The state is proposing to restrict racing shells and sculls on Great Hosmer Pond in Craftsbury, a move critics decry as an unprecedented attempt to favor motorboats over human-powered craft.

The ban would apply between 1 and 4 p.m., and again between 7 p.m. and sunrise, from late May to early September.

There have been conflicts for years on the pond between motorized and nonmotorized watercraft. The pond is used by the nonprofit Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which trains rowers and scullers.

The proposed rule is an attempt to move beyond the stalemate, said Environmental Conservation Commissioner Emily Boedecker.

And it is very much a work in progress — or at least that’s her hope, Boedecker said.

“I really want to move the conversation forward, toward talking about solutions,” she said. “I want to get to the point where everybody can enjoy this pond again.”

“There are many different uses happening on this pond,” she said. “There is a very broad spectrum of interest, of comments, of concerns … [and] here’s one solution I’m putting forward. If there’s a different alternative, a better solution out there, please let me know. I’m all ears.”

Boedecker must by law seek to balance all “normal” uses on the pond, she said. A 1995 ruling by the Water Resources Board declared powerboating a “normal” use on Great Hosmer Pond, even though by law powerboats may not exceed 5 mph on the overwhelming majority of the pond’s surface.

The pond is too small to have separate areas for conflicting normal uses, so having separate times for different uses of the pond is the only viable solution Boedecker came up with, she said.

“Nobody has called me and said, ‘I like the rule,’” she said. “Everybody has called me and said, ‘I don’t like the rule.’

“If anybody’s got a better idea, a better way all these normal uses can coexist, I would love to hear that. I’m very genuine in my desire to hear other solutions.”

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, whose family owns property on the lake, spearheaded the effort to change the rules. She said she is no longer a spokesperson for the situation, and declined to comment for this story.

George has said the push to limit scullers on the lake is a matter of safety, not a dispute between nonmotorized and motorized users of the pond.

Craftsbury resident Kristen Fountain said it’s unclear what else could be motivating the proposed rule change.

“I don’t know what else it could be,” she said. “If not that, what is the use they’re trying to allow for?”

The Craftsbury Outdoor Center, a rowing and sculling school on the pond’s south end, currently sends groups of up to 30 scullers and rowers up and down the narrow pond sometimes three times a day.

George and others have complained that the nonprofit center has monopolized the pond and made it unusable by other boaters. George said she owns a powerboat in order to water ski.

Water skiing requires speeds of around 20 mph, according to the sport’s U.S. governing body, but powerboating at speeds above 5 mph is illegal on almost all of Great Hosmer Pond.

The restrictions Boedecker proposed would apply only to racing shells and rowing sculls, such as those used by the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.

But since the center already voluntarily stays off the pond during the hours of the proposed ban, Fountain said, the rule would affect only private individuals like her who want to scull on the public pond.

Both she and her husband own sculls and regularly use them on Great Hosmer Pond, Fountain said.

Fountain said she’s not aware of any public body of water where scullers have been prohibited in order to facilitate powerboating.

She also said that if the state is writing a law to regulate the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s activities, the law should deal with outdoor center alone instead of banning all scullers and rowers from the pond twice each day.

“It’s been a very strange process, and it’s a strange draft rule. They basically took what the outdoor center’s been doing and made that the rule,” Fountain said. “The way it is now, the only people who are going to be affected … are people like me, who aren’t affiliated with the outdoor center.”

Further, it’s inappropriate for the DEC commissioner to write rules meant to hurt or help a single private entity in the first place, she said.

It’s also a bad precedent to set, said Ian Anderson, a former sculling coach at the University of Vermont who now practices rowing and sculling on the Lamoille River near Milton.

“I think there’s a potential, of course, that this could set a precedent, that other parties could get people to stop using a pond or a lake that they consider their own,” Anderson said. “This could be used as a way of limiting access to anyone.”

Dreissigacker and Geer
Craftsbury Outdoor Center owners Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Geer stand before the center’s racing sculls. File photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger

There’s also an economic component to the issue, and it’s one the DEC seems to be overlooking, said David Snedeker, executive director of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association.

“The outdoor center is probably one of the largest economic engines in the town of Craftsbury,” Snedeker said. “Anything that negatively impacts the outdoor center as a business and as an employer is going to affect the local economy for sure — negatively.”

Snedeker said the outdoor center is one of the largest employers in the area.

The DEC is moving forward on the rulemaking process without much good data on who actually uses the pond, Snedeker said.

“If I’m setting a rule, I’d maybe base the rule on usage of the lake, rather than being arbitrary about it and saying, ‘This user can use it during these hours, and this other user can only use it these hours,’” Snedeker said. “I think this issue of proportionality might be different if they had data.”

