Ashfield parks panel wants to ban motorboats on lake

  • Floating around Ashfield Lake in a sun hat was good place to be on a hot day this summer. Staff/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2018 9:39:30 PM

ASHFIELD — Saying one motorboat oil spill into Ashfield Lake is too many, the town Parks Commission has submitted a petition to eliminate gas-powered motorboats from this popular swimming and fishing spot.

Ashfield already restricts motorboats on the lake to 5 hp (horse-power) engines, but the Parks Commission is seeking to halt the use of any gasoline-powered boats on this relatively shallow, 37-acre body of water. According to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the average depth is 7 feet.

The petition given to the Selectboard was signed by 58 residents, although park commissioners said between 80 to 90 residents support the ban.

Arguments on the petition said Ashfield Lake is classified by the state as a “great pond” – not a “lake” – and is small enough to swim across. It “is enjoyed by people of all ages, using human-powered recreation such as swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing and sail-boating,” says the petition.

“We are asking that gas powered motors not be allowed,” the petition continues. “Gas powered motors can be a transmitter of invasive plants from other bodies of water, which are expensive to keep under control and almost impossible to eradicate. Gas powered motors pollute. They smell bad and are hazardous to the water quality. Gas powered motors are a risk to the many cross distance swimmers as well as the other people engaged in recreation in the water.”

“When I first moved to Ashfield 36 years ago, we had distinct water-quality problems,” said Commission Chairwoman Helene Leue. “This town worked so hard to clean the lake. Now there are tons of people on the lake, with 50 to 60 kids getting swimming lessons this summer,” she said.

Leue, who swims there daily during summer, said more motorboats are also on the water, putting in their boats from a public launch on a county right of way, off Route 116/Main Street, and fishing the stocked lake. She said some boaters are careless when filling their motors with gasoline and spill fuel into the water. One day earlier this summer, Leue said she could smell an oil slick while swimming.

According to Tom Aurigemma of Ashfield, more towns are banning these low-powered gas motors from small water bodies, which is why, he believes, more are coming to Ashfield. Leverett, for instance, recently eliminated motorboats from Leverett Pond.

“Having a ban could only help the water quality,” Aurigemma said.

Selectboard members said they would discuss the matter but needed more information. For instance, is the concern only for water quality, or is it also for swimmer safety? Would boats with non-polluting electric motors be acceptable? Since more canoes and kayaks are also on the water, is there an issue with too many boats?

“There is a difference I’m seeing this year from previous years,” said Leue. She said the growing number of motorboats “is an enormous problem now. It’s a problem I see becoming bigger in the state. There’s so many other ways the lake is being used. There are kids windsurfing, a ton of long-distance swimmers and a second dock by the (Ashfield Lake House) that kids enjoy.”

Selectman Todd Olanyk said he wanted to go on record as opposing the ban. He said it would restrict recreational use of the lake for many residents.

Selectboard Chairman Tom Carter said any bylaw regarding this matter should only be put on an annual town meeting warrant, when the most residents are likely to be present.

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