Wake Surfing Distance Rules Sunk by Senate Are Likely To Resurface Next Year

The following article is from InDepthNH.org.

Concord—June 10, 2024—A wake surfing bill was sunk by the Senate last week but is likely to resurface next year with the New Hampshire Lakes Association calling on lake supporters to run for office.

State Sen. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, whose district includes many in the Lakes Region, was the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 431 which in its original form would have restricted wake surfing to within 200 feet of shore. Currently the limit is 150 feet from shore.

On April 3 Maine passed a 300-foot setback rule and in April Vermont went to a 500-foot setback for wake surfing, “further exacerbating” the issues of shoreland erosion, a NHLA newsletter warned.

In wake surfing, the rider trails behind the boat and rides its wake.

The bill began with the lake associations asking for 500 feet and the industry agreeing to 200 feet. The bill, with 200 feet, was amended in the House to be 300 feet from shore.

In the end, Lang said he could not support that distance and voted in the Senate majority to not concur with the House version, where it died on May 30.

Critics say waves hitting shoreline from these types of boats, which often have hulls filled with water to create a wake to jump off of, can lead to destruction of the shoreline and cause environmental damage.

This week, Lang said in an interview that the whole idea of the 200 feet was to recognize that there are some ecological effects but also recognize it is a fairly significant industry in the state of New Hampshire.

Senator Tim Lang (R-Sanborton) said his proposed 200-foot setback recognized there are some ecological effects while acknowledging wake boats are a “fairly significant industry in the state.” Photo: X/Twitter

These boats can sell for $100,000 or more and there are a number of dealers selling them who showed up with their lobbyists in force at public hearings on the bill.

Supporters argued that this was not a ban and it would still allow for wake surfing on 285 water bodies.

“By going out to 300 feet you take away, as it is at 200 feet we took away some lakes and now we are going to take even more lakes away,” he said.

“Those boats are not just going to go away,” Lang said. “They are just going to the lakes they can do, so now we create greater congestion which creates boater safety issues and everything else.”

“So I thought the 200 foot was a reasonable compromise for that ecological (factor) plus the increased education that was going to be required by marine patrol was a reasonable compromise. The House just wanted 300 feet.”

Asked about Vermont and Maine’s change of laws, Lang said they are “here anyway…I am not the type of a legislator to keep up with the Joneses. Right? So I am not worried about what other states do. I am worried about what we do is good for New Hampshire, good for all components of New Hampshire,” Lang said.

There was no haggling down to 250 feet or some sort of compromise, Lang said. He said state Rep. Dan Wolfe, R-Newbury, who offered the 300 foot amendment and Democrats in the House who passed it “were flat out, ‘no'” and would not consider a distance lower than 300 feet.

On a voice vote on the recommendation of state Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, the Senate decided to non-concur with the House.

The bill would have also limited wake surfing to water bodies of 50 acres in size but did not have a minimum depth, as in other states. It is a minimum of 15 feet in Maine to wake surf and 20 feet in Vermont.

After first sending out emails urging members to contact their legislators on the bill, Andrea LaMoreaux, president and policy advocate for NH LAKES, which represents many of the various lake associations across the state sent out another newsletter after the vote urging members to consider running for office.

It also held its annual Lakes Congress meeting Thursday night in Meredith.

The call comes as the filing period for all 400 state Representative seats and for all 24 Senators, five Executive Councilors and Governor are all up for grabs this November for the next two years, with the 10-day filing period at the Secretary of State’s office ending June 14.

“Because Vermont now has a 500-foot setback and Maine has a 300-foot setback, if the Senate doesn’t concur with the 300 feet and it stays at 150 feet, our lakes are more vulnerable than ever, as we may see more out-of-state wake surfers coming here,” LaMoreaux wrote in an email.

After the vote Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said in a statement “I wish we’d gone to the Committee of Conference on it…It’s not an issue that’s going to go away since other states around us have now gone to a 500-foot limit.”

“I think we have the opportunity this year to figure out what’s right for New Hampshire and how to get to a compromise but the parties did not seem that interested in getting to a compromise, unfortunately, and so this will be back.”

In a letter to supporters this week, LaMoreaux wrote to urge supporters to run for office.

“One thing we learned is that our lakes need more lake-minded individuals serving in the New Hampshire Legislature. Our lakes—including your favorite lake—need more champions in Concord who are going to fight to restore and preserve the health of New Hampshire’s 1,000 lakes!”

“If you’ve ever thought about running for the New Hampshire Legislature, now is your time to take the plunge!”

“Serving in the New Hampshire legislature offers an opportunity for like-minded people like you who care to make a real difference for the future health of our lakes—and the health of the New Hampshire economy.”

And she urged those who are not qualified as residents to encourage others to run.

Alliance Editor’s Note:
The original House vote for the 300 ft. setback was a “Division Vote,” meaning legislators could have their vote recorded verbally without sharing their name. Representative Mark McConkey told Ossipee Lake Alliance he voted against the bill, and Representative Jonathan Smith said he voted in favor. Representative Michael Constable did not respond to our request.

Senator Jeb Bradley was a co-sponsor of the bill that adopted the water sports industry’s 200 ft. setback, but was amended by the House to 300 ft. Representative McConkey was excused from the House during the vote on the amendment and was not present.

Former State Representative Dr. Bill Marsh, who is competing with Representative McConkey to replace Bradley in the Senate, sent Ossipee Lake Alliance a note stating that “300 ft. is a step in the right direction and a distance people are accustomed to judge,” but he would also support a larger setback.

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