Cumberland fee hike forces older clammers to shell out

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CUMBERLAND — A new shellfish license fee for clammers in their 60s elicited criticism at Monday’s Town Council meeting.

People 62 or older had been able to obtain shellfish licenses for free until Jan. 1, when changes in the town’s Shellfish Conservation Ordinance increased the minimum age for the benefit to 70.

The Shellfish Conservation Commission recommended the changes last year to the Town Council, which adopted them in November.

Septuagenarians and their seniors are still charged a new $10 conservation fee. That fee is included in the annual $35 recreational shellfish license for residents, and the $60 fee for non-residents. However, nonresidents 70 or older can get a license for just the $10 conservation fee, which irked some residents.

“I can’t understand why I’m paying $35, when a nonresident, 70 years of age, is paying $10,” said resident Skip Howison, who previously served on the Shellfish Commission. “I just couldn’t get my arms around it.”

Howison said he was 62 last year and able to get his license for free, but found out a year later that he would have to pay $35 this year because he is younger than 70.

“I have never witnessed the town of Cumberland going backwards on senior citizens,” Howison said.

Licenses are for a calendar year, Town Manager Bill Shane said, noting that this was the first year without free licenses. Forty-six free residential licenses were issued last year to people 62 and older, and so far this year, 15 have been issued to residents 70 and older, he said.

The clam flats are open through May 31, and then again Nov. 1. Fecal coliform bacterial pollution closed them in 2009 and 2010. The flats were reopened on a conditional basis last year and on the same basis this year.

Shane said the $10 conservation fee pays for water quality testing by the Shellfish Conservation Commission and Police Department.

Harold Larrabee of Maple Street, who received his first free license last year, suggested that people who qualified for the benefit last year be grandfathered to receive it again this year.

“I’m retired, and I’m on a fixed income, and I’d just like to know if you can do anything,” he told councilors.

The council will review the commission’s recommendation for 2013 fees in November. In the meantime, the Shellfish Conservation Commission is expected to reconsider the $10 fee for nonresidents 70 and older.

Road acceptance ordinance

Later in the meeting, Shane updated the Town Council on the ongoing work to develop a road acceptance ordinance. Given the expense of maintaining and improving the town’s existing roads, the council is looking into options to limit the number of new ones it will accept as public roads.

Shane said he expects to bring a road acceptance ordinance before the council stipulating that private roads, which have been built to the town’s subdivision ordinance standards, must have 75 percent occupancy, or at least 75 percent of homes on those roads must have occupancy permits.

The Ordinance Committee is reviewing the matter, and the ordinance should go before the council in April or May, then to the Planning Board for review, before returning to the council.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.