Winni Boating Speed Limit Backers Show Support

Concord — April 8, 2011 — Supporters of the current boat speed limits on Lake Winnipesaukee released a poll yesterday showing strong support for the limits among Lakes Region residents. The poll, paid for by the Winnipesaukee Family Alliance for Boating Safety and conducted by the Colorado-based Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies, shows 72 percent of the 775 residents polled across eight Lakes Region towns support the current limits, which cap speeds at 45 mph during the day and 30 mph at night.

According to the poll, 69 percent of respondents also oppose increasing the daytime limit to 55 mph in the “broads,” a term describing a wide, central section of the lake. Such a proposal [SB27], backed by an anti-speed limit group, recently passed out of the Senate on a 13-11 vote and is awaiting a vote in the House. [Editor’s Note: State Senator Jeb Bradley, who represents the Ossipee Lake area, voted against increasing the Winni speed limit].

The poll was rolled out yesterday inside the Legislative Office Building across from the State House. Jeff Thurston, president of Thurston’s Marina on Weirs Beach, spoke for the group, describing the poll as showing “broad opposition to any increase in the boat speed limits on Winnipesaukee across all resident demographics, including gender, age and political party affiliation.”

“The survey clearly shows residents of the Lakes Region, Lake Winnipesaukee area, care deeply about safety in the water,” Thurston said.

Not everyone at yesterday’s announcement agreed with the poll. Scott Verdonck, president of the anti-speed limit Safe Boaters of New Hampshire group, was in the audience. He passed out the results of an online poll conducted in the internet forums at winnipesaukee.com.

The poll, posted in the boating section of the website, showed 325 opposing the speed limits and 112 supporting them. Verdonck, a boater from Goffstown, said the Winnipesaukee Family Alliance poll should have been limited to boaters on the lake.

“It’s really unfortunate that a few elite land owners around the area are able to dictate how the lake is supposed to be used by everyone,” said Verdonck, who described the bill boosting the speed limit in the broads to 55 mph as a compromise that would put to rest a divisive issue in the Lakes Region.

Dick Bouley, a lobbyist for the pro-speed limit Winnipesaukee Family Alliance, said only polling boaters on the issue is “ridiculous.”

“Lake Winnipesaukee is for everybody,” Bouley said. “It’s for the swimmers, the canoers, the kayakers.”

Bouley dismissed Verdonck’s online poll as unscientific. By comparison, Magellan has done previous polling in New Hampshire that included an accurate prediction of Ovide Lamontagne’s late surge last year against now-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, he said.

Sandy Helve, president of the Winnipesaukee Family Alliance, said many of the boaters who support Verdonck’s cause are from out of state.

“They aren’t necessarily New Hampshire voters with a ‘V,’ ” Helve said. “The legislators are most interested, first and foremost, in New Hampshire.”

Rep. Al Baldasaro, a longtime boater from Londonderry, described the boat speed limits as not family friendly. He said his friends, a family from Massachusetts who own a lakeside property in Moultonborough, stopped boating on the lake.

“They say that they want to turn it into an elderly, 55-and-over community,” Baldasaro said.

Thurston said he has seen an increase in family boating since the current speed limits were put in place. His daughter and her family in Massachusetts “love boating and the safety inherent to that boating on Lake Winnipesaukee . . . which this 45 mph (limit) establishes,” Thurston said.

Winni Boating Speed Limit Backers Show Support