Cape Harbors Committee recommends relocating boat launch

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CAPE ELIZABETH —  Access to the Kettle Cove/Crescent Beach State Park area could be improved by relocating the public boat launch and designating current access for pedestrians only. 

The change is one proposal recommended in a report by the Town Council’s ad hoc Harbors Committee and reviewed by the council Sept. 17.

The committee has been meeting regularly since February 2017, to review issues related to Cape Elizabeth’s shoreline and harbors and “determine how the town’s coastal resources are serving commercial fishing and aquaculture industries as well recreational boating and other public activities needs.”

In doing so, the council directed the committee to review related town ordinances, maps and sections of the Comprehensive Plan. 

The council will further consider the report at its Oct. 10 meeting, where Town Manager Matt Sturgis said any action could be taken, including asking him to pursue conversations with the state regarding improved access to Kettle Cove. 

According to the committee’s report, the Kettle Cove/Crescent Beach area is “the one coastline in Cape Elizabeth that … needs solutions, as it represents an ongoing challenge of varying commercial and recreational uses, state and local jurisdictional boundaries and responsibilities, and often conflicting neighborhood interests.”

One of the main issues facing the area is the limited space available to commercial fisherman who use the boat launch area of Boat Cove, which is within the Kettle Cove property controlled by the state. While the state prioritizes that use, recreational users sometimes “encroach” on the area, creating “operational and safety issues.”

Likewise, the town’s WETeam relies on Boat Cove as its only reliable, suitable launch site in town. 

As it stands, the launch area promoted to the public lies along a narrow gap between two portions of the state’s Crescent Beach landholdings at the north end of the state’s parking lot. A “relatively steep” public ramp is maintained by the town and is often eroded, requiring the gravel to be replaced frequently.

The committee’s full report and recommendations can be found on the town’s website at www.capeelizabeth.com.

According to the report, the ramp’s proximity to residences across Kettle Cove Road often creates “conflict.”

“Further, an open drainage course which crosses the beach area nearby to the northwest of the launch site often temporarily erodes a channel which cannot be passed over by most recreational vehicles,” the report states. 

The Cape Elizabeth Fishermen’s Alliance and residents have proposed relocating the town’s public beach access to a historical boat launch farther to the northwest off Kettle Cove Road. According to the report, the use of the boat launch was “curtailed many years ago due to its improper activities.” Access to the area is blocked off by large boulders placed by the state along the west side of Kettle Cove Road.

State representatives have said the state would support an effort to move the public vehicle beach access, but any improvements to reuse it would need to be funded by the town, according to the report.

Further, the improvements would need to be engineered and properly permitted.

There would also need to be an agreement between the state and the town that stipulates each party’s responsibilities. That agreement would then need to be followed by an easement to allow the town to build and maintain the improvements as well as operate the boat launch.

Should this change be pursued, the public boat launch off Kettle Cove Road could be used as a pedestrian-only access point and vehicular use of the launch would then be prohibited. The committee “believes that the town should devise a means through stairs, vehicle barriers, and signage to clearly demonstrate the location of the access and its purpose in providing pedestrian access to the beach area.”

The committee also recommends the town negotiate a recorded easement with the state for the “continued and unabated rights of its commercial fleet and WETeam to utilize the Boat Cove launch area.”

Going forward, the report suggests securing these agreements and easements with the state and seek grant opportunities that could help fund the new public access location before constructing the new accesses. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

An access plan shows how the Harbors Committee recommends the town allow pedestrian and boat access to the Kettle Cove/Crescent Beach area.

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