In Reversal, Quechee Lakes Crafting Deal for Public Access to Lake Pinneo 

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 02, 2018

Quechee— Three years after declaring that Lake Pinneo would be a “members only” amenity, the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association is crafting a deal that would allow some public access.

The details of the arrangement have not been determined, but QLLA President Craig Allsopp said Friday it will likely involve giving Hartford residents the opportunity to buy passes to the 52-acre artificial lake, which was built in 1974.

“We are going to do everything we can to make sure Lake Pinneo is a family-friendly experience for our members and for town of Hartford residents who buy passes to use the lake,” Allsopp said.

As recently as January, the association was exploring ways to step up enforcement of the ban, which it implemented in May of 2015 during a broader spat with the town about whether municipal officials would move forward with building a riverside park on the site of a flood-ravaged eyesore on Quechee Main Street.

This week’s reversal comes after the Valley Newsreported that public access to the lake was a state-mandated condition of its original Act 250 permitting from both the District 3 Environmental Commission and the Vermont Water Resources Board.

Both bodies gave their blessing to the project based, in part, on the idea that “all residents of the Town of Hartford will be eligible to use the lake, probably with a minimum registration fee” that was envisioned at the time to be no more than $10.

After receiving copies of the permits from the Valley News last month, Allsopp said, “I asked our attorney to look into the 1974 permits to confirm their validity. He did and reported that even though there was nothing in the deed mentioning lake rights for Hartford residents, the provision in the permit applies today.”

Allsopp said he updated the association’s board of the new information during its regularly scheduled Feb. 15 meeting, and that on Feb. 16, he “appointed a committee of two board members and two QLLA residents to work with our GM to develop a game plan and fee structure to provide access to Hartford residents.”

Hartford Selectboard Chairman Dick Grassi welcomed the news, which comes at a time when the closure of the Sherman Manning Pools this summer will likely leave many Hartford residents exploring their options.

“We haven’t discussed it with them but I think that’s very healthy and helpful, that we’re going to look at it and discuss it and get our residents out at the lake,” Grassi said Friday. “I’m encouraged.”

Grassi said that, with the tension over the riverside park fading into the past, the town and QLLA are now enjoying a good working relationship.

“I’ve heard nothing negative, and that’s positive,” he said.

Area residents who were dismayed to lose Lake Pinneo access a couple of years ago were thrilled to hear the news.

Rick Russell, a Quechee resident who is not a member of the association, said last month that he was bothered by the ban.

“I went there when I was growing up, but now my kids are excluded, even though we live close enough for them to bike over to it,” he said.

But on Friday, the news that the lake will be open this summer had him striking a different tone.

“Going to the beach will be really nice,” he said. “Now that I’m a dad its really something I’d like to do with my kids, make memories with them, letting them get to have that experience like I did.”

But Allsopp cautioned that all Lake Pinneo users — members and non-members both — will be affected by the looming threat posed by invasive milfoil, which has been choking the waterway in recent years.

“We’d like to eradicate it using a safe herbicide but haven’t gotten permission from the state to do so,” Allsopp said. “Last year we spent thousands of dollars on divers and mechanical harvesting, but the milfoil is getting worse.”

He said he hoped the permit, which is being sought from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, would be resolved in the association’s favor in time to treat the lake for this summer.

In October, QLLA hosted three area state senators at the lake to talk about the problem, and seek help in working through the regulatory obstacles to using the herbicide, called Sonar, according to a statement on the issue on the QLLA website.

The DEC just last month announced its intent to deny a permit for the Iroquois Lake Association in Hinesburg to use Sonar to combat milfoil there.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.