Plus, Snedeker said, he doesn’t know of any instance in the state of Vermont where a public water body has been closed to human-powered boats in favor of motorboaters.

Great Hosmer Pond is currently one of a handful of water bodies of its size in the state that allows high-speed motorboating, and it is legal there only because of an exemption granted in the 1995.

Because Great Hosmer Pond is so narrow — only 80 feet at its narrowest point — nearly the entire pond falls within a zone extending 200 feet from shore, where the speed limit is 5 mph.

State law normally prohibits high-speed boating on lakes and ponds with fewer than 30 contiguous acres that aren’t covered by that 200-foot zone.

Snedeker said the DEC should reconsider the exemption that allows motorboats on Great Hosmer Pond, instead of banning the sculls and racing shells that conflict with them.

The proposed rule has not yet begun the formal rulemaking process, Boedecker said.

It’s in a draft form that’s open to revisions, and up until the moment it’s adopted, Boedecker said, she’s willing to suspend the rulemaking process and attempt other approaches.

The DEC is accepting public comment on the proposed rule.

Once other agencies have the opportunity to vet the proposal and to see whether the DEC is the right agency to propose it, Boedecker said, she’ll submit it to the secretary of state to begin the actual rulemaking process.

There’ll be a 30-day public comment period after that. The proposed rule would then go before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, a body of eight legislators who would review it to ensure it lines up with state law.

If she’s able to begin the formal rulemaking process near the beginning of next month, the rule could be in effect by the end of the year, Boedecker said.

Correction: The exemption that allows high-speed motorboating on Great Hosmer Pond was granted in 1995, not the 1970s. 

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  • James arisman

    Hosmer Pond because of its narrow shape and size simply does not seem to be an appropriate body of water for motorized boating. Perhaps ECC should reconsider its outdated “grandfathering” of such uses. It sounds as if one influential family’s desire to water ski is driving the new rule.

  • Gina Campoli

    Those of us involved in the Friends of Great Hosmer Pond – visit http://www.greathosmer.org – are disappointed that the state is proposing limiting a healthy, non-polluting activity and not articulated why. What are the other activities that sculling is prohibiting? It can’t be high speed motor boating because that’s illegal on most of the pond. For over the past 30 plus years I have paddled my canoe, and swum and my kids have fished while rowers moved up and down Great Hosmer. If the state would visit the Pond, no one has yet, and observed the various activities they would quickly see there isn’t a problem. Banning sculling is a solution in search of a problem. That isn’t to say that there aren’t camp owners who resent any sort of change. That’s a large part of what’s going on here. If it’s not sculls, the growing number of stand up paddle boards and kayaks on Hosmer may be the next to be prohibited.

  • Joanna Cummings

    I sent Commissioner Boedecker my comments about the draft rule and never received any acknowledgement of receipt, so I am not sure if you are sincere about wanting people to send you ideas. The rule is unfair and seems to only appease a vocal state’s attorney and her family. I lived in Craftsbury and used the pond for canoeing, sculling and swimming: it is not an appropriate place for high speed motor boats. The Craftsbury Center had voluntarily reduced their sculling instruction hours on the pond which seemed fair, and did not impact recreational non-motorized activities. The DEC’s rule is not a better idea.

  • Rick Cowan

    …and for hundreds of years before motorboats by non-motorized craft.

  • It’s really not clear what the issue is. DEC go home. Or better yet, go clean up Lake Champlain.

  • -Seth Steinzor

    Power boats are polluting, noisy, cause shore erosion, disturb wildlife, waste gas, and contribute needlessly to global warming. Any rule which restricts hand-powered or wind-powered craft in favor of power boats is heading in exactly the wrong direction.

    • Matt Young

      Seth, with the exception of “shore erosion” you’ve described automobiles. Own one? Should we do away with those in favor of skateboards?

      • Robert Lehmert

        Got a hand-powered or wind-powered automobile available?

        • Matt Young

          Sure, want to use one?

          • Robert Lehmert

            Sure – I’d go for the $13,000 Nissan Leaf/Green Mountain Power close-out deal.

          • Matt Young

            You realize the Nissan would come here via a huge container ship right?

          • Steve Baker

            And the peasants that toil in filth and pollution mining the elements for the batteries at less then slave wages….

      • Kalob Farrar

        There’s a difference between driving a car to work and choosing to participate in a hobby that isn’t necessary and has no foreseeable benefit to anyone except those with motorboats.

