Speed Limit on Lake Winnipesaukee?

This could be the last summer that powerful speedboats open up their throttles on Lake Winnipesaukee.

By a vote of 236-111, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that set speed limits on the state’s biggest lake. The limits of 45 mph in the daytime and 25 mph at night take effect in 2009.

This is not the first time the House has passed a boating speed limit bill. In 2006, it passed a similar bill for all lakes, but it died in the Senate on a 15-9 vote.

This year’s bill, HB 847, goes to the Senate next.

The bill originally called for limits on all lakes of 10 acres or more. The House Transportation Committee amended the bill to cover only Lake Winnipesaukee. It made the limits a two-year experiment, calling for them to expire in 2011.

Lake Winnipesaukee would become the second lake in the state with a boat speed limit. Squam Lake has a 40 mph daytime limit and a 20 mph night limit.

debate in Representative’s Hall was lively and heated at times as various members of the body got up and took turns speaking for and against a bill that has been among the more controversial to hit the floor in years, resulting in thousands of emails being sent out to representatives across the state.

The speakers fell in one of two camps.

The first — led by WinnFABS — feel a speed limit is necessary to ensure the safety of all lake users while preserving quality of life. The other group, headed by the New Hampshire Recreational Boaters Association, which has said there is no factual evidence to prove that speeding is a problem that has produced any hazard.

Following the vote, more than one NHRBA member expressed frustration that the House passed a bill that they feel is completely misguided.

“We are disappointed. This is a feel-good bill that is trumping facts. New Hampshire has one of the safest boating records in the country,” said Erica Blizzard, a NHRBA supporter and representative of Laconia’s Lakeport Landing Marina.

The House’s Transportation Committee supported the bill and more than one member of that committee spoke in favor of the speed limit on Wednesday calling its proposed “sunset” clause an “honest compromise” that will allow legislators two years to determine if it is needed and enforceable.

Rep. Howard Cunningham, D-Sandwich, was deliberate when he explained his support for a bill that he argued is reasonable.

He noted that the proposed limits won’t greatly impact the time it takes people to get across the lake, whose length he said could be covered in just over 30 minutes under the proposed 45 mph limit.

Cunningham said the Transportation Committee heard from many residents who supported a speed limit as a way of assuring that paddlers, swimmers and summer camp operators can share in the enjoyment of the lake along with those recreating in power boats, whose speed he said has compromised their quality of life.

“Many year-round residents have given up on boating on the lake,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham rejected arguments that the law is not enforceable, noting that Lake George marine patrol in New York has been using radar to implement that water body’s speed limit for 17 years.

Rep. Jim Pilliod, R-Belmont, the original sponsor of the boating speed limit bill, agreed, saying that the implementation of a speed limit was “common sense” and a good way to set a “standard of behavior” on the lake.

Others disagreed and spoke fervently against a bill that they feel is unnecessary, bad for the economy and interferes with the rights of boaters.

Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, took to the floor and noted that a summer study of lake speeds by the Marine Patrol showed that only three boats were found to be traveling between 60-70 mph out of the 3,852 test cases.

“The problem does not exist, yet we are trying to solve it,” said Packard.

He said he wished the speeding on the highway was so low even with the limits.

“We could get rid of the State Police,” said Packard.

Rep. Mike Whalley, R-Alton, was among those who argued that a speed limit was unnecessary considering current laws that require boats to slow down to six mph or “headway” speed when coming within 150 feet of another vessel or shoreline.

“New Hampshire has a speed limit,” said Whalley.

Whalley said he spends plenty of time on Winnipesaukee rowing and called claims by some that they can’t use paddle-driven boats on the Big Lake without being afraid “far-fetched.”

“People are enjoying the lake, including on Saturday and Sunday,” said Whalley, who reviewed all of the recent boating safety laws that have been passed in recent time to prevent accidents.

An eleventh-hour amendment put before the House by Rep. William Denley, R-Wakefield, to only have the nighttime speed limit approved was defeated 260-83 after limited debate.

Speed limit supporters say they are enthusiastic with the support seen in the House for a bill that will now head to the Senate.

Derek Durbin, the environmental policy director for the New Hampshire Lakes Association, said he is optimistic after seeing the bipartisan support in the House.

“I feel pretty good that it’s going into the Senate with a lot of momentum,” said Durbin.

Helve said she was pleased that New Hampshire voters spoke and “the legislature has listened”.

Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Jim Ryan, D-Franklin, issued a statement on Wednesday calling the bill’s approval a “great step forward” in preserving one of the state’s most treasured resources.

“While allowing for reasonable boat speeds, we are ensuring that all forms of recreation on the lake — including sailing, swimming and other forms of boating — are preserved for both out-of-state tourists and New Hampshire citizens,” said Ryan.

Others said they will continue to fight to see the speed limit defeated in the Senate.

Blizzard assured that the NHRBA will continue to argue that the bill is not supported by facts.


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