Congamond jet ski bylaw passes first hurdle

A number of Southwick residents attended a public informational session regarding personal watercraft on North Pond. (WNG File Photo)

SOUTHWICK – On October 15, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office informed the Town of Southwick that they’ve approved the bylaw for personal watercraft on the North Pond section of Congamond Lake.

In the document that Attorney General Maura Healey sent, it states the bylaw of Article 22, Section 75-12, “The use of a powered craft generally known as a “Jet Ski”, “Surf Jet”, “Wet Bike” or otherwise described as a Personal Watercraft shall not be allowed to operate on the body of water known as North Pond.”

Despite the approval from the Attorney General’s Office, the document indicates the following: “Because Article 22 regulates the use of personal watercraft, including jet-skis, on the North Pond section of Lake Congamond, the by-law may also need approval from other state agencies. The Town should consult with Town Counsel regarding whether the by-law requires the approval of the Director of the Division of Law Enforcement of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement, and/or the Commissioner of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law before it can take effect.”

As a result, Southwick Town Clerk Michelle Hill has requested to town counsel that they reach out to those state agencies and see if they approve the bylaw. Once town counsel receives approval from the agencies, Hill will then post the bylaw, in which there will be a 90-day period for anyone to appeal the bylaw. If 90 days goes by and there are no appeals, the bylaw becomes official and goes info effect.  

At the last annual town meeting in May, residents were set to vote on a warrant article that would ask the town to accept a Chapter 75 bylaw for personal watercraft use on the North Pond section of Congamond Lake. Voting in favor of that bylaw would allow personal watercraft on that body of water.

Once the floor was open to discuss that article, Southwick residents Ken Plumlee and Paul Murphy made a motion to amend the Chapter 75 bylaw in order to prohibit the use of jet skis on North Pond. The amendment passed by the voting residents and now jet skis will not be allowed on North Pond.

On June 1, Southwick Town Clerk Michelle Hill sent the amendment to the attorney general’s office and they had 60 days to either approve or disapprove the bylaw.

Regardless of the pending approval to make the bylaw official, town officials gave their thoughts on the approval from the Attorney General. Dick Grannells, the Chairman of the Lake Management Committee and has been very actively in favor of the bylaw, is pleased to see this bylaw get approved by the Attorney General.

“It’s the version that we want,” said Grannells. “We all supported that version.”

Conservation Commission Coordinator Dennis Clark noted that the Attorney General’s Office has extended their decision on the bylaw twice and just wants to see it become official.

“I’d just like it to be in effect for next year’s (lake) season,” said Clark.

Town officials including Select Board Clerk Doug Moglin discussing the issue this past March. (WNG File Photo)

Select Board Clerk Doug Moglin said that he was a little unsure of the bylaw that was approved. His main concern is if a person bought a home on North Pond prior to the bylaw being formed because at the time of purchase it allowed personal watercraft.

“I thought that there should have been more discussion with the Attorney General about if it was lawful taking people’s rights,” said Moglin.

Not living on Congamond Lake, Moglin acknowledged this issue doesn’t personally affect him. From a professional standpoint, he’s pleased to see the Attorney General make a decision.

“The townspeople spoke, the town meeting wanted an outright prohibition,” said Moglin. “We have to acknowledge that.”

This entire issue stems from when Southwick Police Chief David Ricardi released a statement on May 18, 2017, indicating that personal watercraft would be allowed on North Pond.

When receiving clarification from the Environmental Police, Ricardi was informed that a specific part of a lake has to be a minimum of 75 acres to allow jet skis on that body of water. Even though North Pond is 50 acres, since Congamond Lake was determined as a “great pond” consisting of three basins connected by channels, jet skis would be allowed on North Pond. The confusion to the actual ruling existed when the Lake Management Committee was told by Mass DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) that you have to treat each of the three bodies of water on the lake separately.

In August 2017, then Select Board Chair Doug Moglin proposed to form a town bylaw. Moglin said that a town bylaw would allow the town to rule on this issue. The bylaw could either ask residents to vote against or in favor of jet skis on North Pond or just having jet ski’s on North Pond at headway speed, which is six miles per hour. This would allow personal watercraft users to travel on North Pond at a slow speed to access Middle or South Pond, bodies of water that are much larger and more common for jet ski activity.

Paul Murphy, who lives on Congamond Lake and spearheaded a petition of over 50 signatures to not allow jet skis on North Pond.

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