The City of Montpelier continues to be obstructive to public use of the Berlin Pond.
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Berlin Pond Survey Revived, Montpelier Ready to React
by Carla Occaso
BERLIN — Will Berlin Pond get a boat launch or ramp? What would it look like? At first glance it depends upon the results of a land survey authorized by Berlin. However, if Berlin's findings favor boating access, Montpelier officials are ready to conduct their own investigation.
Berlin officials have recently met with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and decided to advance work on a survey that had been thwarted by a petition filed last spring by a group called Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond. That group sought a ruling to completely ban all human activity on the pond in order to preserve the purity of Montpelier's, and some of Berlin's, source for drinking water. However, the Department of Environmental Conservation ruled against a total ban on Aug. 14 and continued allowing some public recreation such as non motorized boating, swimming and fishing. That DEC ruling gave Berlin officials a reason to continue pursuing the land survey.
"We have asked the surveyor to move forward and complete the survey. It probably will not be finished until next spring" due to weather, said Dana Hadley, Berlin town administrator on Dec. 1.
Berlin is working with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to establish what access would be like if the town is determined to own land at the shoreline. Speaking to The Bridge by telephone Dec. 1, Michael Wichrowski, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department land and facilities administrator, said the access area is not so much going to be some kind of huge boat launch as more of a spot "where people can park and drag a boat to water's edge. There is no boat launch or boat ramp that people keep saying there is going to be … it is really going to be more of an access. On all of our properties we provide access to the water … at this point there no plans for construction." The Fish and Wildlife Department is helping to pay for the survey up to around half the cost, which is expected to be around $10,000.
The land survey could possibly show that Berlin doesn't own frontage at the targeted spot — an area at the north side of the pond — in which case plans to improve access would be dropped. Or, it could show ample Berlin-owned property, and pave the way for public access. In that case, Montpelier officials plan to do a counter survey, according to City Councilman Thierry Guerlain by phone on Dec. 1, but council members are not going to commit dollars until they find out what boundaries are defined. Montpelier City Council voted against allocating funds to help pay for a land survey "for the area being considered for pond access by the Town of Berlin," as worded in the Nov. 19 City Council agenda. Council members unanimously agreed not to fund a survey at present. Yet, if "there is a move to put a boat ramp on Montpelier's and the hospital's drinking water," Guerlain said. The city will "do our own survey if that survey is in any way suspect," he said.
"We (Montpelier City Council) are fully backing and supporting the people that want to keep all activity off Berlin Pond," Guerlain said. "The state of Vermont basically wants to put a boat launch in our water supply, where we spent tens of thousands of dollars to supply the city and Central Vermont Hospital. We support no activity on the pond. There are dozens of other places to go fishing, kayaking and swimming."
Montpelier actively kept up ordinances forbidding people from entering the water from 1884 to 2012 by purchasing most of the land around the pond, exercising its own authority and using its own police force. However, five years ago the Vermont Supreme Court sided with some kayakers who ultimately successfully argued a body of water as large as Berlin Pond is governed by the state.