The Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission is looking for public input before moving forward with plans to create no-wakesurfing zones at Smith Mountain Lake. The organization’s board voted unanimously on Tuesday to delay a decision until the community has had time to provide feedback.
TLAC board member and Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman suggested a public comment period for its no-wakesurfing zone proposal after a lengthy debate on Tuesday afternoon. When several members voiced concern with the no-wakesurfing zones, Smitherman said public comment would help to know if the community liked the proposal or if they had any better ideas.
The proposed procedure for lakefront residents to establish no-wakesurfing zones along with a form to provide comments will be provided on the TLAC website in the coming weeks. Once in place, the public will have 30 days to look over the procedure and provide comments.
TLAC will hold a special meeting later this summer to review the comments. Those comments will be used to help board members to decide if anything in the procedure should be changed or if it should be scrapped.
A procedure has been in development by TLAC’s navigation committee since earlier this year. The effort started after a bill to regulate wakesurfing failed in Virginia’s House of Delegates in February.
Lakefront homeowner Dawn Saunders was the first to ask TLAC for a no-wakesurfing zones at her cove shortly after the bill failed in February. She was one of several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting to voice an opinion on the proposed zones.
Saunders’ home is located on Merriman Run near Virginia Dare Marina. She claimed her cove is no longer safe and her dock has had extensive damage in recent years that required costly repairs due to wakesurfers.
“Studies by qualified professionals and the property experience I have had in the last seven years pretty much validate the need that something has to be done,” Saunders said.
Navigation committee member Randy Stow presented the recommended procedure for TLAC to establish no-wakesurfing zones at Tuesday’s meeting. It would first require anyone applying for one of the zones to obtain written consent from at least 75% of neighbors in the impacted area.
Those applying must also show verifiable proof that a public safety hazard exists and occurs on a regular basis through written statements, videos and reports to law enforcement. Applicants can also show structural, shoreline or vessel damage has occurred that can be verified by submitting repair bills, pictures or a written statement from a business professional that can verify the damage was caused by wakesurfing.
Applicants in a channel, cove or area of water with less than 400 feet between shorelines or the furthest extending points of a structure such as docks will also be considered for no-wakesurfing buoys. Stow said the 400 foot limit was decided based on recommendations by the Water Sports Industry Association that wakesurfers should be at least 200 feet from the shoreline or structures.
If the procedure is approved, TLAC would hold public hearings for anyone applying for a no-wakesurfing zone. Following the public hearing, board members would vote on the request and send a recommendation to the Department of Wildlife Resources for final approval.
Multiple individuals spoke out against the no-wakesurfing zones at Tuesday’s meeting. Local resident and world champion wakeboarder Joy Manning said singling out wakesurfers was not good for Smith Mountain Lake and could lead to fewer vacationers coming to the lake. She called for more education efforts to push wakesurfers to practice the sport responsibly.
“I think singling out a certain boat and a certain boat type and a certain sport is just the wrong message to be sending here at Smith Mountain Lake,” Manning said.
The no-wakesurfing zones would have no impact on other watersports on the lake. Individuals boating through a zone would not have to slow down and those involved in other activities such as skiing or other tow sports would not be required to stop in the zone.
Several members of TLAC’s board were in agreement that something needed to be done due to the growing number of incidents reported and concerns from residents. Lorie Smith, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors representative on TLAC’s board, said the procedure for a no-wakesurfing zone presented by the navigation committee was a good first step.
George Morrison, TLAC’s Smith Mountain Lake Association member on the board, said he was concerned that no-wakesurfing zones could have unintended consequences. He said it could lead to the lake being seen as unfriendly to vacationers coming to wakesurf. He also wondered if approving the zones to limit wakesurfing could lead to banning other unwanted lake actives in the future.
“I do have some concerns with how this is perceived by the property owners on the lake and how it is perceived by people who do own wake boats and enjoy the sport,” Morrison said.
Board member Bob Camicia said one group or another will have issues with whatever decision the TLAC board makes. He said the proposal by the navigation committee would likely be the best solution.
“I think what the committee has come up with is probably the least oppressive kind of implementation that we could put in place,” Camicia said.
None of the board members Tuesday seemed willing to move forward with approving the procedure to obtain a no-wakesurfing zone presented by the navigation committee. Due to the hesitation, Smitherman made the motion to ask for public comment on the procedure.
The motion was passed unanimously by the TLAC board.