Lake Iroquois dock proposal draws opposition

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

When Boy Scouts recite their oath, they pledge “to help other people at all times.” Eagle Scout candidate Jeffrey Dumas is finding some people may not want the help you offer.

The 16-year-old Williston resident has for the past year been planning the construction of a boat dock on Lake Iroquois to fulfill an Eagle Scout requirement. He has researched materials, attended meetings and raised funds.

The project appeared to be going smoothly. The dock would be installed next spring. Dumas would receive his Eagle badge, Scouting’s highest rank.

Then the neighbors found out.

About 30 people who live around the lake have now written to the Vermont Division of Water Quality, which must grant a permit before the dock is built. While not everyone expressed outright opposition, state officials said, many neighbors questioned the proposal. They worry the dock will attract noisy motorboats and increase the risk of infesting the lake with invasive aquatic life.

“We just think it would be better if his efforts were directed toward something else,” said Tom Moody, who owns a summer camp near the lake and a home in Williston. “This has nothing to do with a scout’s Eagle project, which we’re very supportive of. We’d like to find some project where we can be collaborative.”

Moody and other residents said they hope to convince Dumas to instead build a boat wash or a shelter where boats brought to the lake could be inspected for contamination.

Dumas sounded a conciliatory note about the opposition.

“I know I have to work with them and listen to their concerns or possibly work around them and find a way to make them content with this project,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll be happy with it in time.”

The dock Dumas proposed would be as long as 50 feet, although he said it could be shorter. It would supplement the nearby boat ramp on the northern end of the lake. Mounted on wheels, the dock would be rolled out of the lake each fall and pulled back in the spring. The town of Williston has agreed to maintain it.

The dock would allow smaller craft such as rowboats and kayaks to be launched without their owners having to wade into the water and then clamber aboard. It could also ease access for seniors and people with handicaps.

The Lake Iroquois Recreation District, which oversees the beach and public land near the lake, wrote a letter to the state supporting the project. The district is governed by a four-member board comprised of representatives from Williston, Hinesburg, Richmond and St. George.

But some residents are worried the dock will bring more motorboats to the relatively small lake, which covers 229 acres where the four towns intersect. Yet they are also aware the project represents a good deed.

“Most people have been very outspoken about the fact that there’s no need to be totally negative because it’s a goodwill project,” said Carlie Geer, Hinesburg’s representative on the Recreation District board and a Lake Iroquois property owner. “They don’t want to make this a totally negative experience for the scout.”

Dumas has been a scout for about six years. The boat dock will fulfill the leadership portion of his Eagle Scout requirements.

He spoke stoically of the hubbub his dock, which was suggested by a friend of his family, has created.

“The whole point of the project is to help out the community and do something that needs to get done,” he said. “I thought if people in the community want it, then I’d get it for them to help out.”

Lake Iroquois residents have over the years struggled to control boat traffic. State records show that a proposal to restrict boat speeds to 10 mph was rejected in 1978.

Some residents say current efforts center on preventing the spread of invasive species of aquatic life, which can foul the water for swimming and boating. The lake already has a milfoil problem. Residents are in the process of forming a homeowners association to better deal with water quality issues.

Word about the dock proposal spread after abutting property owners were notified by the state and told others. Letters began to flow into the Division of Water Quality offices in Waterbury.

Most expressed at least some concern about the dock if not outright opposition, said Steven Hanna, environmental engineer with the Division of Water Quality.

The quantity of correspondence is important because the agency is required to hold a public meeting on a permit application upon the request of 25 or more residents. Hanna said a meeting date has not been set, but it will not take place until mid-November.

State officials said that residents’ worries about increased boat traffic are misplaced. When docks were installed at other lakes around Vermont, they say, there was little change.

“The fear is that it will bring bigger boats and more people,” said John Guilmette, senior facilities engineer with the Division of Water Quality. “From a historic perspective, it just doesn’t happen.”

Roger Krouse, who owns a camp on Lake Iroquois, said he is skeptical of that assertion. He said boaters visit both Lake Iroquois and Lake Champlain, and easier access will only make Lake Iroquois a more desirable destination. That could lead to Lake Iroquois being infected with more invasive species such as the zebra mussels that now plague Lake Champlain.

Dumas has until he is 18 years old to earn his Eagle badge. He said he’d like to receive the rank soon so he has time to pursue the three higher levels of the Eagle designation.

Asked what the process has taught his son, Steve Dumas replied “perseverance” and defined that word.

“The ability to keep working toward your goal and not let a bump in the road throw you off course,” he said. “There’s a lot of different viewpoints in the world. You need to work with people and find a common goal.”