After hearing from a handful of residents and debating Wednesday night, selectmen made no immediate decision on a proposed ban of motorized vessels in the Farmington River.
Following a public hearing, most selectmen agreed that small electric and/or gas motors for fishing or similar activities would be acceptable but there was some disagreement as to whether to make some modifications or simply do nothing.
As drafted, the proposed ordinance would ban motorized vessels except for emergency situations.
About a half dozen residents spoke at a public hearing on the issue. Several raised issues with the ordinance, especially its inflexibility.
Resident Dave Kubas said he has used a small two-horsepower motor for fishing on the river.
“I would certainly urge you to allow the limited use of motors on the river,” he said.
Gary Laviana said he also enjoys the river and fishing and felt the town should allow for small electric motors.
Resident Diana Hiza praised the town for proposing the ordinance. Hiza said she lives near the river and has seen a problem with jet skis when water levels are a little higher.
“It’s a noise issue,” she said, adding that she did not have an issue with electric motors.
Mike Cirilli of the Farmington River Water-ski Club Inc., a group that operated in the river for more than 40 years until 2005, said the ordinance seemed to be a "knee-jerk" reaction.
“It seems like it’s kind of looking at one recreational use and deeming that as a good river use and another as bad,” he said.
Collinsville Canoe and kayak owner Jon Warner said he had no issues with trolling motors but said jet skis have been somewhat of problem on the river.
“Slow fish trolling isn’t a big concern of mine,” he said.
After taking up the issue at its regular meeting, selectmen had varying opinions on the issue.
Steve Roberto said he agreed that things worked fairly well when the ski club operated in the river but also felt that state statutes that limited craft to a slow wake speed of 6 miles per within 100 feet of shore for motorboats and 200 feet for jet skis basically took care of the issue.
First Selectman Richard Barlow said the ordinance is a reaction to concerns raised during the recent “Upper Mill Pond Study,” in which some at public hearings and through surveys raised the issue, especially if the water level is eventually raised either with flashboards that would be part of potentially bringing back hydropower to the upper dam or limited dredging of the river.
Barlow proposed prohibiting personal craft like jet skis and adding a horsepower limit in lieu of an outright ban, contending that speed limits are hard to enforce with no local water enforcement program and few resources at the state level.
“I think we’re putting a program in place that’s enforceable,” he said.
Selectman Lowell Humphrey said he felt the ordinance favored one type of use over another. He said he would potentially go along with a speed limit but felt state statutes covered that area.
“I think we are presuming through the ordinance that people who operate (motorized craft) can not be trusted,” he said. “If there is a problem we address at the time.”
Selectmen discussed perhaps passing a modified ordinance and possible holding another hearing but eventually tabled the matter for further discussion.
Humphrey abstained from the vote and selectmen Tom Sevigny was unable to attend the meeting. David Gilchrist joined Barlow and Roberto in voting to table it.
If the town does eventually pass an ordinance it will need approval from the commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.