        • Matt Young

          Is that the only place people drive cars, to work? Are any hobbies “necessary.” I actually enjoy seeing people having a good time whether they are driving a motorboat or playing ball. Freedom.

          • Kalob Farrar

            “Freedom” at the expense of the environment will lead to that environment being destroyed. Humanity has shown that over and over throughout the centuries, we have no problem destroying the ecosystems around us. Maybe we should actually acknowledge that and make choices to preserve the areas we haven’t entirely mucked up yet. I’d like my nieces to enjoy catching salamanders and frogs in water that isn’t tainted with oil, or with the disruptive sounds of a motorboat in the background. I’m a seventh generation Vermonter. I would value our land, and any land anywhere, over the petty and shortsighted ideals of people who just want to have fun.

  • Susanna Rodani

    Yes Yes Yes.

  • Mary Reed

    Ms. Boedecker appears to be ready to help Ms. George, and any others who wish to exceed the 5 mph. speed limit (which was NOT changed by the 1995 waiver) break the law. I’m pretty sure that ‘aiding and abetting in the commission of lawbreaking’ is not an appropriate role for any appointed Commissioner. Ms. Boedecker would do well to carefully read the 1995 waiver before she gives the appearance of State-sanctioned lawlessness.

  • Brooke Paige

    This is the deal Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George was pushing so her family could have the “pond” cleared so he family could enjoy their powerboat – it’s good to have friends in high places – I smell a big payday for the lawyers !

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Although riparian laws regarding the public ownership of navigable waterways are distinct and well established, there is currently a raging public debate regarding whether there should be any public access to Berlin Pond with some arguing that it’s established use as a municipal water source supersedes all else. The current allowance of power boats on Great Hosmer is also an exception to an established standard of a 200 foot no-wake zone, enacted for reasons of tradition. There are similar concerns and objections about appropriate uses of some public lands and no hard-fast rules about activities being favored simply because they are “muscle powered”. There are “muscle powered” activities that are considered inappropriate such as mountain bikes not being allowed on many footpaths like the Long Trail. Mountain bikes are not welcome on the Long Trail because they damage the trail excessively and their speed would present a hazard to those on foot. Maybe the State should play King Solomon and ban both motorcraft AND scullers…motorcraft because the pond is really too small and narrow …and scullers because they move too fast, consume too much width with their long oars and face the wrong way to see where they are going. They are the mountain bikes of the water.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    “Non-profit” is one of those terms like “muscle powered”, that conveys a lofty distinction. While at the same time the Outdoor Center claims to be an economic engine of the region. Now that’s clever marketing.

  • Kalob Farrar

    Why would anyone limit the use of hand powered crafts when we could simply not allow motor boats on the pond? Why are we encouraging activities that pollute our water and natural environments? This sends the wrong message. Honestly, there’s no reason good enough to pollute the lakes and ponds in VT or anywhere else in the name of a hobby. If you want to jet ski or bounce over the waves in a speedboat, please go somewhere else and understand you’re contributing needlessly to the destruction of our planet. What happened to hobbies like reading a book?

  • Joe Shannon

    Non profits are a joke anyway. Just dodge taxes.

  • Joe Shannon

    I have never been to the pond in question but I looked at Google Images. In no way is that pond large enough for a high speed boat. It’s just a rich family using their money to monopolize a tiny body of water. What a joke.

    • Brian Machesney

      It would be a joke, except for the fact that, “Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, whose family owns
      property on the lake [and] spearheaded the effort to change the rules…
      said she is no longer a spokesperson for the situation, and declined to
      comment for this story.”

      Not what Chittenden County wants in a State’s Attorney: run for cover when the going gets tough.

  • Does the State enforce whatever rules currently apply? Does the State plan on enforcing whatever rules get adopted? How will the State enforce? Fines? Prohibition? …”

    • Brian Machesney

      In a recent VTDigger article,

      “State law forbids water skiing on the pond at all when as few as
      three other people are on it, depending on where they are on the water,
      but the official charged with enforcing that law said he has no
      intention of doing so unless the ANR asks him to.

      “Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ide said he wasn’t even aware until recently that
      his department is in charge of enforcing motor boat speed limits near shoreline and near other people on most bodies of water in Vermont.”

      • Steve Baker

        Too many laws to enforce, does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

  • Dennis Works

    There is absolutely NO WAY for a motorboat to legally operate on that pond while towing a water skier – unless they simply go around in tight circles on one or two very limited sections.

    • Brian Machesney

      Given the small area on the Pond which conforms to the 200-ft from shore limit, this is exactly what must happen.

