Lake Mahopac Park District Offers Recommendations on ‘Bubbler’ Law

The town is looking to regulate the use of deicers/bubblers on its lakes to prevent the devices from creating too much open water - such as this - which can cause hazardous conditions.

MAHOPAC, N.Y.— As the Town Board continues to move toward creating legislation that would regulate the use of ice-retardant systems, sometimes referred to as bubblers, on Lake Mahopac (and other lakes in town), the Lake Mahopac Park District has offered some recommendations on the use of the devices that officials will consider when crafting a new law.

At its Jan. 11 meeting, the board continued to receive feedback from the community as it continues to research the topic.

Many residents have grown concerned that the use of bubblers has proliferated and more powerful devices are being employed, which results in weakened ice and more open water. That, they say, causes hazardous conditions on the lake throughout the winter.

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The Town Board has said that while it doesn’t want to ban the use of bubblers outright—property owners use them to protect docks, boathouses, and bulkheads from the damaging ice—a happy medium needs to be found. To do that, the board has sought input from those who live on the lake and those who use it for winter recreation.

The recommendations set forth by the Lake Mahopac Park District will be placed on the district’s website with the caveat that they are for safety information only and are not yet the part of any town code.

The document provided by the district includes not only recommendations, but information about the devices as well. It states that there are two types of de-icing equipment: ice-eaters and bubblers. Ice-eaters are submersible motors with propellers, while bubblers consist of perforated tubing and an air compressor. The document states that the electrical cost of bubblers is less than an ice-eater, but bubblers need deeper water to function effectively.

The recommendations note that “bigger is not necessarily better” and that opening up larger ice-free areas than necessary creates hazardous conditions. The document says a quarter-horsepower opens up 25 feet; half-horsepower  opens 50 feet; three-quarters-horsepower opens 75 feet; and a 1 horsepower motor will open 100 feet of water.

The district recommends a white light to illuminate the open water area at night and at least one 2-by-3-foot sign at the water’s edge indicating, “Danger: Thin Ice.”

It is also recommended that all deicers have a ground fault interrupter (GFI) to act as a fuse and prevent potential electrical shock.

Other recommendations include:

•             Being a good neighbor by talking to neighbors about potential problems caused by the use of a deicer.

•             Placing deicers horizontally so they can be aimed directly at the assets the property owner wishes to protect.

•             Structures to be kept ice-free should be connected to the shoreline, such as docks and boathouses.

•             Ice-free areas should be constrained to about 6 feet beyond any structure needing protection.

“More and more homeowners have been installing these to protect their property,” Supervisor Ken Schmitt said. “However, residents who use the lake for recreation have raised concerns about the amount of water that has been left open. It’s creating a hazard and is a safety issue. I feel we are obligated to do something to prevent tragedies. I know [deicers] are necessary, but there are issues with the size of the motor and the type of system being used.”

Schmitt said the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has no laws on the books governing the use of deicers, but has acknowledged they can create an issue with respect to open water.

“So we need to be proactive and put something on the books,” the supervisor said.

Councilman Jonathan Schneider agreed that legislation is necessary to mitigate the potential hazards the devices may cause.

“We live in an entitled society where people seem to believe they can do whatever they want to do,” he said. “So, I, too think we need to put something on the books.”

Councilwoman Suzy McDonough agreed, but said a compromise must be sought.

“We have to find a happy medium and part of that is awareness and education,” she said.

McDonough said the Lake District’s recommendations and guidelines can go a long way toward that cause.

Board members said more research needs to be done and more information gathered before they can craft any legislation, so no law will be ready in time for this winter. They said more informational meetings and open-forum discussions will be held on the topic.

Councilman John Lupinacci had praise for the Mahopac Lake Park District for the research it did and recommendations it provided.

“What you guys have provided is outstanding,” he said. “I have a folder about an inch thick [on deicer research]. But this is a process, an evolution.”

The question of enforcement of any new law was raised and how the code enforcement officer would be able to determine the horsepower of any motor being used, since it is submerged.

“We are not asking [the code enforcement officer] to drive around the lake with a checklist,” Lupinacci said. “It’s on the honor system, or if someone reports it.”

Schmitt said it would become apparent that a deicer motor is too big if there is too much open water.

“Common sense and good judgment has to prevail,” he said. “But as we all know, some folks don’t have that and it creates an issue.”

The board said more meetings on the topic will be held as it continues to gather information before drafting a law.

“I believe you will see an ordinance,” Schmitt said. “We just need to continue our research and [create] a law that makes sense.”

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