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Proposed lake restrictions spark debate

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By Jennifer Caldwell

There is little doubt Norris Lake is the jewel in Campbell County’s crown.

 Surrounded by scenic mountain vistas, its waters have become a tourist destination for many from the north as well as the south.

And while visitors often choose the spot for its tranquil setting the peace has too often been marred by tragedy, many of which some feel were preventable.

Although it is apparent that some steps should be taken to reduce the number of boater related injuries and fatalities, there appears to be no simple solution to the dilemma.

In recent weeks the Friends of Norris Lake group has come under fire for proposed restrictions which they say is aimed at making the lake safer.

County Mayor William Baird has been vocal about his concerns with the impact that some of the suggestions may have on the county’s tourism industry.

“Placing limits on the size and horse power of boats allowed on the lake is something that will effect tourism,” Baird said.

While Baird is not in favor of restricting boat sizes or placing curfews on lake activities, he said the idea of enforcing a 100 foot buffer zone from the shoreline is a more practical approach to creating a safer lake.

“The idea of creating no wake zones around the shoreline is a good one because it will help protect property owners around the lake,” Baird said offering that the buffer would keep the higher speeds and traffic out of the small coves and in the main channel.

Despite the sharp criticism aimed at the Friends of Norris Lake, spokesperson Mike McDonough said the group never intended to impose unwanted restrictions on Norris Lake’s waters.

“We were truly inviting public input on what types of restrictions, if any, should be placed on boaters and the lake,” McDonough declared.

Although the group is strongly in favor of boater safety courses and other ways to help lake goers understand the “rules of the road”, McDonough said it would be virtually impossible to get endorsement for any restrictions without a stamp of approval from the majority of residents.

“Politically it would be impossible to make any changes unless the vast majority, including the chamber of commerce, county commission and marina owners were on board,” McDonough said of the getting a state representative to sponsor a bill to enact any sort of legislation.

While much of the feedback McDonough and other Friend of Norris Lake members have received has not been favorable, he said the group is committed to working on a solution that everyone can live with.

“We know people hate the idea of horse power and boat size restrictions as well as curfews, but I am anticipating that we will get far more support for implementing a 100 foot shoreline buffer zone,” McDonough said offering that the buffer would lessen noise pollution as well as protect property owners and swimming areas.

Baird suggested that an open dialogue with the chamber of commerce and other parties is the best route toward ensuring safety and preserving tourism opportunities in the future.

“The wake zones are a good idea but we need to make sure we don’t go too far with restrictions,” Baird said.

 

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