Majority Favor Boating Speed Limit

Concord — February 17, 2006 — Nearly two thirds of voters in New Hampshire support creating a statewide boating speed limit, according to a poll released yesterday.

A bill that would impose a speed limit of 45 mph during the day and 25 mph at night on all public waters passed the House two weeks ago. The poll results come in advance of a Senate committee hearing on the bill next week.

According to the poll, which was performed by the American Research Group in Manchester and published by the New Hampshire Lakes Association, 84 percent of 1,200 residents polled last week said a speed limit would make lakes and rivers safer, 71 percent said it would make the water more enjoyable and 81 thought the limit would help enforce boating laws. Sixty-three percent supported making the limit a law.

“It just reiterated the fact that everyone standing here already knew,” Jared Teutsch, the Lakes Association’s environmental policy director, said at a press conference. “It makes New Hampshire safer.”

More than 300 businesses and groups are supporting the bill, including the New Hampshire Camp Directors’ Association, 12 marinas and the group WinnFABS, which formed to support the bill.

Supporters argue that a speed limit is necessary to protect boaters, fishermen and swimmers as well as the state’s hospitality and tourism industries.

“This is a tool, one of many tools, to make sure our guests and our New Hampshire visitors . . . don’t lose what they have come to cherish so much: a safe and enjoyable experience,” said Rusty McLear, an owner and the president of the Inns at Mills Falls in Meredith.

The New Hampshire B.A.S.S. Federation opposes a speed limit, saying that it will make it harder for fishermen to get to their prime spots in a timely way for tournaments. But yesterday, Harold Lyon, a fisherman and the author of Angling in the Smile of the Great Spirit, a book about fishing on Lake Winnipesaukee, said most fishermen he talks to want a speed limit.

“Fishermen are coming to me in droves saying they won’t come to Lake Winnipesaukee on the weekends anymore when they have time to fish, because it’s too dangerous,” he said.

Fast boats cut anglers’ lines, and people in fast boats often don’t seem to have regard for the others around them, he said, recalling one situation where two fast boats swamped the smaller boat of two elderly fishermen and then drove away, apparently not noticing.

“It’s an attitude that exists with the speed, quite often, that’s the biggest problem,” he said.

Joining the B.A.S.S. Federation on the other side of the debate are nearly 150 groups and businesses, such as the New Hampshire Recreational Boaters Association, at least 15 marinas, and numerous restaurants and resorts. Opponents have argued that a speed limit would not be enforceable and infringes on boaters’ liberties. They have advocated more boater education and enforcing the laws already in place.

The bill’s prospects in the Senate are unclear. It passed in the House by a comfortable margin, but Rep. Dennis Abbott, a Newmarket Democrat who supports the bill, pointed out that 89 percent of the House’s Democrats voted for it and only 33 percent of the Republicans voted for it. With 16 Republicans and just 8 Democrats in the Senate, similar or greater percentages for both parties would be necessary for the bill to pass.

Among the voters in the poll, Republicans were greater supporters of a speed limit than Democrats. Sixty-six percent of Republicans agreed with a speed limit law, along with 63 percent of Democrats. Sixty-one percent of undeclared voters supported a speed limit.

The Senate Transport and Interstate Cooperation Committee will hold a hearing on the bill Feb. 24 at 9 a.m. in Representatives Hall.

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