Senate raises 'Broads' speed limit to 55 mph

Last modified: 3/24/2011 12:00:00 AM
A bill bumping up the speed limit in the 'Broads' on Lake Winnipesaukee to 55 mph passed the state Senate yesterday.

The bill had originally sought to repeal speed limits on the lake - 45 mph during the day, 30 mph at night - that were made permanent by a law passed last year. But a compromise amendment approved yesterday keeps the speed limits in place elsewhere on the lake while increasing the daytime speed limit to 55 mph in its wide, central section.

The bill passed by a 13-11 vote in the 24-member Senate. The amended version had won the approval of the Senate Transportation Committee by a 3-2 vote. Sen. Jim Rausch, chairman of the Transportation Committee, introduced the bill on the floor yesterday by saying the amendment 'was the fairest option for the task at hand.'

Sen. Jim Luther, a Republican from Hollis, spoke out against the bill.

'I would have to say, from personal experience being on Lake Winnipesaukee, that for many of the folks who I know who boat this would not be a good situation on the lake,' he said.

Luther said that boating has become 'less civil' and that it would be good for businesses in the area to cap speeds at 45 mph during the day.

Sen. Molly Kelly, a Democrat from Keene in her fifth year on the Transportation Committee, said she has heard the same testimony and arguments about boat speeds. A law setting up a two-year trial run for speed limits passed in 2008, and a separate bill last year made the limits permanent before they could expire.

'Last year we passed legislation that was the result of balancing the needs and the safety issue of all the people of New Hampshire who want to enjoy this beautiful lake,' she said. 'It is only reasonable then that we give the current law time to work before we change the speed limits again.'

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Democrat from Manchester, was the primary sponsor of the bill. He said Rausch had done a 'masterful job' putting together the 55 mph compromise.

'I've got to tell you - I'm not a boater,' D'Allesandro said. 'The D'Allesandros aren't big boaters. But what we are, I hope, are people who believe that everyone should have an opportunity to get one of these motor crafts and use it appropriately.'

D'Allesandro said he hoped the amended bill would finally satisfy those on both ends of the boat speed issue, which he described as 'one of the items that most reappears here.'

'It's the phoenix of legislation,' he said. 'Down and rebirth. Down and rebirth. It has resurrection more than Easter Sunday, I'll tell you that.'

D'Allesandro was the only senator besides Rausch to speak up in support of the bill.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, lives on the eastern portion of the lake.

'I believe that the current law of 45 and (30) is working fine and we should leave it in place,' he said.

Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Republican from Meredith, which borders the lake, also opposed the bill. Freshman Sen. Jim Forsythe, a Republican from Strafford, was the only of the three senators in the Lake Winnipesaukee area who voted for the bill.

Forrester said her view on the issue was shaped by e-mails she received from her constituents that supported the current speed limits by 3-to-1.

'Since the speed limits have been in place, people feel safe and use the lake more,' she said.

Personal experience played a role, too. On a Labor Day weekend more than 30 years ago, Forrester's family was in a speed-related accident while traveling in a boat operated by a close friend. Her mother ended up in a coma, her brother lost his spleen, and Forrester and her father suffered broken ribs.

'I'm sure this friend of the family believed he was operating the boat at a safe speed, but his judgment was wrong and the injuries suffered by my mom, my brother, my father and myself were real, negative and had permanent results,' she said.

Scott Verdonck, the president of Safe Boaters of New Hampshire, an organization that has led the push to repeal speed limits on the lake, said he wasn't too concerned about yesterday's vote despite the bill having a narrow majority.

'I'd heard through the grapevine that we were looking pretty good,' he said.

Verdonck said the members of his group are mostly satisfied with the compromise to increase the daytime speed limit in the Broads.

'Of course we have members that would prefer no limits,' he said, adding that he personally opposes any limits because he has yet to see data supporting their effectiveness.

Verdonck said a straw poll in the House shows support for the bill. Crossover day, when all bills must move from one chamber to the other, is March 31.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)




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