N.H. Lakes Association Criticizes Lack of Study and Debate Over Proposed Changes to Dock Setback Rules

Concord—April 4, 2016—The New Hampshire Lakes Association has alerted lake property owners that a bill, HB-1517, to decrease the property line setback of seasonal docks might advance in the state legislature without what the advocacy group views as sufficient study and public debate.

In an emailed alert, the Association said there will be a House Resources Committee hearing tomorrow, Tuesday April 5, on inserting the provisions of HB-1517 into an unrelated bill, SB-352. The sole purpose of SB-352 is to give a cove in Lake Winnipesaukee the name “Ritson Cove,” while the purpose of HB-1517 is to cut the setbacks between seasonal docks and abutting property lines in half —from 20 feet to 10 feet.

HB-1517 is sponsored by State Representative Mark McConkey and State Senator Jeb Bradley, both of whom represent the Ossipee Lake area.

In its alert, the Lakes Association said the subcommittee on HB-1517 was “considering a number of paths forward, including moving the permitting program from one agency to another” before “something changed” and a plan to add it to SB-352 was announced. It said it opposed making significant changes to dock permitting “without everyone better understanding the issues” and said it had asked that the committee “study the issues before acting.”

The organization said it would testify tomorrow against adding HB-1517’s provisions to the unrelated bill.

For the full text of HB 1517, click here. For the full text of SB 352, click here.

In another legislative matter, HB 1589, the “Clean & Drain” bill designed to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive plants and animals, will be heard by the New Hampshire Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this Wednesday, April 6, in the State House on North Main Street in Concord, Room 100.

The New Hampshire Lakes Association website is at www.nhlakes.org.


  1. Steve Foley 8 years ago April 5, 2016

    Hello,… Could you please explain, “the property line setback of seasonal docks”. Thank you. SF

    • Bob Reynolds 8 years ago April 5, 2016

      Under current law, a 4-foot wide seasonal dock can only be installed on a piece of shoreline that is at least 44 feet wide, ensuring 20 feet of setback from properties on either side of the dock. The new bill in question would reduce the required setback to 10 feet on either side of the dock.

    • Steve Foley 8 years ago April 5, 2016

      Thank you, Bob

  2. Neil Brown 8 years ago April 5, 2016

    So, I read this article twice and am still asking myself why. I could see no need to change the existing setback. So what provoked the writing of this House Bill and then attach it to an unrelated Senate Bill without any public awareness, study or debate. (Thank you New Hampshire Lake Association for the alert.)
    I came up with a couple of possibilities.
    In a most sinister case, someone wants to divide a parcel or parcels into “spaghetti lots” and have enough shoreline to accommodate a dock. We’d be looking at 24 feet instead of 44 feet.
    Another situation might be the existing topography of the shoreline may not allow a dock to be placed 20 feet from the property line. In that case, I would prefer that the owner apply for variance rather than have the existing regulation changed.
    Changing this law alarms me. What’s going on here, is some sneaking something by us, does anyone have any additional thoughts?

    • Steve Foley 8 years ago April 5, 2016

      Absolutely, Neil. This should be stopped. And in the meantime, the fat will float to the surface and the reasons exposed.

    • Bob Reynolds 8 years ago April 7, 2016

      A little history might help. A lakefront homeowner with 40 feet of shoreline on Ossipee Lake bought the property in 1980 and had permits for a dock and mooring at that time. The law was later changed to the current 20-foot setback requirement, and the homeowner was no longer allowed to have a dock or mooring. The homeowner asked State Rep. Mark McConkey for assistance in getting relief from the 20-foot setback requirement. Rep. McConkey filed HB-1517 to make the change. When it appeared that a House committee was going to send the bill into a “study committee” for 1 year, the bill sponsors “attached” it to an unrelated bill (that is likely to pass) as a technique to keep their bill alive and to get an “up or down vote” on it.

    • Neil Brown 8 years ago April 7, 2016

      Just a couple of thoughts. First, I would like to know when the 20-foot setback requirement became a law. Second, I am surprised the owner, having an existing dock and/or mooring, wasn’t grandfathered. Did the town actually make him pull the existing and prohibit his having these? And, finally, has this person ask the town for a variance?
      Personally, I had a situation with my neighbor relocating his dock and very close, but still slightly more than 10 feet, from my property line/beach. It just seemed very intrusive to me and my family especially when they parked their pontoon boat on my side. I was not aware of the law, however, we had a civil, non-adversarial discussion and he agreed to move it back to its original spot. 10 feet is very close to your neighbor!
      Mine is but one example; I’m sure there are others. To change a law that currently protects hundreds for the sake of a one person just doesn’t make sense. There has to be a better why! I can certainly see why Rep. McConkey tried to slip this through rather than have it go to a “study committee”.

    • Bob Reynolds 8 years ago April 7, 2016

      Neil: I’m not sure when the 20-foot setback rule came into effect – it would take some time to track down the history of the RSA and when changes were made. The NH DES issues permits for docks and moorings, not the towns. Since docks and moorings are usually removed from the water before winter each year, it is likely that DES denied the issuance of a renewed permit for the dock and the mooring before they were reinstalled in the water.
      I don’t know how or when grandfather situations are allowed, but it appears that DES did not believe that grandfathering should or would apply to this rule. A request for variance would have to be made to the DES – I would guess that it would not be granted in light of the current issue.

  3. Bob Reynolds 8 years ago April 18, 2016

    The amendment to SB 352 that contained the content of HB 1589 did not pass, and HB 1589 was sent to a “study” committee for further evaluation. This means that a bipartisan committee of legislators will be convened to study the effects of the proposed changes and make a recommendation to the House of Representatives, probably during the 2017 session. The bill is not dead, but citizens will have a chance to give input to the study committee on why they feel it should be voted up or down.


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