Boy Scout finally earns Eagle award the hard way (4/30/09)

Permit delay forces second service project

April 30, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Becoming an Eagle Scout is a test of perseverance involving years of working through the ranks and meeting countless requirements. No one knows better how much persistence is needed than Williston teenager Jeffrey Dumas.


    File photo
Boy Scout Jeffrey Dumas stands on the shore of Lake Iroquois, where he had planned to earn his Eagle Scout award by building a public dock. When a permit battle over the dock dragged on for months, Dumas had to complete a different project to earn the award. He still plans to finish the dock.

He planned to install a public dock on Lake Iroquois for his community service project, the central requirement for achieving Scouting’s highest rank. Starting about three years ago, Dumas doggedly raised funds, researched materials and worked with state officials on permitting.

But opposition emerged from neighbors, stalling the project and resulting in a legal battle that dragged on for more than a year. Two months ago, a court finally ruled the dock could be built. The decision came too late for Dumas, who turned 18 earlier this month, the cutoff age for completing Eagle requirements.

Yet Dumas will receive the Eagle Scout rank anyway after working on a second community service project. What’s more, he still plans to help ensure the dock is installed this summer.

“I’m hoping to hop right on it once we get everything worked out and hopefully get it done before the fall when I go off to college,” he said. “I’ve seen how much the town would like this dock in there. I’d feel kind of bad if I backed out now and it fell apart.”

Dumas’s do-good project was intended to help provide easier lake access for the general public, especially families with children and people with physical limitations who may struggle to clamber over the side of boats launched from the existing ramp.

But some nearby property owners objected to the plan. They worried the dock would boost boat traffic on the sometimes crowded lake, increasing the chances of a collision or the spread of invasive aquatic life.

Opponents voiced their concerns during a January 2008 public hearing on the matter. But there were supporters, too, some of whom complained that foes were people lucky enough to own waterfront property and that others had an equal right to easy lake access.

The state Agency of Natural Resources later issued a permit for a dock up to 50 feet long near the fishing access area. The Lake Iroquois Association, a coalition of property owners and others interested in preserving the lake’s health, appealed.

The appeal was quietly settled in February. The agreement signed by Environmental Court Judge Meredith Wright halves the allowable dock length to 24 feet and calls for signs listing restrictions. Motorboats will be urged to use only the north side of the dock. Dogs, picnicking and loitering will not be allowed.

The Lake Iroquois Association’s most recent newsletter noted the settlement will help mitigate concerns about the dock “while avoiding a costly (and perhaps less attractive) solution” than might have resulted from an extended court battle.

“I guess the way to look at it is that it’s something we can all live with,” said Roger Crouse, the association’s president.

But while the permit was under appeal, time was running out for Dumas. With his 18th birthday looming, he shifted to another community service project.

Dumas located each veteran in Williston’s cemeteries and mapped the graves. He also installed a cemetery bench.

The work met the community service requirement, and a Boy Scout review board decided earlier this month that Dumas was eligible to become an Eagle Scout. His award ceremony is fittingly scheduled for Memorial Day.

It’s unclear exactly when work on the dock will begin or be completed, said Mike Wichrowski of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Details still have to be worked out on the installation and additional funding that may be required beyond the $2,000 Dumas previously raised for the project.

But Wichrowski said he hopes the dock can be installed by July 4. He said improvements to the boat ramp are also scheduled to be completed before summer’s end.

Dumas said he plans to attend either Clarkson University or Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall. He will major in civil engineering.

He said he feels no resentment toward opponents, figuring they are entitled to their views and hoping they will accept the dock.

Dumas chalks the experience up as a lesson that will serve him well when he’s an engineer working on a controversial project.

“I’ve seen what it takes to complete a project and push through the hard times,” he said. “It’s been good even though it’s been hard. It’s taught me what the working world is going to be like.”