The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation is abandoning a rulemaking effort for Great Hosmer Pond. Instead, the department is examining new ideas for managing competing uses on all of Vermont’s lakes and ponds.
A dispute has been flaring up around Great Hosmer Pond, in Craftsbury and Albany, for years. Some summer camp owners say the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s sculling programs dominate the pond. The center and its supporters say those programs are vital to the economy in this corner of the Northeast Kingdom.
Don Hawkins’ family has had a camp on Great Hosmer Pond for decades. In fact, he says his parents built the first camp on the pond. His camp is also closest to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, and Hawkins says the center’s dominating presence on the lake isn’t fair.
"Our problem is, is that it encroaches on our privacy," he says. "It encroaches on our ability to use the lake. And we may not pay as much in taxes because they own vast acreage, but proportionately we all pay equal."
Judy Geer says she gets that. Geer and her husband Dick Dreissigacker bought the Craftsbury Outdoor Center and turned it into a nonprofit in 2008. And since then, she says, they’ve taken steps to be better neighbors.
"We’ve tried to move some of our activities up the hill," Geer says. "We’ve tried to tighten up the time that we’re there. We’ve cut the number of people in our camps. We use electric engines because they’re quieter. You know, so we’ve been trying very hard."
When the Department of Environmental Conservation stepped in last year, it proposed a draft rule that put restrictions on the times of day that rowing sculls and racing shells could be on the water. As far as anyone can remember, it was the first time the state had proposed restricting human-powered craft on a public waterbody.
Geer says the Craftsbury Outdoor Center is glad the state has abandoned its rulemaking effort on the pond.
"It didn’t seem wise to us," Geer says. "We already ban ourselves from the lake during that time period in the afternoon, plus more. And we also refrain from holding camps on holiday weekends, four additional summer weekends, so it’s like closer to half the summer weekends that we take ourselves off the lake."
But camp owner Don Hawkins says the underlying problem is bigger than Great Hosmer.
"If it happens here, it can happen anywhere," Hawkins says. "So somewhere along the line, commercial interest over private citizens has got to be addressed."
To that end, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Emily Boedecker is floating three ideas to address conflicting uses on lakes and ponds throughout the state.
The first approach would be to consider the use of adjacent public waters under Act 250. So if a project has to get a state land use permit, it's effect on a bordering lake or pond would also be considered.
Boedecker says the second idea is to come up with a way to determine a carrying capacity for lakes and ponds in the state.
"You then need to determine how you’re going to allocate that available real estate on the pond," she explains. "And so the idea that came up for that was permitting group activities."
The third suggestion is to create a citizen board to moderate user conflicts as they arise, as the former state Water Resources Board did. That board was dissolved several years ago and the mediating responsibility was handed over to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Jon Groveman is the policy and water program director for the nonprofit Vermont Natural Resources Council, which came out against the draft rule that the state proposed for Great Hosmer.
"I prefer, out of those three suggestions, trying to reestablish at least a limited form of the old Water Resources Board to really be able to focus on these conflicts, you know, when they arise and implement the Use of Public Waters Rules," he says.
Groveman was also the last executive director of the Water Resources Board before it was dissolved. And he says the board was better suited to hear and handle such conflicts than the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Boedecker says she’s soliciting feedback from lawmakers and citizens, as well as groups like the Vermont Natural Resources Council, on all three approaches.
Disclosure: Vermont Natural Resources Council is a VPR underwriter.