Bladder boats make waves

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

The Williamstown City Council and Williamstown Lake Association reached an agreement that will continue to allow bladder boats on Lake Williamstown.

Bladder boats are motorboats that are artificially filled with water or other liquid that are designed to create a large wake. These type of boats are popular with wakeboarders.

Opponents of bladder boats say they cause damage to docks and cause soil erosion.

 The issue was discussed on May 17 when an ordinance that would have banned bladder boats from the lake was tabled.

After meeting with members of the Williamstown Lake Association, a compromise was reached that allows bladder boats, but only in the main channels of the lake. If a bladder boat owner/operator violates the ordinance more than once in a 24-hour period, they’ll be banned from the lake.

“We didn’t make a significant amount of changes (to the city’s ordinance),” said City Attorney Jeff Shipp. “The compromise is we’re going to allow them to operate these boats but for them not to be artificially filled.”
“It’s a middle ground because it allows for people to use their boats but allows for restitution and for police to cite them,” he said.

The city council, in a 4 to 2 vote, approved the ordinance on July 19.

The issue about bladder boats being too big to operate on the lake and the potential damage they cause has been raised in the past.

Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner said the issue came up again because of concerns by fishermen and lake residents.

“Hopefully this will solve the issue,” said Bill Dinnison, president of the Williamstown Lake Association. “It if doesn’t work, we’ll have to look at it again next year.”

Dinnison said bladder boats are “basically the only kind of boat you can buy today when you are looking for a ski boat.”

“The wakeboard boats increase by the week,” he said.

For Greg Deimling, a property owner on the lake and past president of the lake association, the main issue is that Williamstown Lake is too small for much of the traffic it receives.

“I don’t know if it’s as much a bladder boat issue, especially if you look at the evolution of the lake over the last 30 to 40 years,” Deimling said. “I believe the ordinance is a good compromise, but I, personally, believe the lake is too small to run full bladders.”

Deimling said he thought the wakeboard issue was a valid one, but one that could be addressed.

“There are a huge number of stakeholders on that lake, including wakeboarders, the ski set, fishermen, those who enjoy a canoe, kayak or even pontoon ride and the property owners and on top of that it’s a public lake,” Deimling said. “It really is what is common courtesy because my rights end where another’s begin.”

However, the amended ordinance doesn’t sit well with opponents of bladder boats.

A couple of property owners spoke out at the July 19 meeting.

D. Thomas said he was standing on his dock a couple of weekends ago and a bladder boat came by putting out a 4 to 5 foot wake leaving him soaked.

“The lake is too small for a boat that puts out that much wake,” he said.

Thomas said he’d witnessed the damage from these type boats. He also said the number of these boats on the lake, especially on weekends, made it nearly impossible to swim or fish.

“I feel like the number of boats causing the problem are less than 10 percent of those on the lake and these are telling the majority of us what we can do. It’s just a huge issue as far as I’m concerned.”

Deimling pointed out that many things, even small fishing boats and a pontoon boat, can cause damage to the docks and shoreline over time.”

“The lake is too small,” Deimling said. “This may momentarily put a finger in the dike, but I don’t think it solves the whole issue, but it doesn’t do any good to create a range war. It comes down to a person is responsible for what they are putting out.”