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State asks Fulton County to restart patrol by sheriff’s boats

County delays answer, questions need

Thursday, November 1, 2012
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— Fulton County supervisors are remaining mum on a request by the state to reinstate the Sheriff’s Department’s summer boat patrols on the Great Sacandaga Lake.

The Bureau of Marine Services, a division of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, sent the request via a letter to Board of Supervisor Chairman Michael Gendron. The bureau is offering to pay for the salaries of deputies on patrol, for training and to even provide the sheriff’s office with free equipment, including center console boats.

The board’s Public Safety Committee discussed the letter earlier this week, but took no action. Sheriff Thomas Lorey said the county board is not interested in putting up any money to support a summer boat patrol. “There was no proposal; it was up for discussion. I wanted to get a feel for it,” he said of the request.

The board last December cut $10,000 for the sheriff’s boat patrols out of 2012 budget it was crafting then. The actual cost was $5,000, Lorey said, because the state reimbursed the county half.

Without the funding, the sheriff stopped patrolling the lake this summer for the first time in decades. Several boaters and marinas decried the absence of the patrols, saying they served as a deterrent to drunken boaters and helped enforce boating and fishing rules and regulations.

When funding was available, the Sheriff’s Department operated two boats with one officer each. It would run patrols all summer, doing spot checks to ensure people followed rules and regulations, such as having a license to operate high-powered personal watercraft or wearing a life vest. Deputies also charged people with boating while intoxicated.

Lorey said he does not think there is a need for the Sheriff’s Department to maintain a permanent presence on the lake, even with state assistance. “We got through this summer without any issues. The state police and [the state Department of Environmental Conservation] have boats, and it is the feeling of the board that that is enough,” he said. “I have a tendency to agree with the board.”

Also, Lorey said his department still maintains boats and can put them in the water in an emergency.

The sheriff said he would rather devote his department’s time and efforts to land operations. “They have cut my manpower significantly over the last few years and our hours are better spent on the road patrol,” he said.

The state’s offer does not cover the hiring of more deputies, only the coverage of salaries of deputies on boat patrol.

Lorey discounted concerns about unruly boaters on the lake. He said that while there may a high percentage of people drinking and boating, they are not a major problem. There also is no need to patrol for speed violations, as the lake has no speed limit.

In the past, deputies made about three or four BWI arrests per year, issued the occasional ticket and answered dozens of calls for assistance each season. But their main role was to present a visible presence to deter lawlessness, he said.

Lorey said the state money has no strings attached, “other than a county presence on holidays and weekends.” He added, however, that weekend and holiday duty on the lake never proved popular with his officers.

“It sounds like a nice job, but it gets tedious and takes you away from your family on weekends and the [equipment checks] are ruining people’s good times,” he said.

Dan Keefe, spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said the letter is a “simple reminder of the availability of state resources.”

According to the letter, Fulton County is one of only two counties in the Adirondack Park that does not operate a marine patrol.

 
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