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Laws of the Great Sacandaga Lake still up for debate

Monday, August 18, 2014 - Updated: 9:01 AM

By CAROLINE MURRAY

caroline.murray@recordernews.com

EDINBURG -- After hearing complaints about rowdy boaters on the Great Sacandaga Lake, Great Sacandaga Lake Association president Peter Byron invited a local law enforcement representative to talk to members at the group's annual meeting Aug. 8.

Trooper Chris Gardner of the state police's Mayfield barracks spoke to association members about his marine detail and its protocol while out patrolling the waters.

Many members had questions and concerns over whether troopers are able to gauge the speed and noise levels of boaters, and if it was feasible to have more enforcement on the lake.

Gardner said the most efficient way to ensure safety on the lake for all recreational boaters is by educating them about the federal and state laws already in place.

"The biggest thing is education," Gardner said to the crowd.

Among the members present was Northampton councilman William Gritsavage, who previously aired disgruntlement about the lake's navigation laws and enforcement at past town board meetings. Gritsavage, like others at the meeting, was curious how troopers detect the speed and noise levels on the lake.

Gardner said the marine unite has a decibel meter, but the device is not calibrated and only one marine patrol officer is certified to use it; the meter was donated by the association more than 10 years ago.

Gardner said getting the meter calibrated is currently not a priority of the state troopers -- and, without a meter, the marine unit cannot issue a ticket for noise because a court would deem the infraction invalid.

"Unfortunately, state police, their main concern is road coverage and tickets and accidents and that type of stuff. The marine patrol is not their main objective," Gardner said.

In regard to speed, Gardner said there is a 30 mph speed limit near the Northville Bridge, and a 5 mph limit under the bridge, but no established speed limit for the entirety of the lake.

He said the marine unit goes by the federal and state reckless operation laws, while patrolling speed of boaters.

Also, the trooper said the town of Day has a 45 mph speed limit, which Saratoga County sheriff deputies should enforce.

However, when it comes to gauging speed, Gardner said the patrol units do not have speed radar on their boats.

"So, we are basing it off solely of visual estimate, of course sometimes this can be difficult," Gardner said. "If they are driving in at a reckless manner at a high speed we still can write a reckless operation ticket, just can't write a speeding ticket."

The trooper said speed is hard to judge, but added he has not seen too many vessels going excessively fast this summer.

Byron invited the marine unit trooper to the association's annual meeting after hearing complaints from members about speed and noise levels on the lake. Byron said he felt the trooper's information was informative, and thought it was a great way for members to communicate their problems or questions to enforcement.

Another inquiry brought up by members was who enforces laws on the Sacandaga, and when.

Gardner said the State Police Marine Unit, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department patrol the waters.

He said typically, his marine detail is not out on the Sacandaga during the week. The unit patrols the lake mostly on the weekends and when the troopers believe the lake is most populated.

"We try to go out as much as we can," Gardner said. "ENCON is out more during the week than we are just because of what our staffing allows."

Northampton supervisor Jim Groff also attended the meeting. Groff is retired from the Fulton County Sheriff's Office and used to patrol the Sacandaga.

He said most boaters are out on their vessels to have fun with friends and family. Groff said reckless operation laws are already established for a reason, and passing another local law is redundant.

He does not foresee the town council passing a law regarding speed on the lake any time soon.

"I think most agree education and boating courses or what ever is more effective than increasing laws or law enforcement," Groff said.

Byron said one of the major issues is getting information about the laws already in place out to vacationers or seasonal lake users.

The association currently holds three boat safety classes a summer. The classes are required for boaters without a safety certificate and born on or after 1996. Byron said this summer that 61 boaters ages 10 and older graduated from the class.

Byron said he would like to follow up with the state police, and see how the association can further help with safety on the lake, such as they have in the past by donating a decibel meter.

Additionally, Byron said he would like to get the Fulton County Sheriff's Office back out to patrol the lake.

"One of the towns heavily impacted by this is town of Northampton, it's certainly important to them," Byron said.

Gritsavage agrees. He said there should be more enforcement on the lake from Fulton County's end.

"I think the sheriff's office should chip in just like Saratoga office chipped in, I think we would have much better time (with) a safer and quieter lake," Gritsavage said.

Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey said he has considered introducing the office's marine patrol to the lake again. However, Lorey said the cost is weighing on the department's budget and does not believe the Sacandaga is in need of the service.

He said the state police and ENCON are adequately surveying the area. Currently, the department has two boats on standby in case of an emergency.

"I spent some time on the lake myself this summer and I am willing to stick to my original decision," Lorey said. "I don't think it is necessary that we get back into the lake patrol business."

Lorey said he was willing to listen to anyone from the association about their views. He said if members could provide Lorey with evidence the department does not have already, then he would consider bringing that information forth to the board.

"I would like to hear stories from people who have been involved in near misses or seen behavior they thought was dangerous," Lorey said.

     

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