SUNAPEE — Sunapee residents and conservationists are looking to legislative action to prohibit houseboats on Perkins Pond, a shallow but sizable pond that the community has worked vigorously to clean of human contamination.
Located along Sunapee’s border with Croydon, Perkins Pond spans 157 acres and provides recreational activities that include fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The pond has numerous private residences built around it as well as a public boat launch.
What keeps Perkins Pond from being classified a “lake” is its shallowness. The pond’s average depth is only four feet and its deepest point is only nine feet.
This shallowness also makes it more ecologically fragile, according to Robin Saunders, a Sunapee resident and vice-president of the Perkins Pond Protective Association, a local conservation group that helps to monitor the pond’s health.
Between 1986 and 2003, the water quality went into decline, eventually being downgraded from “oligotrophic,” a classification indicating a “good” water quality, to “mesotrophic,” which indicates a “fair” water quality.
Oligotrophic water bodies are generally defined as clear, oxygenated, and low in nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Too many of these nutrients can cause an excess of plant and algae growth that adversely impacts the rest of the ecosystem and increase public health risks.
Studies conducted in the early 2000s indicated that human waste from septic systems around the pond were the primary culprit, according to Saunders.
After several years of negotiation, including two failed town votes, the town of Sunapee connected the residences surrounding the pond to the town sewer system in 2017, a project costing a total of $3 million.
“It was fantastic,” Saunders told the Eagle Times. “I was able to do the first flush.”
But the town had not anticipated the arrival of a houseboat on the pond.
Two years ago, a Florida woman, Centura Churchill, received permission to tie her “makeshift houseboat” to a property owner’s dock.
“It’s basically a pontoon boat with a tent on it,” Saunders said.
According to Saunders, the woman’s only waste collection system is a five-gallon plastic bucket. The woman reportedly told officials in 2020 that she was taking the waste to the disposal center at Sunapee Harbor, though that facility had been closed during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic shutdown, Saunders said.
For Saunders and other residents, the major concern was that New Hampshire has no regulatory laws to prohibit this activity.
“It’s pretty amazing that there are not more limits in shallow bodies of water because they are so fragile,” Saunders said. “But [according to state law], as long as her boat is attached to a dock she could stay there.”
New Hampshire’s current statute is lacking in regulations regarding houseboats. According to RSA 270-A, titled “Use of Houseboats,” a “houseboat means any ship, boat, raft, float, catamaran or marine craft of any description upon or within which are located sleeping and toilet facilities, regardless of whether such facilities are of a permanent or temporary nature.”
The chapter’s only regulations pertain to the mooring of houseboats, not their makeup or permitted types of water.
“Our concern was not what she was doing but that there were no laws in New Hampshire to protect us,” Saunders said. “It could have been anyone. But we realized that we were vulnerable to people who could contribute to the waste and that we had no way to stop them.”
Churchill also created a Facebook page called “Summer on Perkins Pond,” where she posts videos of her stay on the pond and encourages friends on the page to visit.
Saunders said the community is worried about other people following suit with their own houseboats.
On Wednesday, Jan. 12, the New Hampshire House legislature will hear public comments on HB 1220, which seeks to prohibit the docking of boats on Perkins Pond.
Democratic Rep. Sue Gottling, District 2, who sponsored the bill with Democratic Rep. Linda Tanner, District 9, indicated that making the bill specific to Perkins Pond was the quickest way to ensure the bill’s passage, Saunders said.
Three New Hampshire lakes were allowed to prohibit houseboats using this same legislative approach, including Squam Lake, Conway Lake, and Silver Lake in Madison.
Saunders said she will be speaking at the hearing in Concord this week.
The bill has also received support from the Sunapee Selectboard, the Lake Sunapee Protective Association and the Otter Pond Protective Association, Saunders said.
The Eagle Times attempted to reach Churchill for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.