Original Permit Stipulates Lake Pinneo Should Be Open to Public

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/14/2018 11:58:31 PM
Modified: 2/15/2018 1:58:14 PM

Quechee — The decision by the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association to stop allowing other Hartford residents to use Lake Pinneo a few years ago appears to violate conditions established when Vermont regulators first gave the private development permission to create the lake.

According to state records obtained by the Valley News, the permit to build Lake Pinneo in 1974 was based in part on the premise that all Hartford residents would be allowed to swim, fish and boat there for a modest fee.

When the Vermont Water Resources Board issued an order permitting the artificial 52-acre lake in 1974, it found that “the proposed impoundment will serve the public good,” and it based that conclusion on the board’s fact-based findings.

In those “findings of fact,” the board listed only one “public benefit” — Lake Pinneo would feature “increased recreational facilities for the residents of the Town of Hartford who will be permitted to use the lake upon payment of a maintenance charge.”

It also said that the project would have a beneficial effect on recreational values, because “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.”

Former state Rep. Lynn Bohi, of Hartford, said on Wednesday the new information could be a game-changer.

“I always thought that it was their property, to manage as they saw fit,” Bohi said. “However, if it was part of the permit, that changes the story.”

Bohi speculated that, with several leadership changes at both QLLA and Hartford, the information simply may have been forgotten. She advocated an engaged discussion between the association and the town.

“There needs to be another sit-down between Quechee Lakes leadership and town leadership with the permits in hand to remind people of what’s in the permits,” she said.

On Friday, after seeing the Vermont Water Resources Board permit, Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar said it would be irresponsible to draw immediate conclusions.

“It is a singular document from 1974 that probably only tells a very small part of the entire story,” Pullar said.

In a letter published in Saturday’s Valley News in response to a Feb. 8 story about the association’s decision to beef up enforcement against Hartford nonmember residents using the lake, Quechee Lakes Landowners Association President Craig Allsopp maintained that “the policy limiting Lake Pinneo to QLLA owners is neither new nor particularly newsworthy.” Allsopp wrote that the subject hadn’t been discussed recently and that the QLLA board hadn’t received a formal request from the town to reconsider its current policy.

Allsopp declined an interview for this story, but he indicated in an emailed response to questions from the Valley News that the organization is reviewing its legal standing to make Lake Pinneo a members-only amenity, a decision made in 2015, before Allsopp was president.

“I’m not familiar with the 1974 lake permitting process so I’ve asked our lawyers to look into it and get back to me,” Allsopp said.

Conditions of Permit

In addition to the Water Resources Board records, there are additional mentions of public access among the permits on file at the District 3 Environmental Commission offices in Springfield, where an entire file cabinet is devoted to Quechee Lakes Landowners Association documentation.

The documents show that in April 1974, Elbert Moulton, then-president of the Quechee Lakes Corp., made even stronger assurances about the public’s use of the lake to the District 3 Environmental Commission as that body considered whether to issue an Act 250 land use permit for the same $520,000 lake-building project.

In the commission’s “findings of fact,” it noted, “Lifeguards will be provided by the applicant on a scheduled basis, along with swimming lessons. All residents of the Town of Hartford will be eligible to use the lake, probably with a minimum registration fee.”

Moulton also told the commission that the price would not be cost prohibitive. “Mr. Moulton testified that such a registration/course fee would not exceed ten dollars,” according to the document.

Linda Matteson, coordinator for the District 3 Environmental Commission, said that the strongest legal language in a permit aren’t the findings of fact, but the permit conditions.

However, Matteson said, the findings of fact “do carry some weight,” and that concerns over compliance with such findings could lead to a fresh review of the permit.

One clause in the Water Resources Board permit says that its conditions “are based on findings that the impoundment is to be used as stated in the application. If there is any significant change in those uses and purposes, the Board” could review and possibly revoke the permit. The clause stresses that this could come into play “with particular reference to the representations concerning public usage.”

