Berlin Pond is a familiar sight to motorists traveling on I-89 a few miles south of the Montpelier exit. For years the city of Montpelier has prohibited recreation on the pond, which supplies the city with its water and is located in neighboring Berlin.
Two years ago, after a legal challenge to Montpelier’s long-standing ban, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled the state, not the city, had regulatory power over the pond.
Now the Department of Environmental Conservation has ruled the pond should be closed to gasoline-type engines but otherwise open to boating, swimming, hunting and fishing.
Commissioner David Mears called it a challenging decision but said in reality state rules already permitted non-motorized recreational activity. Mears says his department was responding to two petitions.
One from the city asked that the pond be protected from contamination from petroleum products. A petition from a group called Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond asked for a ban on all recreational activity on the pond.
“I know that what motivated the citizens to file theirs petition and what motivated the city to file theirs were deep concerns about safety of the city’s drinking water as well as concerns about the natural beauty,” says Mears.
Mears says the state will adopt additional rules to make sure internal combustion ice augers used for fishing, and snowmobile or ATV traffic in the winter is prohibited on the pond. The decision doesn’t rule out the use of equipment like kerosene heaters or electric motors.
Mears says the Montpelier water treatment plant could remove any ill-effects of permitted recreational activity.
“They have a state-of-the-art system that can easily handle bacteria or anything associated with human beings being in contact with water. It’s really not an issue,” he says.
Since most motorized recreational activities are already permitted on water supplies accessible to the public, Mears said the department’s decision won’t have a far reaching effect.
Jed Guertin was among several members of the citizens group that petitioned for a ban on those activities who attended Mears’ announcement. Geurtin says allowing activity on the pond and the use of fuels like kerosene increases the likelihood of water contamination.
“Kerosene can be used for heaters, kerosene can be used for lanterns, Coleman fuel and things like that. Somebody can put an ice shanty right over the intake,” he says.
Guertin is also concerned that boats could introduce Zebra Mussels to the pond, which can clog intake pipes.
He is skeptical that there will be any increased policing of the pond to make sure recreational users aren’t breaking the rules.
Guertin hopes Montpelier citizens will appeal the state’s decision.
Montpelier owns nearly all of the land around the five mile circumference of the pond and has posted no trespassing signs.
But an 85 foot section owned by the town of Berlin permits access to the water.
Berlin is talking with the state about constructing a boat access on that land.