Jack Widness

Jack Widness of Wilmington stands with a sign he created to spread the word about a petition to manage the use of wake boats. 

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WILMINGTON — Local residents involved in an effort to regulate wake boats in Vermont are planning to participate in upcoming meetings prompted by a petition.

“I’ll probably Zoom into one of them,” said John Redd, who lives near Lake Raponda in Wilmington. “Wake boats are OK as long they’re in the right place, but Lake Raponda is not the right place.”

The state in March received a petition, which can be found at bit.ly/wake-boat-petition, to create a rule from the Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes group. The petition calls for wake boats for wakeboarding and wakesurfing to be permitted only in areas where the distance from shore is greater than 1,000 feet, the wake depth is greater than 20 feet, and the area of the water body is more than 60 contiguous acres.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation is asking the public for feedback on the proposed creation of a rule to regulate how wake boats are used in public lakes and ponds in the state. A wake boat is defined in the news release as a motorboat, powerboat or speedboat used for creating wakes for activities such as wake surfing or wakeboarding.

“The State adopted the Vermont Use of Public Waters Rules to help Vermonters and visitors use and enjoy public lakes and ponds in a reasonable manner,” DEC Interim Commissioner John Beling said in the news release. “The Rules consider the best interests of current and future generations and ensure the natural resource values of the public waters are fully protected.”

Members of the public are invited to two public meetings to learn about the review process and petition. They also can submit comments.

Meetings will be held in person from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Richmond Free Library and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 7 at the Manchester Community Library. They also can be accessed online via Microsoft Teams at bit.ly/VT-use-pw-rules-meeting for the first one and bit.ly/VT-use-pw-rules-meeting-2 for the second; both pages have contact information for comments. More information can be found at bit.ly/lakes-ponds-rulemaking.

Jack Widness of Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes, a member of the Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds Board who lives on Lake Raponda in Wilmington, said his group will be presenting at the meetings. He anticipates the process will take months, with all public comments due by July 29.

Widness recounted how about 20 years ago, a rule limiting the use of jet skis or personal watercraft was approved by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

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“The Legislature does get involved but they only get involved as a subcommittee after the Agency of Natural Resources makes a decision whether they want to act on the petition that any individual or any group like ours makes,” he said. “It’s not the whole Legislature, but they look at the rule changes and they decide whether what the agency did is within the guidelines of what they had the authority to do, given to them by the Legislature.”

Widness said his group wants Vermonters to know about the project and what wake boats are, and to speak their minds about a potential rule limiting where such boats can be used.

“Our lake is small,” he said of the approximately 121-acre Lake Raponda. “It’s very shallow, and so the support I think is probably greater than it might be on another lake that may be bigger, where you have people that may own wake boats. But again, that’s why we have these public meetings. That’s why we need the public input to find these things out and to come up with a fair, balanced but I hope evidence-based thought process, as much as the public can manage that.”

Laura Winter, who lives near Widness in the Mountain View Association in Wilmington, heard about the project during a gardening event hosted by the Lake Raponda Association on invasive species. She has a small kayak and likes to take her dog out.

“I really don’t dare take him with me anymore because if we get tipped out of the boat, I’m not sure how easy it would be for the two of us and my kayak to make it back to shore,” she said.

Winter views the upcoming meetings as “a step forward” in raising public awareness. She collected about 50 signatures from community members for a petition in support of the rule. She heard from neighbors who were bounced out of kayaks or canoes, a couple who feared that their grandchildren would be unable to swim in deeper areas if a wake boat created difficulties, and others who worried about the erosion and impact on wildlife.

“I love seeing the loons and it’s detrimental to them,” Winter said.

Redd also got involved in advocating for the rule after Widness educated him.

“I didn’t really understand why certain boats were making bigger waves than other boats until I was talking to Jack about it,” said Redd, who began to notice they were creating maintenance problems for his dock on Lake Raponda, disturbing a loon’s nest and likely causing erosion issues on the shoreline. “The reality is that we have another lake in this town, Lake Whitingham or Harriman Reservoir, that’s far more suitable for that kind of boat because it’s deeper, it’s got a rockier bottom and I don’t think the environmental effects are anywhere near what we see on Lake Raponda.”