And the Act 250 permit prefaces a list of conditions with a statement that the permit is being issued “if compliance is made with this application as submitted, the above findings of fact, and the conditions hereinafter set forth.”

Peter Van Oot, a longtime environmental lawyer in Vermont who formerly served as the chairman of a District Environmental Commission, said on Wednesday that findings of fact usually are binding as a matter of law.

“Although I am not familiar with the specific findings, permit conditions or background of this matter, generally findings of fact and permit conditions all become part of the permit issued — and are potentially enforceable,” Van Oot said.

Lake Pinneo has served many purposes for the association. Permits show that, in the 1970s, 1.9 million gallons of water were pumped into the irrigation system of the neighboring golf course for every three-day watering cycle, and it also supplied the water used to make snow at QLLA’s nearby ski hill.

In an effort to replenish that water, and also to combat algae blooms, the association sought and received permission to pump water out of the Ottauquechee River, discharging back into the river when necessary.

Relationships at Stake

Last week, the Valley News published an article about the 2015 revocation of public access, which QLLA leaders at the time described as a temporary response to the town’s seeming inability to move forward with a plan to turn a flood-ravaged eyesore on Quechee Main Street into a small riverside park. The $415,000 park eventually was built, but public access was never restored.

Though QLLA declined comment for last week’s article, Allsopp responded with a letter to the editor in which he said that the topic “had not come up” during recent monthly meetings of the group’s executive committee.

Allsopp was critical of the article, but indicated that there was a possibility that Pinneo could be reopened.

“Is there a chance the QLLA Board will reconsider its position? Possibly, if presented with a thoughtful proposal from the town of Hartford that also fits our members’ needs,” Allsopp wrote. “But I have to add that it is much less likely with the paper publishing stories that reignite past differences.”

But longtime Quechee Lakes Landowners Association member Frank McDougall said the combative posture of the current leadership is shortsighted and out of touch with a majority of members who want to be good Hartford citizens.

“I think past leadership got carried away with fighting with the town,” McDougall said.

He said that with the town of Hartford about to close its only public pool due to cost concerns, leaders should be working to craft an agreement that works for everyone.

“You can’t have a private establishment overrun by everyone on a hot day,” he said. “But I certainly think they should have a plan in place that welcomes the town of Hartford, especially when the pool is going to be closed.”

McDougall said he hoped Hartford residents would remember all of the other ways in which the association and its 1,400 members contribute to the community through donations, volunteer hours, and programs that allow area students to take advantage of the golf course and ski hill.

“A lot of us have worked very hard over the years to be part of Hartford and part of the town,” McDougall said. “Our kids went to Hartford High. Our boys played football.”

Other association members, including Honey Donegan and Hartford School Board member Peter Merrill, also have expressed concerns about the decision to close the lake to the public.

Different members of the Hartford Selectboard — Mike Morris, Simon Dennis and Chairman Dick Grassi — expressed a reluctance to comment in depth on the topic without more information.

“That’s interesting and I need to know more,” Grassi said.

If stakeholders raised concerns about the permit with the Commission, District 3’s Matteson said, the relevant coordinator — in this case herself — would review the documentation and make an initial determination. Those unsatisfied with her decision would have the opportunity to appeal, first for her own reconsideration, and then before the Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division.

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

This report continues after the documents below.

The following PDF is the decision from the Vermont Water Resources Board in May 1974 in response to Quechee Lakes' application to construct Lake Pinneo. Quechee Lakes was required to get this approval from the Water Resources Board as part of its larger Act 250 application.
  • Under item 7, C, the board took into consideration the effects on recreational values and found 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."
  • Under item 7, K, the board considered that the public benefits of the lake would be "substantially increased recreational facilities for the residents of the Town of Hartford who will be permitted to use the lake upon payment of a maintenance charge."

The following PDF is the Act 250 permit awarded to Quechee Lakes in June 1974. The 11th condition includes an item that says "all residents of the Town of Hartford will be eligible to use the lake, probably with a minimum registration fee."

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