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Expanded access to Highland Lake unlikely in Falmouth

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Expanded access to Highland Lake unlikely in Falmouth

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.