Boating Speed Limit Debated Again in Concord

After reading this article published today … I would love to hear your thoughts/opinions on the matter of a speed limit on Lake Winnipesaukee.  

Boat speed limit debated again
By GEOFF CUNNINGHAM Jr.
Article Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CONCORD — The battle over a bill proposing a speed limit on Lake Winnipesaukee continued on Monday with everyone from island-dwelling barge operators to weekend speed boat enthusiasts weighing in on an issue that has lake users divided.

Approximately 200 people — many from the Lakes Region — gathered in Representative’s Hall at the Statehouse for a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on House Bill 847.

The bill is proposing a 45 mph daytime and 25 mph nighttime speed limit on the Big Lake.

The legislation passed in the House at the end of January by a vote of 236-111 and is now in the hands of a Senate that has killed similar efforts in previous years.

Monday’s crowd was divided between those who say the speed limit is needed to ensure safety and to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere on Winnipesaukee and those who regard it as an unnecessary regulation that would hurt tourism.

Rep. Jim Pilliod, R-Belmont, the sponsor of the bill, made it clear that lake users came to him asking for a solution to dangerous boating and he said the speed limit would be another tool for Marine Patrol officers.

Pilliod discounted concerns that a speed limit is unenforceable, noting that similar laws on Lake George in New York have been working for years with few arrests or citations needed to get the message across.

“It’s the culture in New York,” said Pilliod of boating speed limits.

Pilliod and other advocates for the bill argued that the speed limit would be a quantifiable standard that could be used by officers to ticket and punish reckless operators.

“They can’t regulate without a standard,” said Pilliod.

Rep. Alida Millham, R-Gilford, agreed, saying that New Hampshire lawmakers are always hesitant to pass laws that impact people’s freedoms, but she said certain issues reach a “tipping point” where action is necessary.

“I think New Hampshire is at that point,” said Millham.

Millham said she has had two close calls while boating on the lake where speed played a part in a safety concern.

Others denounced the bill as feel-good legislation from those who would like to keep larger boats off the lake despite indications that speed hasn’t played a significant role in any serious accidents in recent years.

More than one person opposing the bill cited a recent Marine Patrol speed survey that saw officers using radar to track boating speeds during the summer of 2007.

Steve Youngblood of Alton said that survey of 3,800-plus boats showed the average daily speed limit to be under 25 mph with 99 percent not traveling over the proposed 45 mph limit.

He was among those who said there is no statistical data showing Winnipesaukee to have a problem and urged the enforcement of existing laws like the “safe passage” law, which requires operators to maintain headway speed when within 150 feet of another craft or the shoreline.

George Randall of Tuftonboro, an island dweller who operates a barge, disagreed and asked why people are in opposition to the bill if nobody is traveling at high speeds.

“If the violations are that small, what’s the big deal,” asked Randall.

Erica Blizzard, a New Hampshire Recreational Boaters Association supporter and representative of Laconia’s Lakeport Landing Marina, testified that none of her customers is calling for a speed limit with most saying they would consider not boating on Winnipesaukee if the law is imposed.

“Our economy is already in a downturn,” said Blizzard.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, asked questions about how bad the speed limit would hurt the economy while his colleague, Sen. Peter Burling, D-Cornish, was more interested in who wasn’t being heard from and might be negatively impacted by high speed boating.

At one point he challenged a speaker by pointing out that high-speed boating could already be impacting the tourism economy by keeping sailboat owners and kayakers off the lake.

“Are you telling me I don’t have to worry about those people who say speed is a problem?” asked Burling.

Others said the law is outright unnecessary.

Richard Smith, a representative from the NH Bass Federation, said there were only 54 boating “mishaps” in the entire state in 2007 showing a good record with newly established education laws.

“There is not a boating safety issue in the state,” said Smith.

He called on the members of the Senate to use their “wisdom and courage” to handle the issue by looking at the “facts”.

Sandy Helve, a Bear Island resident in the summer and leader behind the Winnipesaukee Family Alliance for Boating Safety, said legislators should consider the message they are sending to visitors.

She pointed out that high speed boating contradicts a marketing image that has New Hampshire tourism leaders encouraging families to come to the lakes for its safety, serenity and natural beauty.

Helve questioned whether high speed boating fits in with that “brand image.”

“Are we really living up to what we are promising,” asked Helve.

The speed limit proposal will now be voted upon in committee for a recommendation before being sent to the full Senate for a vote.

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