  • Bob Hooper

    this issue is being presented in a way that seems disingenuous…. it looks like a business is using a public body of water in such a way that other residents and members of the public are disadvantaged by that usage. Deciding to set up a race course in Battery Park and telling other folks that they are not welcome would be unheard-of… but it seems to be what is happening here. A public use lake that has been effectively appropriated by a business, one where someone floating on a tube needs to be aware that they may be run over by a skull or yelled at for relaxing, is not acceptable… This is not a power boat issue, as presented, since people who want to kayak are just as much at risk of drawing ire from the commercial participants….

  • Steve Baker

    Such a Vermont Story.
    Laws, Laws, and more Laws but none seem to be enforced or applicable in this case.
    – You have the well healed well connected family with their semi-private playground
    – Then we have a fictitious Non-Profit that’s actually a for Profit LLC move in and by venture of time wants to monopolize the Pond or Lake?
    Can people see the irony of the “Special Interest” fighting the “Special Special Interest” Right in the middle of all this is a State drowning in regulations that no one understands or enforces.

  • Brian Machesney

    Making a new rule restricting only the use of rowing shells is akin to the Trump administration’s travel ban and it will be just as ineffective. People enjoying Great Hosmer Pond in a rowboat, kayak or sail boat will also require motorized boats to slow down, for the safety reasons originally cited by Ms. George.

  • Dennis Works

    It’s not just the acreage of the “currently unrestricted sections” that matter, but the SHAPE of those unrestricted sections. I Googled Great Hosmer Pond and then took measurements at the 3 widest sections. Those distances are 820 ft, 778 ft, and 797 ft, respectively. Given that the boat must maintain a distance of at least 200 ft from each shore, that leaves 420 ft, 378 ft, and 397 ft, respectively in which to operate in a STRAIGHT LINE in the 3 WIDEST sections of the pond. During the inevitable turn the skier will often travel in an arc 100 ft further out than the boat itself travels due to the length of the rope, etc. Therefore, in a turn, a 500 ft MINIMUM is required to meet the legal restrictions (200 ft from each shore plus 100 ft additional for the skier in a turn). Those three sections are the ONLY sections that are wide enough to allow a turn to be made within the legal restrictions. As EACH of those sections is divided by a section of the pond that is WELL LESS than the 400 ft minimum from shore to shore (for straight line travel), there is no legal way for a boat and skier to travel to a different wide section to turn around at the other end. Given the fact that a boat with a skier CANNOT legally travel between these 3 sections at waterskiing speed, that means they are restricted to choosing ONE of those 3 sections only to ski on at any given time – meaning they essentially must travel around in a tight and constant circle to be in compliance with State law.

    As I said in my initial comments: There is absolutely NO WAY for a motorboat to legally operate on that pond while towing a water skier – unless they simply go around in tight circles on one or two [OK, MAYBE three] very limited sections.

    • Judy Davis

      Ya, I’m with you. But do you think anyone would want to waterski in an 8 acre or ~5 acre area? I guess you can tow a tube around in circles.

  • Mary Peters

    Chiming in once more-if I could count the times I see motor boats pulling skiers or tubers on G Hosmer, it’d not even fill one hand. Hence why I repeat that the issue isn’t motors vs non-motors. Lots of people would like to make others THINK that’s the issue. The issue is a business using the lake to make business-whether it’s a non-profit or not.

  • Judy Davis

    I did indeed look — before my post. CF Operations, which includes the Outdoor Center and Hosmer Point Camp, is an operational arm of the Concrete Foundation, which has the OC owners as Directors and the top 5 highest paid employees listed — the managers of the OC and HP. See IRS Exempt Organizations search page. EIN 20-3794063

  • Judy Davis

    So non-profit = bad and for profit = good. Or non-profit = good and for-profit = bad. Definition of a private operating foundation from IRS: A private operating foundation is any private foundation that spends at least 85 percent of its adjusted net income or its minimum investment return, whichever is less, directly for the active conduct of its exempt activities (the income test). In addition, the foundation must meet one of the following tests: the assets test; the endowment test; the support test.

    • Pat Cashman

      Neither, I’m not sure why you have a need to ascribe a moral value to each. Instead I would offer: Truth = good, error and falsehood = bad.

  • Pat Cashman

    Ms. Davis, you appear intent to make this a discussion that prioritizes belief, emotion, and opinion over facts, and I believe you project your own responses onto me whether I say it or not. I have no “emotional” investment in this either way, I have been pointing out that this website and yourself were make factually incorrect statements about the Craftsbury outdoor center, either knowingly or else out of ignorance. Nobody’s belief, opinions, or “feelings” make incorrect statements correct.