Berlin Pond surfaces at Montpelier City Council
MONTPELIER — Residents urged the City Council this week to seek a moratorium from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources over the opening of access points on Berlin Pond for recreational use until two petitions have been heard by the state.
Petitions include the city’s effort to ban motorized watercraft and a request by Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond to ban all human activity at the pond, which is Montpelier’s water supply.
The council agreed to have the city manager write a letter to the agency requesting a moratorium on the use of the pond until a decision is reached on the two petitions.
At the meeting, the citizens group handed out buttons featuring an image of water and wildlife. State Rep. Warren Kitzmiller told the council he has heard back from several ranking state officials since sending a letter last week to bring the issue to their attention and expressing his alarm that a boat ramp may be under consideration at the pond.
A challenge from residents to a century-old ban on recreational activity at the pond — which is also the water source for part of Berlin, including Central Vermont Medical Center — led to the state’s highest court determining that Montpelier does not wield that degree of power over the pond, and would need to seek such authority at the state level. Montpelier owns most of the land surrounding the pond, but not all.
Kitzmiller said he has been assured “that they would not do anything until things got decided, and I understand that (ANR Secretary) Deb Markowitz has also responded. I think that we’re in pretty good shape on that.”
He said he had not heard from the governor. “I think it’s safe to assume that they very much understand it would be a travesty to do something like (a boat ramp) until a decision has been made (on the two petitions).”
Kitzmiller said of the petitions, “Those are going to be considered sooner than we could possibly consider legislation” to control activities on the pond.
Councilor Dona Bate first asked council members to seek a moratorium from the state until the petitions are heard.
To that, Kitzmiller said, “Even though I believe we’re safe, one more nail in the coffin never hurts.”
Mayor John Hollar said he had spoken to the president of the Senate, who is supportive of the issue.
Councilor Thierry Guerlain proposed constructing a covered bridge at a spot where a road crosses over a culvert from city-owned property to city-owned property, saying doing so would prohibit people from putting in kayaks at the culvert. It would be a “faux covered bridge,” he said, to prevent access to the water.
To that point, Maxine Leary, a resident handing out the “Protect Berlin Pond” buttons, said, “Only in Vermont!” She urged the council and city officials to protect the city’s water supply. “I just want to say, I want clean drinking water.”
City Manager William Fraser noted there are actually two pieces of land that are not in Montpelier’s hands and could provide access. There is a causeway, he said, which people can use directly, and an area where people park and walk in, which is “possibly an old Berlin town road, and Berlin is claiming that they have rights of ownership to that.”
Fraser said, “The land issues are not 100 percent yet” and the city is working with its attorney on the issue.
Fraser said that while Kitzmiller has been assured the process for a possible boat ramp will not advance, he has been told that “they’re moving ahead fairly steadily,” looking at a ramp in “the area that is in question.”
The council will hear again from Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond at its meeting Wednesday. Several councilors gave their support.
“It’s so straightforward,” said Bate. “It’s about our drinking water, our tap water.”
Guerlain said there are so many ponds and lakes for recreational use in Vermont, “I just don’t understand why. ... It’s the water for us. It’s the water for the hospital.”
According to Leslie Welts, staff attorney at the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Agency of Natural Resources will consider each Berlin Pond petition on its own merits under the Vermont use of public waters rule and past Water Resources Panel decisions. But, Welts said, it will issue a consolidated decision on whether to proceed with rule-making to amend the Vermont use of public waters rule, and the specific amendments if ANR determines rule-making is appropriate.
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