Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rutland Herald: Pond partisans give state an earful (Public Access to VT's Natural Resources)

Rick Sanborn of the photo below was one the sportsmen's who won in a case
before the Vermont Supreme Court over Montpelier banning public access to
the Berlin Pond.  The state recently settled a case in which Sanborn sued the
city over its illegal enforcement of its illegal ban. Rick owns R&L Archery in Barre.

Pond partisans give state an earful
By Amy Ash Nixon
Staff Writer | May 28,2014
Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Avid sportsman Rick Sanborn, owner of R&L Archery in Barre, advocates for recreational use of Berlin Pond during a public meeting Tuesday in Berlin. It was held in response to a movement by citizens wishing to see recreational use again banned on the pond, which serves as Montpelier's drinking-water supply.
BERLIN — A standing-room-only crowd offered conflicting views of the current quality of Berlin Pond and the risks humans pose to it Tuesday evening, during a hearing on whether to restore a ban on recreational use of the pond, which provides drinking water for the capital, part of Berlin and the local hospital.

About 200 people turned out for the meeting in the library of Berlin Elementary School.

The line of people signing in was still long 10 minutes into the planned two-hour hearing in the stuffy library.

The Agency of Natural Resources convened the hearing after the group Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond petitioned the state to restore century-old protections for the pond and ban all human activity on it. The Vermont Supreme Court had determined in 2012 that only the state, not the city of Montpelier, had the authority to regulate use of the pond.

Melissa Perley, the president of Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond, was the first speaker Tuesday evening.

Perley said the group supports responsible hunting, fishing and boating where appropriate. "Our petition is about a small fragile pond that is the sole drinking water source for the city of Montpelier and a section of Berlin." The city's water treatment capability was predicated on no human contact with the water, she said.

"It is also about the dangers that human actions introduce from humans with malicious intent." She said the fact that the water supply serves a capital makes the treatment facility a potential target.

Perley argued that "all water resources don't need to be exploited by humans" and said the petition seeks to protect the water as a refuge for wildlife without human disturbance. There are three dozen bodies of water within a half hour of Berlin Pond that allow full recreation, she said.

She told the ANR it had the opportunity "to say to the citizens of your capital city, the state, the nation and even the world ... that you stand for the cleanest possible drinking water. Make no mistake: Your decision will be seen and have consequences in places reaching far beyond the borders of Berlin, Vermont."

Perley was given thunderous applause and a standing ovation by many.

Another perspective came from Rick Sanborn, of Barre Town, whose appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court over the use of the pond for boating led to the lifting of the restrictions. He said, "I am one of the three people named in the Supreme Court suit, so this is the face behind the name."

He urged the group's petition be denied, saying it was "without merit."

"There is a roadway that goes completely around the pond. It's been there for centuries. Roadways bring motor vehicles," he said, painting a picture that the pond is not as pristine as the petitioners argue.

People also use the area, he said, and dogs are brought in.

"Around the pond we have homes and camps and farms. This is human civilization, and all the noises that go with it. ... Those homes all have septic systems. Where do you think that goes? This is certainly not an area that's undisturbed," argued Sanborn. "And we have the airport, which brings noise from all the small planes going in and out."

He ended his allotted two minutes by saying, "And by the way, that is not pristine water. It is full of poop" from animals including bears and moose that leave droppings in the water.

Rodney Elmer, of Northfield, a hunter education instructor for the state of Vermont, said, "Ethics is a hard thing to try and instill in anyone." He said he has seen people walking onto the land that Montpelier owns around most of the pond, which is posted against trespassing, and said he's told them they shouldn't be doing that.

"We want to keep that water clean. It's at the top of the watershed. ... Bottom line is we're all vulnerable to everything," said Elmer. "This is sort of like two ticks arguing over the dog they're on. ... This is our land, this is our water, this should matter to all of us. Interstate 89 is one million times more of a threat than any canoe or any one person. ... I don't hear a word about that, and that is the biggest threat to all of us."

Montpelier's police chief, mayor, city manager and public works director all spoke in support of the petition, urging that the former restrictions be reinstated to protect the water supply.

The city also has a petition before ANR, seeking restrictions on ice shanties and gas-powered augers, much less restrictive and comprehensive than the restrictions the citizens group sought this winter.

The City Council has lent its support to the Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond petition in a letter to ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz. The Montpelier Conservation Commission has likewise sent a letter of support for the all-encompassing ban on recreational activity on the pond.

Leslie Welts, a staff attorney with the Department of Environmental Conservation, told the crowd Tuesday evening that the department would take public written comments through June 3 at 4:30 p.m.

Comments received will be posted on the DEC website, and the public meeting will be posted in full so people can also listen to it. Several people expressed concern over not being able to hear the proceedings Tuesday evening, and Welts apologized for not bringing sound equipment.

Early in the hearing, one person asked if the agency would consider hosting a second hearing, and Welts said, "That would be out of our usual protocol."

She has said previously that the agency will consider each Berlin Pond petition on its own merits under the Vermont Use of Public Waters Rule and past decisions, but will issue a consolidated decision on whether changes are merited and, if so, what they should be.