CANDLEWOOD — Two of the lake authority’s patrol boats were put out of commission this summer, coming at a time when the coronavirus and increased traffic on the lake put even more of a strain on the marine patrol.
The Candlewood Lake Authority now seeks $60,000 from each of the five lake towns to purchase two new patrol boats in time for the summer. None have made a decision yet.
“I’ve never seen a season like this,” Mark Toussaint, one of New Milford’s delegates, told New Milford Town Council this week. “We really need your help.”
New Fairfield, New Milford and Sherman have all decided to vote on approving funding later after receiving more input and information, including where that money would come from in their own budgets. The lake authority is expected to present the proposal to Brookfield and Danbury next week.
The towns have until the end of the month to decide so that the boats can be prepared in time for the season. Some are considering approving the funds as long as all of the other towns do too.
Costs range from about $100,000 for a Boston Whaler to about $150,000 for the Metal Shark. The third main option is about $143,000 for a Silver Ships.
Authority members said they would prefer an aluminum hull, which is more expensive than a fiberglass one, because of all of the towing the marine patrol does. It’s also becoming the standard among patrol and fire boats.
“I think we need to take our equipment to the next level,” Toussaint said.
These options were selected based on the authority’s research and speaking with other lake authorities and law enforcement throughout Connecticut and the northeast.
“We know it’s a difficult time for municipalities,” said Joan Archer, a New Fairfield authority delegate. “It’s a difficult time for everyone.”
The authority plans to buy a third boat in the 2022 fiscal year using its capital reserve, fundraising, grants and money from FirstLight Power Resources, which owns and operates the lake. It would also reallocate the oldest boat for the authority’s educational and research work — a key part of the group’s mission.
Authority members said the patrol’s watercraft issues have been a problem for a while, but were highlighted by the coronavirus this season.
“COVID exacerbated issues we’ve been dealing with for years,” Toussaint said. “The dynamic has changed.”
The coronavirus essentially squashed summer vacation plans due to travel and other restrictions. That, coupled with other summer recreational activities remaining closed, prompted more boaters and other lake-goers than usual to flock to Candlewood Lake this summer.
Higher traffic on the lake, also resulted in an increase of calls and activity for the patrol, which is out on the water up to 12 hours a day.
There were more than 600 calls for service this season and 13 accidents reported, nearly triple last year’s count. The patrol issued 91 infractions, had 67 public safety assists and responded to 20 disorderly conduct or breach of peace incidents, not counting all of the noise complaints, according to the authority.
Coronavirus also affected how patrols operated, using side by side patrols instead of having the two officers on the same boat. This means the boats were being used more than usual.
“It caused a lot of wear and tear on the boats and we lost two boats this season,” Archer said.
The 1997 Mckee and the 1993 Steiger craft both failed this summer. This leaves the 2017 Robalo and the 1999 Aquasport in the patrol’s current fleet. The Aquasport was purchased used this year to prepare for the increased need this summer.
Lake authority members and town officials don’t see this higher traffic decreasing next summer, even if the coronavirus is no longer a concern, given how many people moved to the state during the pandemic.
They encouraged the towns to support buying new boats that would last longer instead of constantly getting used boats that need to be replaced more often. They compared it to the towns buying new patrol cars when the police department needs to replace their vehicles.
This year, the authority had to take the motor out of a boat that lost its hull and put it into a work boat so buoys could be taken out of the water at the end of the season.
“We’re moving the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Toussaint said.