Editorial: QLLA, Town Need to Work Out Lake Pinneo Issue

  • Jeff Waters, of Woodstock, Vt., plays with his one-year-old daughter, Amara, at Lake Pinneo in Quechee, Vt., on May 18, 2015. Waters, his wife Kristina, and their twins Amara and Beckett, have been to the lake a few times in the past two weeks, saying they love the parking proximity as well as the quietness of the area, and would be disappointed to have fewer water spots to take their children to. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Friday, February 16, 2018

“QLLA to Hartford: Go jump in a lake (just not ours)!”

That tabloid-ish thought crossed our mind earlier this month when Sean McLaren, general manager of the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association, adamantly declared that Hartford residents were not welcome at Lake Pinneo, the association’s 52-acre artificial lake, and added that he was looking into security measures to enforce the ban.

“The public is not permitted,” McLaren wrote in an email to staff writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling. “I see the need of security for our facilities, including the Lake.”

This struck us as not only unneighborly but unnecessarily confrontational, evoking as it does the image of rolls of razor wire deployed to prevent hordes of interloping children from storming the beach at Lake Pinneo. It was especially disappointing now that the town’s Sherman Manning Pools, located near the high school, will not be opening this summer due to the need for costly repairs.

After Hongoltz-Hetling’s story appeared, QLLA president Craig Allsopp passed up the opportunity to adopt a more conciliatory tone. In a letter to the editor, he dismissed the account as neither new nor particularly newsworthy, though he indicated the issue of access might be revisited if Hartford officials asked politely. “But I have to add that it is much less likely with the paper publishing stories that reignite past differences,” he wrote.

Actually, whatever differences exist are of recent vintage.

Hartford residents for many years had access to Lake Pinneo, which was built in 1974. What’s new, or relatively new, is that QLLA suspended that access in 2015 as part of a dispute with the town over long-delayed construction of a so-called “pocket park” near the Quechee Covered Bridge on a tiny parcel of land that was ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. It was eventually constructed at a cost of $415,000, a price tag that some Hartford residents thought made it a too-deep-pocket park. Anyway, the closing of Lake Pinneo to the public was characterized at the time as temporary, pending negotiations with town officials on access to QLLA facilities. Those talks apparently never took place.

Subsequent reporting by Hongoltz-Hetling suggests that the stance of QLLA’s leadership is as ill-founded as the high-handedness with which it has been expressed is ill-considered. State records strongly indicate that public access was a stipulation underpinning the original permission regulators granted to construct Lake Pinneo. In “findings of fact” in May 1974, the Vermont Water Resources Board determined that “with the construction of a recreational lake and beach area, open to use by residents of the Town of Hartford for boating, swimming and fishing, recreational values will be enhanced.” And the project’s Act 250 permit contains a stipulation that “all residents of the Town of Hartford will be eligible to use the lake, probably with a minimum registration fee.”

QLLA lawyers are now reviewing the association’s legal standing to make Lake Pinneo a members-only amenity, says Allsopp, who came to office after the restriction on access was imposed. Let us hope this review is not a prelude to a protracted legal fight but rather a step toward reaching an accommodation that secures full enjoyment of the lake by QLLA members, while granting reasonable public access.

We feel sure that this result would be welcomed by the many members of QLLA who play an active and positive role in the larger community of Quechee and the rest of Hartford, and who want no part of ugly divisiveness or exclusiveness. And town officials need to take the initiative to see what can be worked out here.

It shouldn’t be that hard.