Falmouth OKs Highland Lake panel, considers cell tower

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council Monday approved a commission to help Falmouth and Windham improve the Highland Lake’s water quality and fight a mysterious algae bloom.

The council also held a public hearing on a proposed 110-foot cell tower, which would be built on a large tract of land off Falmouth Road.

At the Highland Lake Association’s annual meeting this year, President Rosie Hartzler said an unusual algae bloom that’s been plaguing the lake for the past several years only seems to be getting worse.

She told the association “we have an unprecedented situation. We’ve never been confronted with the phenomenon that we’re facing” now.

The urgency helped spur a proposal for creation of the two-town Highland Lake Leadership Team.

Dennis Brown, a Falmouth resident and treasurer of the Highland Lake Association, told the council Monday that his organization would like to get the joint leadership committee going as soon as possible.

“I support moving forward with this because the lake is really in trouble,” Brown said. “The lake is changing and the faster we can get going, the better off we’ll be.”

In introducing the new committee Monday, Town Manager Nathan Poore said the group is needed because the lake “has a history of issues,” particularly in terms of water quality.

“More work is needed because there have been recent lake-wide algae blooms,” a memo provided to the council prior to Monday’s meeting states.

And there’s real concern because the “cause of the blooms are not yet known and the specific algae (found), picoplankton, is not common to freshwater lakes in Maine.”

Poore said the new committee would work specifically to update both the 2005 Highland Lake Watershed Management Plan and the 2003 Phosphorus Control Action Plan.

The committee will include three representatives from Falmouth, three from Windham and three from the Highland Lake Association. The members will be asked to serve at least a two-year term.

Among the leadership team’s goals will be creating a plan to monitor, assist and coordinate scientific efforts to further understanding of the watershed, to identify any resource needs and to review existing zoning and ordinances in the two towns for their effectiveness in protecting the lake.

Cell tower

The proposed cell tower the town is considering would be on a nearly 83-acre, undeveloped site at 175 Falmouth Road. It requires conditional rezoning because a tower is not among the permitted uses in the town’s farm and forest zone.

Before the cell tower can be approved, the Planning Board must hold a public hearing and the town and the property owner would have to come to an agreement on the terms and conditions for the rezoning.

The tower, which will not be lit, is needed for adequate voice and data transmissions along one of the town’s major transportation corridors, Verizon Wireless said in its application.

“Increasingly residents and small businesses are relying solely on wireless phones for communication. As such, a strong wireless network is critical,” the company said.

This story has been updated.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

A view of Highland Lake from the Falmouth boat launch.

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