A current 10-horsepower cap for recreational vessels on Cowan Lake may change to temporarily allow watercraft of greater horsepower to go at speeds that don’t cause a wake.
The proposal was brought to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) by a group petitioning the state agency. A public hearing on the proposed change is set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29 in Building E Assembly Center at ODNR’s headquarters, 2045 Morse Road, Columbus.
“The public meetings are held in order to hear both the concerns and potential benefits members of the community want to share. This enables Division of Watercraft staff to determine whether the rule fits the desires of the community at large,” stated Matt Eiselstein with ODNR Communications in an email.
One person who has concerns is Jay Carey, who owns property adjacent to the state park and describes himself as an avid sailor.
For his part, the question comes down to whether people want to keep the character of the lake “as a beautiful, quiet, peaceful, scenic lake,” or see that character “change dramatically if we allowed these larger boats.”
But the petition of the people in support of the change states: “The history of the lakes with 10 HP [horsepower] restrictions actually were developed to eliminate loud noise caused by the larger motors of the ’40s and ’50s era. … The engines manufactured today are so quiet you cannot hear them run at idle. Noise is not an issue anymore.”
Carey said the Clinton County area currently has “the best of both worlds.” Caesar Creek Lake, he said, caters to bigger motors and their boaters, whereas the smaller, 700-acre Cowan Lake is “a haven for sailors, paddlers and small-boat fishermen.”
The petition states that 10 of 13 southwest Ohio lakes are restricted to 10 horsepower or less.
“We are driving Ohio boaters to other states by not allowing them to operate their motors, even at an idle speed, on a large portion of the waters that they are currently paying for. Taxpayers have a right to safely and efficiently use the waters of this state,” the petition reads.
Carey said given that the two recreational bodies of water are near one another, “there’s merit to preserving the unique nature of each lake.” He said it doesn’t work that well to mix “bigger motors” with sailboats, canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards and small fishing boats.
That’s why, Carey said, you don’t see a lot of sailboats and paddle sports on Caesar Creek Lake.
A signer of the petition, Timothy Meyer of Cincinnati, wrote, “Many of us with big motors would greatly appreciate the idle proposal so that we can fish for crappie on this lake.”
Another petition signer, Chuck Keller of Pickerington, said it would “ease crowding on open HP [horsepower] lakes.”
While the proposed rule would prohibit boat speeds that create a wake in the water, Carey cautions putting much weight on that aspect. The presence of watercraft enforcement is pretty limited, he said, citing his experience in summer 2015.
He said he boated on Cowan Lake about 40 days this summer and saw enforcement personnel on three days. “I would expect a lot of violation [of the no-wake restriction] with no one there to police it,” said Carey.
But the petition states that ODNR’s Division of Watercraft has “a steady commitment to enforcement on the lakes that have idle-only programs.” Watercraft officers have maintained they have the manpower to enforce the program, the petition adds.
Gene Moorman of Fairborn, who signed the petition, wrote his 18.5-foot Skeeter with a 150 horse power motor is quieter at idle than a 10 horse power at full speed. “And it makes less wake. Eastwood Lake is smaller than Cowan and it has a 35 mph speed limit on even days of the week, idle speed on odd.”
ODNR spokesman Eiselstein, in his email to the News Journal, wrote, “Just recently public meetings were held at Lake Logan and the boating community there decided against the rule change. Other boating communities at Acton Lake, Burr Oak Lake, Knox Lake and Jackson Lake have adopted the rule with little or no issue.”
He added if the change is adopted for Cowan Lake, the pilot program will run for two years and an extension is possible.
The supporters’ petition can be found at ipetitions.com/petition/cowanlake and includes text described as supportive of the proposal, as well as a section of 55 comments.
On Thursday, there were 137 signatures in the online signature list.
Carey said opponents to the change include the Cowan Lake Sailing Association, a Tri-state Kayaking organization, a Whitewater Canoes group from Dayton, and the Miami chapter of the Ohio section of the Sierra Club which he said has 4,000 members.
At Tuesday’s public hearing, any person affected by the rule amendment may appear and be heard in person, or by an attorney, or both, and may present testimony, orally or in writing, and present evidence tending to show that these rules, if amended or adopted, will be unreasonable or unlawful.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768 or on Twitter @GHuffenberger.