Committee Findings on Scuba Diving Presented to the Board
At the April 7, 2022 Board Discussion Session, Alan Wellesley, Lakes Committee Chair, presented a report on the Scuba Diving Sub-Committee’s findings. As this meeting was a Discussion Session, no votes were taken.
Wellesley said this process began in June of 2021. “An individual proposed allowing recreational scuba diving in the Village Lakes. Staff rejected the idea. This has caused some turmoil.” Both staff and the committee did not feel scuba diving should be allowed in Village lakes. That decision “did not meet well with this person.”
The committee enlisted the aid of residents in the area who are scuba divers, including the person who recommended it. “We found out right away through that interview that not only did he want to allow recreational scuba diving, but it was partially because he wanted to start a business in the Village teaching scuba diving.” A scuba diving business is a separate issue and the committee focused on recreational scuba diving.
Wellesley said that most new amenities come about because of a groundswell of support either from a committee or a club. “As of now, we only know of this one individual that is pushing this topic. I don’t really know what kind of level of interest there is within the Village.”
“Of the four expert scuba divers that we interviewed, of course, one was very much for it. The other three were typically against it. Two of these guys work for a diving company that supports the Garland County Sheriff’s Office and they gave some recommendations if this body was to decide to actually allow scuba diving.”
Board Vice-chair, Tucker Omohundro said, “Where does it say or has it said that we don’t allow scuba diving?”
Wellesley said, “You know that is a good question.”
Omohundro stated, “I know people who have scuba dived in the Village for 30 or 40 years. There is no rule against scuba diving in the Village.”
Wellesley responded, “You’re absolutely right. All of the Policies, Rules, and Regs say nothing about it. I was kind of surprised it came up as an issue, to begin with. That being said, now that it has been raised, most of the information we gathered is against allowing.”
Omohundro asked, “Why are they against it?”
Wellesley answered, “The experienced divers that we talked to say there is not a lot to draw people to Hot Springs Village Lakes in the way of diving. Most diving destinations have some sort of…”
Director Pam Avila asked, “If you tell him he can’t start a business, why can’t he scuba dive anyway.”
Board Chair, Joanie Corry, said, “But he can.”
Avila said, “No, they are trying to pass a policy that you cannot.”
Corry said that currently, you can scuba dive if you want to.
Wellesley continued, “The other divers that we interviewed said our lakes are not that good of a draw for scuba divers to begin with. Most diving destinations…I would appreciate it if you would listen to me. I’ve got a limited amount of time to talk according to the chair and I would like to get out what I want to say and I know you are against it. That is okay. That is your prerogative.”
Wellesley said, “Most diving destinations have features that divers like to look at. They can be manmade. They can be natural. Cliffs. Whatever. Our lakes, most of them, especially the ones that are most well-suited for diving, were scraped clean when they were made. There’s not very much in the way of trees or stumps, cliffs. About all you see are silty bottoms.”
“The other thing they said is that our lakes, as much as we like to think differently, are not very clear. The clarity is not as good as say, Lake Ouachita…Most of the things you are looking for under the water tend to blend in with the background. You don’t have brightly-colored fish. They said about five feet is typically about as far as you can see in our lakes,” continued Wellesley.
Wellesley said they “bounced the idea off of the POA Risk Management. They were against it, I think last year and they repeated that again this year.”
Continuing, Wellesley explained, “The other information has to do with safety in our lakes. Anytime a diver goes down, they have a ‘Diver Down’ Flag that is typically displayed on a little floating buoy and it is not very high.”
Arkansas does not have a lot of scuba diving regulations. Boaters may have difficulty seeing the flags. “We have a very bad reputation here of boaters not being able to see buoys or choosing to ignore them,” added Wellesley.
Three of the experts recommended that boaters stay 300′ away from a ‘Diver Down’ flag. That is a 600′ diameter circle and makes up about 6 and 1/2 acres. The experienced divers think scuba diving should be restricted to certain areas and maybe it shouldn’t be allowed on busy boating holiday weekends during the summer.
McLeod said, “He [Wellesley] is talking about liability.”
Omohundro responded, “I know what he is talking about. He is talking about regulating everything where if it’s not safe, we’re not going to do it. The next thing you know we won’t be doing boating on the lake because that’s not safe.”
Avila said, “Boating is a whole lot less safe than scuba diving because boaters do not understand…A lot of the boaters here don’t know the rules of boating. That’s like being allowed to drive a car without knowing the rules of the road. But we allow it anyway. Let me tell you scuba divers know that they are doing something that they have to be very, very careful and they know what the rules are.”
Avila said there are two separate issues. One is starting a business. The other is to allow a resident to use the lakes as they would like to use them. “You have to separate the two issues, first of all, and then move forward.”
Wellesley asked, “Why do we allow boaters who don’t know the rules to boat?”
Omohundro said that we don’t have enough money to patrol the lakes. “Money can fix a lot of problems.”
Wellesley said that we need to do what we can to make it a safer environment on the lake.
Omohundro said that all the recreations we allow in the Village have rules…”I have no issue with making some type of rules that fit scuba diving.” Omohundro said we don’t need to cut activities, people just need to follow the rules.
McLeod said to Wellesley, “I think you can focus on the things that you think need to be done to keep it safer. I doubt we are going to change this. But you can give us recommendations on safety issues, specific to scuba diving and we can look at those things.”
Director Gary Belair thanked the Lakes Committee. He said they work hard. They monitor lake conditions. They help staff to monitor clarity and when asked by staff, they help check boat stickers. “They provide a lot of help for staff in monitoring our lakes.”
Belair stated that he knows the “Lakes Committee feel strongly about the use of the lakes and everyone’s safety, but today there is no rule that says someone cannot scuba dive for recreation. Unless this Board votes to change that, that is the way it is going to be. The other issue is someone wanting to start a business and that question needs to be presented to our staff before it goes anywhere else. That is a totally separate issue.”
Cheryl Dowden, Hot Springs Village Digest, April 7, 2022
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