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Figuring out the laws of the lake

Saturday, July 19, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM

CAROLINE MURRAY

caroline.murray@recordernews.com

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE -- From cigarette boats to pontoons, and kayaks to canoes, the Great Sacandaga Lake does not discriminate against most pleasure craft -- of all shapes and sizes.

During the summer, boaters from near and far take advantage of the lake, as it stretches 29 miles through two counties and laps ashore in five towns.

For many lake lovers, however, the Sacandaga's navigation laws are as cloudy as the waters through which their vessels cut.

Unlike Lake George, the Sacandaga has no specific navigation laws, outside regulations already established by the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the federal government.

The Fulton County Sheriff's department no longer patrols the lake. The long arm of the law enforcement is handled by the State Police Marine Unit, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department.

Complaints have surfaced recently in regard to the speed and noise levels of recreational boaters.

To that end, members of the Great Sacandaga Lake Association will take time during their annual membership meeting Aug. 8, to discuss what is currently being done to increase safety without decreasing the fun.

LAKE ASSOCIATION

MEMBERS

Every summer, the Great Sacandaga Lake Association board plays host to an annual membership meeting to hone in on the concerns of its 700-plus members and discuss quality of life around the reservoir.

Membership is open to anyone, but mainly consists of residents living in Day, Edinburgh, Northampton, Broadalbin and Mayfield.

Peter Byron, president of the association, said a representative from the state police marine unit is invited to discuss boat navigation laws and converse with concerned lake residents this year.

In recent weeks, the association received comments from a small group of members who complained about rowdy boaters disturbing certain areas of the community.

"It is not a major group," Byron said.

Most of the comments stem from members who live on the "fingers of the lake," Byron said, such as around Sinclair Point or the village of Northville. He said noise tends to echo around those places.

"We receive comments from our members all the time, but this summer we received a few about noise and speed," Byron said.

"We just think it is important that the members have a chance to talk to the state police," he added.

One outspoken association member is Northampton councilman William Gritsavage.

At a town meeting last month, Gritsavage brought the issue of speedy boaters and noisy watercraft to the attention of the board.

He said the area's median age is growing older and loud boats are irritating to them.

He said the amount of noise and the speed at which boats travel is disruptive to lake residents, and is a public safety issue.

"People aren't going to come up here to buy camps or houses if they see what the lake is going to be like," he said.

Gritsavage believes certain boaters are drawn to the Sacandaga because of a lack of local restrictions, in comparison to Lake George.

Gritsavage asked if there was an opportunity for the town to create a new law, limiting the speed of vessels on the lake.

This prompted supervisor Jim Groff to appoint him and councilman Ivar Anderson to form a committee and, if plausible, devise a way to create and enforce speeding limits for boaters cruising near the town.

Groff said creating a town law is possible, but enforcing the new rule could be difficult, due to a lack of law enforcement.

"There are laws on the lake already that are enforceable as far as reckless operation, which speed comes under," Groff said. " You can't be within 500 feet of another boat with a jet ski and going over 5 miles an hour ... you can't be within 100 [feet] of the shore and doing more than 5 miles-an-hour ... show me someone who is enforcing it?"

THE LAW

Sacandaga boat dwellers are mandated to follow both state and federal boat navigation laws.

Fulton County Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey said in order to pass a local law in regard to the lake, all municipalities bordering the Sacandaga must come to an agreement.

"It embraces two different counties," Lorey said. "It makes it more complicated passing a local law."

However, any town governing the lake can pass and enforce its own regulations.

Currently, the town of Day is the only municipality surrounding the lake that has a town boating law.

The law was last updated in 1997 and applies to all of the Great Sacandaga Lake that falls within the town of Day.

The regulation limits speed to 45 mph and 5 mph around specific areas of the lake and town.

According to the law, violating these rules could result in up to a $500 fine, a 15-day jail sentence or both.

Town supervisor Preston Allen has been serving the board for 14 years.

He said the Saratoga Sheriff's Department enforces this law; however, he was not certain how often boaters are ticketed for failing to follow town code.

"I have noticed the speed boats running on the lake, but I don't live close enough to the lake where I can see them," Allen said.

Aside from the town of Day, local law enforcement also follow state and federal regulations.

State regulations can be found under the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation boater's guide.

SOME SPEEDING RULES

The 2014 parks and recreation guide book states speeding is limited to 5 mph when within 100 feet from the shore, dock, pier, raft, float and anchored boat.

Additionally, it states on "some" bodies of water there could be a 45 mph-daytime and 25 mph-nighttime limitation.

Noise restrictions are also outlined in the guide book. Muffler "cut out" systems are against the law and a vessel's noise "cannot exceed more than 90 decibels when subject to a stationary test" or "75 decibels while moving."

Mainly, the guide stresses all boaters act in a manner that does not endanger other boaters.

Byron said the lake association also provides boating safety certification classes, which the state mandates for boaters born on or after 1996.

He believes lake lovers have the right to recreate on the lake, but within the boundaries of the law.

