Expanded access to Highland Lake unlikely in Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — An expansion of the Highland Lake boat ramp seems unlikely after town councilors indicated they do not support a proposal by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to provide more equitable access.

Keeping the public hand-carry boat launch in its current configuration will also likely be the end of the department’s fish-stocking program at the 630-acre lake.

Residents and town councilors spoke against expansion of the ramp during a public hearing on Monday, Feb. 13, saying large boats could hurt wildlife and introduce invasive species to the lake.

The Town Council is expected to vote on the plan in March.

Francis Brautigam, an Inland Fisheries and Wildlife regional fishery biologist for the Sebago Lake Management Region, said the state will no longer stock the lake with trout and salmon unless equitable boat access is created. In this case, that means reconfiguring the launch to allow access for 16- to 18-foot boats.

The access point sits at the end of a narrow dirt road and provides a handful of parking spaces. Strategically placed boulders prevent people from putting larger boats in the water or backing vehicles to the edge of the lake.

Brautigam said public access projects are “not all that well received” and tend to be especially contentious in southern Maine. He said residents often are concerned about the proliferation of large boats.

Brautigam said inequitable access for trailered boats is inconsistent with his department’s policies on stocking and access “that were established to ensure that the public has reasonable and equitable access to utilize fish that are raised and stocked using sportsmen’s license dollars.”

Julie Motherwell, who has lived on Lowell Farm Road for more than 30 years and is a member of the Highland Lake Association, said the end of the lake near the boat launch is “exceptionally fragile.” Expanding trailer access creates the potential for significant damage to water quality and habitat, she said.

Stuart Miller, president of the Winslow Commons Homeowners Association, said 16 of the group’s 28 members are “adamantly opposed” to expanding the boat launch. He said two members support expansion.

Mike Fasulo, a member of the 16-member Duck Pond Association, said the lake has always been open to anyone who can carry a boat to the water.

“We’ve not denied fishing to anyone,” he said. “We’re against the ability to back a trailer into Highland Lake.”

Tom Bannon, who spoke on behalf of the Highland Lake Association, said a larger boat launch brings with it an increased risk of invasive plants and fish species being introduced to the lake. Mitigating milfoil from the lake could cost the town “many thousands of dollars,” he said.

Brautigam said the boat launch is “about as good a spot as it could be to minimize concerns” about milfoil and other invasive species.

“Obviously the state doesn’t want to see milfoil spread around more,” he said.

Other concerns expressed at the meeting included the potential for increased crime or other illicit activity at the boat launch. Police Lt. John Kilbride said there have not been any problems at the area in the past year, although years ago police responded to complaints about parties and prostitution at the boat launch.

Councilor Fred Chase said he considers Highland Lake “very fragile” and opposes expanding the boat launch.

“I just think it’s a terrible idea,” he said.

Councilor Faith Varney, who has a camp on Highland Lake, said she is also against expansion.

“I cannot see any reason for adding more boats to that lake,” she said. “I think there are plenty of boats now.”

Council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce said she is not in favor of the expansion because there is already public access to the lake.

“I think the risk is far too great to expand it,” Pierce said.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

Sidebar Elements

Falmouth residents on Monday told the Town Council they oppose expanding the Highland Lake public boat launch to allow more equitable access to the lake. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said it will no longer stock the lake with trout and salmon if the launch isn’t expanded to allow access for trailered boats up to 18 feet long.

Sale of Falmouth school properties continues to occupy Town Council

FALMOUTH — Town Manager Nathan Poore on Monday updated the Town Council on the sale of the Plummer-Motz and Lunt school properties.

The Town Council on Jan. 30 formally approved the sale of most of the  properties to the neighboring OceanView retirement community. OceanView plans to add homes, apartments, and an Alzheimer’s patient unit to its existing facility.

OceanView has agreed to pay $3.25 million for almost all of the 21-acre parcel.

The town will retain ownership of a 2.2-acre lot that contains the Mason/Motz school building, along with 2.8 acres of property between the school buildings that OceanView would pay to renovate, but that would become a public green.

Poore said town staff, as well as Councilors Teresa Pierce and Faith Varney, will meet regularly with representatives from OceanView as the project progress. He said he expects to present project updates to the Town Council in about a month.

Town Councilor Bonny Rodden said she has heard from residents who have ideas for the village green and wants to ensure there is room for public input. Pierce suggested residents email ideas to councilors.

“Everything will be in front of us at some point and everyone will be allowed three minutes to comment,” she said. “I feel we’ve done a good job being transparent and open to the public.”

The Town Council also met in executive session to discuss issues related to the Land and Water Conservation Fund conversion process on the school properties.

In 1981, the town received a $20,600 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant for recreational improvements at the Plummer-Motz-Lunt site that required the land developed with grant funds remain available for public recreation “in perpetuity.”

Poore said the town must receive conversion approval from the state and National Park Service. The approval is a condition of the purchase and sale agreement between the town and OceanView.

Theo Holtwijk, the director of long-range planning, said conversions are based on the fair market value of the property, not the value of the original grant. A preliminary estimate shows the fair market value is about $1.25 million.

Poore said the Town Council will consider properties already owned by the town as well as areas that would have to be acquired as part of the conversion process.

Several town councilors expressed frustration with the process and suggested contact with the offices of Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

“This is ridiculous,” Councilor Tony Payne said. “In the future we should be very wary of dealing with the federal government.”

Holtwijk said a determination of which replacement properties will be appraised will be made by the end of the month. A draft conversion is expected to be done by the end of May and a final draft submitted to the state by June.

— Gillian Graham