Legislators Discuss Lake Speed Limits

Concord — September 29, 2005 — Meeting for the first time since the last public hearing in Gilford, the Recreation, Resource and Development Committee for the state’s House of Representatives held a work session on Tuesday, September 27.

The topic of discussion was the legislation known as House Bill 62, which, as currently written, would impose a speed limit for boats on Lake Winnipesaukee of 45 miles per hour during the day and 25 mph aat night. The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Pilliod, originally came before the committee last year, but they voted to retain the bill for further study. Over the summer three public hearings were held around the lake where hundreds of citizens turned out to present testimony on all sides of the issue.

In this work session, the committee began discussion of how, if at all, the legislation should be rewritten or amended, and whether the committee should support such a bill. If any common themes could be gleaned from discussion, it would be that the lawmakers should give “teeth” to the legislation so that it could be enforceable.

Many of the committee members also supported adding a clause that would give Marine Patrol the ability determine a “reasonable and prudent” speed limit given conditions. Others were uneasy with ths proposition, feeling that it would make convictions difficult to justify in court. Some members were in favor of amending the law to include all waterways in the state, some wanted it restricted to Lake Winnipesaukee, and others were in between.

Also, many committee members doubted whether the speed limit would make the difference its supporters hope it will. Rep. John Gibson said while he suppoted the bill, “I don’t think a speed limit is going to satisfy the problems” – problems, Gibson said, which were caused by “ignorance on the part of some ruining it for all. I hope we take an approach that gives Marine Patrol the ability to stop a boat, board a boat, do their duties as law enforcers on the waterways.”

Rep. Frank Tupper said, “To me, it’s about educate, certify, and enforce. If it’s motorized and using a public thoroughfare it should be subject to certain limitations on speed. It’s the behavior of the few that takes away from the pleasure of many. Where that enjoyment puts others at risk, that enjoyment should be limited.”

Rep. Dennis Abbott said, “I think we all agree there is a problem… I don’t think we can ignore the problem that’s been brought before us. The more I listen, the more I’m convinced we need a speed limit.” Abbott was one of the many members who said they would support adding an amendment to allow for exemptions for certain events.

“There’s a lot of people trying to enjoy life in New Hampshire, and they should be able to do that without worrying about their personal safety,” Abbott said.

Vice Chairman of the committee Rep. Harry Merrow said, “This bill does not address the problem, no question about it. Marine Patrol needs a lot of help, period. And this bill doesn’t give them any help. If people has been obeying the existing laws we probably wouldn’t be here today [discussing the bill].” Merrow called the bill “feel-good” legislation.

Rep. Richard Cooney said, “establishing a speed limit won’t solve all the problems, but it might reduce the severity of the problems.” He said having it in place as a deterrent would have a positive effect, even if it can’t be enforced all the time.

A couple of representatives commented on the Marine Patrol’s personnel role – or lack thereof – in the debate. Chairman of the committee David Currier noted that no staffers attended any of the public hearings.

Abbott said Marine Patrol was “conspicuous in its absence. They should be the ones who come before us and tell us what they need to solve the problem.”

Gibson went a step further, calling the Marine Patrol’s absence was indicative of an attitude of “arrogance.” He said, “maybe it’s time for a reorganization of Marine Patrol. Maybe it’s time it became part of the state police.”

Currier said he would ask Marine Patrol Director David Barrett or a representative to attend the committee’s next work session on the bill, scheduled for October 11 at 10 a.m.

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