Vermonters chime in on proposed wake boat rules

Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 11:27 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - More than 200 people attended a public hearing on Wednesday for proposed new rules for wake boats on Vermont waters. Currently, they abide by the same rule as normal motorboats, but that will likely change.

An environmental group, Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes, petitioned the Department of Environmental Conservation for these new rules. While the draft rule isn’t exactly what they petitioned for, department officials say it would still be the most restrictive shoreline rule in the country.

Oliver Pierson, manager of the DEC Lakes and Ponds Division, says while wake boats make up roughly 5% of boats on Vermont’s lake, their growing popularity raises environmental concerns.

“Under the water quality standards we have in Vermont and our clean water objectives, wake boats, in that distance between 200 to 500 feet from shore can do some damage, which is what we’re trying to mitigate,” Pierson said.

A draft rule on the table would require wake boats to stay 500 feet from shore, to have a home lake to prevent the spread of invasive species and to only be used in 50-acre areas or more.

“We also found a 20-foot depth is required to avoid wake boats really stirring up sediment, disturbing habitats and re-stirring phosphorus up into the water column,” Pierson continued.

While members of the group Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes are happy the department is acting, they’re still adamant 500 feet from shore isn’t far enough. They say while it’s a step, 500 feet isn’t enough.

“It should be 1,000,″ Thetford resident Katherine Babbit said. “Allowing wake boats on Vermont’s small lakes is like allowing someone to smoke a cigar in a crowded room.”

“Certainly, we also have concerns about personal injury, about interference with the vast majority of other users on the lake, things of that nature,” said Jack Widness with Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes. He also backs the 1,000-foot rule.

Those opposed say abiding by these rules can get expensive and be a detriment to their respective wake sports.

“To ask someone to do that on Lake Champlain or where there’s tons of boats passing through, is not really an option,” said Bill Hayes, an avid wakeboarder.

“I find this rule to be favoring those who are wealthy with waterfront property, where they can leave their boat in a single place,” said Jamie Caroll from Hinesburg. He often trailers his boat and uses it in different locations.

If this rule is implemented, it will not apply to bodies of water that share borders with other states or Canada.

“If you own a wake boat, there’ll be 31 inland lakes, plus Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog and the Connecticut River reservoirs,” Pierson said. “I think that gives wake boat users plenty of opportunity.”

Pierson says all this input will be considered before a final rule is put out. It could go into effect as soon as the end of this year.