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‘Berlin Pond’ Regulation Axed In Committee

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by Carla Occaso

MONTPELIER — A charter change that would have given Montpelier officials authority to ban human recreational activity on Berlin Pond did not pass favorably out of the Legislature this session. The bill was offered up by Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Washington – 4. Montpelier voters approved two charter changes on the city ballot: One to enact a tax on rooms, meals and alcohol and another to give city officials the authority to regulate activities on Berlin Pond. Berlin Pond is Montpelier’s primary drinking water supply.

After being approved by Montpelier voters in March, the matter was then brought before the Legislature for adoption.

What happened was, according to Rep. Mary S. Hooper, D-Washington – 4, the House Government Operations did approve the portion of Montpelier’s charter change “related to the local options tax and removed the portion of the charter relating to the pond from the bill. Sadly, there was in the committee, Hooper said, a view that the recreational use of the pond trumps the public health and safety of the 20,000 people who drink water from the pond. Members of Montpelier City staff and the community did a terrific job of explaining the issues. Needless to say, this is extremely disappointing and we are working on a way to revive the portion of the bill protecting the pond without jeapordizing the approval of the local options tax.”

The man who introduced the bill, Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Washington-4, told The Bridge he was disappointed, but he will not give up.

“Overall I am very disappointed that the House Government Operations committee did not seem to understand the importance of protecting drinking water sources. By not allowing this to advance, they just — in effect — keep it open for recreation. And that will lead inevitably to degradation of the pond, pollution and could cause grave harm if we get (invasive species).” Kitzmiller said that a small patch of milfoil that has been there for 30 years will stay contained, but if boat propellers or oars break it up into pieces, it will spread throughout the pond. “The history of human interaction with ponds is not very good. This is the drinking water source for 20,000 people. The advocates for keeping it (Berlin Pond) open are concerned with losing any access to any pond. They have 800 and some ponds to fish in. I think leaving the pond untouched doesn’t stop them from fishing in any of the other ponds.”

Kitzmiller said he will introduce the bill again next year. Next year’s legislature will have a new governor, possibly new people in the Agency of Natural Resources and new faces in the committee rooms. “I will keep at this until somebody finally does the right thing … or until the pond gets so bad we have to find another warter source for the Capital City.

Mayor John Hollar agreed with Kitzmiller. “Our experts made what I thought were compelling arguments about the risks that are created to our water supply from allowing recreational access on the pond. Unfortunately, a majority of committee members didn’t agree. We will continue to monitor the issue and will come back to the legislature again if it becomes evident that our water supply is in jeopardy,” Hollar told The Bridge.

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