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Want to go for a swim?
Could swimming in a county reservoir be allowed one day?
Right now, if you’re caught swimming where you’re not supposed to, you’ll face a Class 3 misdemeanor.
The public safety committee has talked about reducing that charge several times, after supervisor Gary Snellings worried that having a misdemeanor on a record could prevent someone from joining the military. He asked if the swimming offense could become an infraction or be punished civilly, rather than through the court system.
The lowest possible punishment for the offense is a Class 4 misdemeanor, according to Assistant County Attorney Rysheda McClendon. The committee recommended to the full board that the punishment be reduced in this way.
Last spring, the sheriff’s office first started having problems with kids swimming in Abel Lake. In May 2012, nine people were charged for various offenses, including trespassing, swimming int he reservoir and possession of alcohol and marijuana. Between May 1 and September 1, the sheriff’s office had six calls at the lake, with up to 15 violators at each call, according to an email from Maj. David Decatur.
At Tuesday’s meeting, when the board authorized the issue to go to public hearing, Supervisor Cord Sterling asked if there should even be a punishment. Perhaps the county should consider the reservoirs for increased recreational uses, he asked. Swimming is allowed during the summer at the Historic Port of Falmouth, at the naturally occurring beach at the Rappahannock River.
Stafford’s two reservoirs — Smith and Abel lakes — are both part of the public water supply, and so will the new Rocky Pen Run Reservoir that’s under construction. Because of that, Utilities Director Harry Critzer wrote a letter encouraging the board to continue to prohibit swimming and wading activities, based on the recommendations of several organizations. Of the 30 public water supply reservoirs surveyed in Virginia and Maryland, none allow swimming, Critzer notes.
The board authorized a public hearing for the “amending, abolishing or re-ordaining” of the swimming regulations.
I’ll keep you updated on when that will be.