A sailor, Byron said he cannot attest to noise or speed on the lake, but hopes the issue is flushed out by the state trooper at his meeting.

"It bothers me that anything would be a problem because there are laws that would regulate stuff like that, and there is no reason for fast boats to be speeding around less capable boats or capable boaters," Byron said.

Edinburgh town supervisor Jean Raymond said the town doesn't have lake laws and don't have the ability to enforce them either.

Raymond does not believe speed or noise levels are a problem in its area of the lake.

"The town of Day has done some stuff," said Raymond. "But where we are is not an issue."

Northampton supervisor Groff said he used to patrol the lake when he was a Fulton County Sheriff. He said the majority of people are not educated enough on boat or navigation laws, and violate the law as a result.

"The problem is enforcement -- you can have all the laws that you want, but there are going to be a couple people who are violating the law. If they get caught they get caught; if they don't, they don't," Groff said.

THE ENFORCEMENT

Currently, the Fulton County Sheriff's Department does not patrol the lake. Lorey said they used to assign officers to the Sacandaga, but because of a lack of funding, they only utilize their vessels for emergency situations.

Lorey said there have been very little accidents on the lake this year and have had no emergency rescue situations.

Currently, the state police work in conjunction with the DEC to monitor the reservoir within Fulton County lines.

"I think it is sufficient," Lorey said.

State police public information officer Mark Cepiel said one Mayfield trooper and one ENCON officer patrol the lake. They have only one boat and several jet skis to monitor the waters at various times throughout the week. Cepiel would not disclose what days or times, because he said anonymity is part of the trooper's strategy.

Cepiel said state police do not enforce local town ordinances, only state navigation laws created by the parks and recreation office.

"The summer months are busy and the roadways are, too. We do our best to staff everything. " Cepiel said.

Over in Saratoga County, the sheriff's department still actively polices the Sacandaga.

Lt. Daniel Jones said the department predominately enforces parks and recreation navigation laws.

Saratoga officers are out on the lake every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the summer season. Jones said the department has four outboards, two jet skis and one air boat.

Jones said people are usually ticketed for having unregistered boats or for boating while impaired.

He said "no wake zones" near the Batchellerville Bridge in Edinburgh are heavily enforced, and the department also implements the speeding and noise laws outlined in the aforementioned guideline.

The Hudson River Black River Regulating District has no authority when it comes to producing navigation laws or enforcing them.

Executive director Michael Clark said the district does not have an "enforcement arm," and does not have control over speed or noise restrictions.

Clark said the regulating district very rarely receives complaints about reckless activity on the lake too.

"It is not a commonly heard complaint," Clark said.

And, the Northampton town supervisor agrees.

Groff believes most boaters are vigilant and courteous, but are also enjoying trying to enjoy themselves on the weekend. Groff said motorcyclists are louder when they pass through the village. He compared boat traffic to cars racing on Route 30.

"You got speed limits on Route 30 and people still fly down Route 30," Groff said.

Groff believes creating a new law is hopeless without more enforcement, and may deter summer vacationers from coming to the lake.

"You can start fining them and you can start charging them for everything they do, but next thing you know you won' t have anyone coming here... it is a tough question," Groff said.

Councilman Gritsavage is trying to prove otherwise.

Gritsavage said he heard neighbors complain about loud and speedy recreational vessels on the lake. Gritsavage suggested the five towns band together to create a speed restriction and noise reduction law.

"The reason it is a problem is because the great Sacandaga lake doesn't do anything about it and these boats are not allowed on Lake George, and they go to Lake Sacandaga and we are paying the price," Gritsavage said.

"I think we should do something about it," Gritsavage said.

COMPARED TO LAKE GEORGE

The New York State Lake George Park Commission is a state agency that oversees the protection of the Lake George Park including the quality of its lake waters.

Executive director David Wick said the state agency is completely funded by boat and dock fees, and is not subsidized through tax payers money.

"The way the state legislature set up the funding way back in the day is ever who uses of the lake should pay for protection and enjoyment," Wick said

The commission established a marine patrol in 1961. The patrol is made up of 13 retired police officers, who work various shifts from sunrise to 10 p.m. throughout the week. They drive eight different boats around the lake, Wick said they are highly respected by Lake George dwellers.

"They do a lot of tows, emergency gas on the lake and those types of things," Wick said. "They have a great reputation."

Wick said the marine patrol primarily enforces state navigation laws, however, the lake also has provisions more specific to the lake such as speed limitations and noise regulations.

Wick said the Lake George Marine Patrol is the largest in the state. He said 80 percent of the time the officers come in contact with boaters, it is an informative exchange or they dish out warnings.

Wick said the water way is one of the few that has a dedicated marine patrol. He said the lake is one of the heaviest utilized in the state for recreation and having their own patrol is important.

"We have a lot of users from out of the area and a lot of big boats and a lot of people who don't necessarily know the safest way to boat, so we want to make sure it is safe for everybody," Wick said.

     

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