Vermont issues draft rules restricting wake boats

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-07-2023 7:33 PM

FAIRLEE — After 10 months of deliberation, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has released draft rules that would limit the use of wake boats in some of the state’s lakes and ponds.

The rules would allow the use of wake boats only in public waters that have a 50-contiguous-acre area that is both 500 feet from shore and deeper than 20 feet. Under the proposed regulations, the boats must also stay in one lake per calendar year unless decontaminated by a DEC-approved entity. The decontamination rule is intended to address the spread of invasive species, such as milfoil or zebra mussels.

The boats, which can cost upward of $200,000, have been a source of controversy since they started cropping up in Vermont. The ballast tanks on the boats weigh down their sterns, which allows the weight of the boat to create a larger-than-usual wake, which is used for water sports such as wakeboarding and wakesurfing.

Advocates for restrictions argue that the big waves erode sensitive shoreline and make lakes dangerous for swimmers and non-motorized boaters.

If implemented, the potential regulations from the DEC would leave 31 inland lakes in Vermont open to wake boat usage, including Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee in the Upper Valley.

The draft rules fall short of the desires of Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes, or RWVL, a group advocating stronger wake boat restrictions. The group filed a 54-page petition with DEC in March, urging the department to regulate for a 1,000-foot shoreline buffer, double the distance written in the draft.

In step with recommendations from the Water Sports Industry Association, a national water sport advocacy group, Vermont currently requires that wake boats operate at least 200 feet from shore.

“So with these draft rules, we’re at least really glad that the DEC has acknowledged that there is a problem,” said Tom Ward said, a member of RWVL.

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Ward is a full-time Thetford resident with property on Lake Fairlee.

The boats have had a steady presence elsewhere in the country but are only beginning to make waves in New England, Ward said.

“Even though there aren’t many wake boats in Vermont at the moment, now’s the time to manage them before they become a big problem,” Ward said. “The wake boats take up an outsized portion of a lake for a few people to enjoy their sports, while they can rock 20 kayaks that are out there on Lake Fairlee.”

A public meeting to discuss the draft rules will be held on Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m. at the Highland Center for the Arts at 2875 Hardwick St. in Greensboro, Vt. Participants wishing to join virtually can do so at the following link: https://tinyurl.com/rxkffjuz. Those who wish to give feedback on the proposed rule at the meeting can sign up to do so, virtually or in person, at this link: https://tinyurl.com/55hpp2ks.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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