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UPDATE: Lease signed, state now eyes buying Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth

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UPDATE: Lease signed, state now eyes buying Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth

CAPE ELIZABETH — After signing an agreement with Sprague Corp. to lease Crescent Beach State Park through mid-2018, the state now is exploring a way to buy the property.

Following the March 8 announcement of the deal, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation is looking into partnering with private groups to purchase the land after the five-year, $500,000 lease expires.

"We're looking for a permanent solution if we can find one," Will Harris, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, said Thursday. "Certainly if we can find the funding, the purchase of the beach would be the ultimate solution and we will certainly be looking at that."

Harris said part of the new deal is trying to figure out what the permanent future of the park will be, and that both parties are interested in a purchase agreement.

"I think both the state and Sprague are looking for a permanent solution and that was part of getting to this deal," he said. "We've been focused on getting a lease that's not year to year and gives the opportunity to look around."

When lease talks stalled last year, the state indicated it wanted to buy the land from Sprague. But the company was not interested, and it's unknown if that position has changed.

Seth Sprague, president of Sprague Corp., which owns 100 acres of the 187-acre park, did not return several calls to his office on Wednesday and Thursday.

A 2011 town assessment of the entire Crescent Beach property estimated it to be worth about $8 million.

The popular park is sought after by the state because it is one of the largest revenue-generating parks in Maine and plays a key role in funding the $7 million state park general fund. A long-term strategy of preserving the park would help avoid jeopardizing other less popular parks in the state.

Harris last week said the new deal with Sprague satisfies both parties.

"I think it's a fair deal for both sides," he said. "It was a negotiation of a willing buying and a willing seller. We had some bumpy spots along the way, but I think both sides are pleased with result."

Lease talks between the two parties stalled last summer, putting the public's future access in jeopardy.

But late last month they developed a tentative compromise that hinged on the removal of language in the supplemental state budget package. That language would have required legislative approval of any deal sought by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation.

State lawmakers passed the supplemental budget Feb. 21 without the restrictive language.

The new agreement has the state paying significantly more than the original 1961 deal, in which Sprague signed a 50-year lease with the state for $1 annually. Since that lease expired in 2010, the state has paid $10,000 for one-year extensions.

Harris said the new lease will not change park operations.

"What it's going to do is guarantee that things don't change, other than maybe get better, for the next five years," he said. "We're looking forward to the sunshine. Let the summer come."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.