Mark Collier / Staff Photo
Vehicles lined Mirror Lake Road on the south end of Berlin Pond a week ago. Anglers converged on the pond to take advantage of warm weather, the start of ice fishing season and the reopening of waters that were off limits to fishing for a century.
BERLIN — The onset of ice fishing has reopened a can of worms for the Select Board, which can’t seem to make a decision involving Berlin Pond that doesn’t disappoint someone.
This week was no exception, as board members were again urged to prohibit parking on both sides of Mirror Lake Road. They appear to be headed in that direction, having told police to start warning — if not ticketing — those whose vehicles aren’t parked completely off the traveled portion of the narrow two-lane town road.
Citing congested conditions they witnessed last weekend, board members said they were inclined to ban parking on the south side of the road, having already restricted parking on the north side last year as a safety precaution.
Selectman Ture Nelson said he toured the pond Jan. 12 and counted 55 cars parked on the south side of Mirror Lake Road between Paine Turnpike South and Brookfield Road. Some, he said, were facing in the wrong direction, and most were encroaching on the traveled portion of the road.
Nelson said the number of vehicles was alarming.
“To me this is an issue we never even considered when we thought about the ‘no parking’ ordinance (last year),” he said.
Selectwoman Roberta Haskin, who said she counted more than 40 vehicles on one of several Saturday spins around the pond, said that is a problem.
“I think it’s a safety issue,” she said. “I’m very familiar with this road, and this road cannot support this kind of traffic.”
Those observations came during a 30-minute discussion that began with Town Administrator Jeff Schulz telling the board that Police Chief Bill Wolfe and Fire Chief Miles Silk Jr. weren’t overly concerned after monitoring the situation last weekend.
“(Wolfe) felt based on what he’d seen that folks were able to travel through the area fairly safely,” Schulz said, conceding that both chiefs acknowledged “potential problems” if vehicles parked farther out into the roadway.
Selectman Pete Kelley said the vehicles he saw Jan. 12 were parked “as neat as a pin” but that most were at least partly in the road.
“They did as good a job getting off the road as they could,” he said.
Schulz said roadside parking requirements were something of a gray area. “It does leave a little bit of discretion to the (enforcing) officer,” he said.
Board members heard from some residents who said they were concerned by the spike in traffic that accompanied the ice fishing season and from one sportsman who urged them not to overreact.
According to Nate Smead, the novelty of ice fishing on a pond that was off limits for more than a century, coupled with poor ice conditions elsewhere in the state, were largely responsible for last weekend’s turnout.
Smead said the state Fish and Wildlife Department’s plan to reduce the yellow perch limit — from 50 to 10 starting Jan. 26 — should further ease pressure on the pond.
“It will reduce the impact,” he said.
Smead questioned the wisdom of revisiting parking restrictions that were part of a summer-long debate last year. That began in May after the Vermont Supreme Court said the city of Montpelier could not regulate recreational use of the pond, which serves as its public drinking water supply. The city owns nearly all the land surrounding the pond.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling a culvert on Mirror Lake Road has been the primary access point, though tracks in the snow suggest some anglers have concluded that isn’t the only location where the public right of way overlaps the shore.
The debate over access to the pond seemingly ended in November when voters overwhelmingly agreed that access should be allowed over a tiny town-owned parcel.
“It was pretty clear that the residents of Berlin want access,” Smead said. “I don’t see why we would rehash something that the board got clear direction on.”
Kathy Hartshorn said the November vote didn’t have anything to do with Mirror Lake Road, and she renewed her call for a parking prohibition.
“I’m a resident, I’m a voter, I’m a taxpayer in this town, and I am asking you yet again to do the responsible thing and stop this while you can,” she said.
According to Hartshorn, few of the people who have taken up ice fishing on the pond live in town.
“Your obligation is to the residents of Berlin, not the fishermen from other communities who are hitting that fish population hard,” she told the board.
Resident Andrea Chandler agreed.
According to Chandler, posting signs prohibiting parking on Mirror Lake Road would be a step in the right direction, while creating an access area on the town-owned land would, in her view, be a step in the wrong one.
“You can’t build your way out of this,” she said.
The board is forming a committee to explore access issues involving the pond.
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