By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Monday tabled action on a proposal to test 14 navigational buoys on Claytor Lake, asking that the number be cut in half.
Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready made the motion to table after several residents expressed concern about the buoys, particularly the fact they’ll be lighted. McCready proposed a compromise of seven, with five being lit and two being unlit.
The test buoys are part of APCo’s Aids to Navigation Plan that is included in its dam relicensing application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). If Virginia Department of Game and Inlands Fisheries (DGIF) approves the plan, 70 of the channel markers could eventually be installed. DGIF apparently has the final say.
APCo representative Teresa Rogers told the supervisors a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) recommended the placement of lighted navigational buoys on the lake because of the amount of night fishing going on there.
Asked whether the number of test buoys could be reduced to seven, Rogers said she would have to get approval from the TAC because U.S. Coast Guard specifications have to be met. She expressed concern that reducing the number of test buoys might actually cause problems with navigation, particularly in the large curve where they are being proposed (in the Little Wytheville area).
The purpose of the markers is to delineate the portion of the channel that can be safely navigated and keep boats from becoming stuck in silt deposits and other shallow waters. With fewer buoys to outline the channel, she said, boats may cut too close to shallow areas between the markers.
Dave Gruber of Christiansburg told the board he has been actively boating on Claytor Lake since 1976. Although he is on the board of directors for Friends of Claytor Lake (FOCL) and division commander for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, he stressed his comments to the board are his own personal opinion.
He pointed out that state law “requires endorsement by the local governing body” before the navigational aids (NAV aids) can be put in place. However, he also added, “The Commonwealth is not bound by the local government endorsement.”
“Aids to Navigation can provide a boater with the same type of information drivers get from street signs, stop signals, road barriers, detours and traffic lights,” said Gruber, who served on the TAC. He said the committee recommended the test to see how the buoys would withstand the winter and to receive feedback from landowners and boaters.
Noting that APCo has agreed to assist in creating a navigational chart for the lake, Gruber said, “The NAV aids and a navigational chart for Claytor Lake will make this a safer haven for recreational boaters. They will be the basis for a safe boating experience on Claytor Lake.”
Some property owners and boaters say they see no need for the buoys, adding they’ve never been used on the lake and there’s no need for them now. One property owner who lives in the Little Wytheville area said he thinks the buoys would expose the county to liability. Another property owner said all 14 of the buoys will be visible from his house and the lights will spoil the view.
Claytor Lake Water Sports owner Johnny Garrett said boaters shouldn’t have a problem if they follow the state’s 50-foot rule which requires boaters traveling at more than wake speed to stay at least 50 feet from docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps and people in the water. He expressed concerns the skiers might hit the buoys in the narrow Peak Creek channel.
Gruber said the buoys are made of polyethylene to reduce the likelihood of injury or damage to skiers or boats that hit them.
Another speaker said a lot of people who have boats don’t use them appropriately. He said the lake is a “fiasco” on nights when there are fishing tournaments, so the buoys would be a “valid and useful tool.”
A resident who lives near the dam said he hates to see “the serenity of Claytor Lake interfered with.” He suggested APCo’s money would be better spent on kiosks, maps, videos and other educational materials for boaters.
McCready asked Sgt. Charlie Mullins with DGIF whether navigational aids would have prevented any of the accidents that occurred on the lake last year. He said most of the accidents involved injuries from skiers falling or hitting objects, not boat collisions.
Since DGIF isn’t bound by the supervisors’ recommendation, McCready asked Mullins how much weight will be given to the board’s opinion.
“That’s well above my pay scale,” Mullins said, noting that the decision will be made by DGIF officials in Richmond.
County Administrator Peter Huber recommended the board support the test, saying the buoys will “keep a rational person from getting in a bad place.”
Supervisor Dean Pratt of Draper District made a motion to support the buoy test, but withdrew it when there was no second to the motion. He subsequently voted “yes” to McCready’s motion.
Although he had used the lake since he was a teenager, Pratt said he got mired in mud when he took a boat out after having been off the lake for some time. He explained that he tried to cut across the lake in an area where he had skied as a teen, but silt had built up over the years.
He also recalled how he ended up in a cove trying to find when fog moved in one night while he was fishing. He tried to follow the lights on the shore because the lights on his boat were useless in the fog.
Pointing out that not everyone who boats on the lake uses it regularly enough to learn the danger areas, Pratt supported the idea of a test. He said he sees a need for them.
Robinson District Supervisor Charles Bopp said he, too, thinks they would be a “good thing” for the lake. However, he was hesitant to support them since “it seems most of the people don’t want them.”
Bopp added, “APCo’s going to do whatever they want to do anyway. They’re always telling us they own the lake.”
When Rogers said she wouldn’t be able to get the TAC’s approval for seven buoys by the supervisors’ Feb. 25 meeting, McCready suggested the matter be tabled until the March 25 meeting.
The motion allows the buoys to be installed until Nov. 1. McCready said APCo could then remove them and give the board a report on the test results.
Rogers suggested they be able to give the report before removing the buoys.