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New commission to weigh in on Simpson's Point

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New commission to weigh in on Simpson's Point

BRUNSWICK — A new commission set up to address shoreland and harbor issues plans to discuss the controversial Simpson's Point boat launch later this month, in advance of a possible public hearing on the issue in July.

Members of the River and Coastal Waters Commission hope to make a recommendation to councilors this fall on whether to reopen the public launch to motorized boats in the off-season.

The group has requested to meet with Parks and Recreation Director Tom Ferrell and the town's animal control officer to discuss recreational uses and unleashed dogs at the boat launch during its June 25 meeting.

The issue is one of a number of possibly contentious matters that commissioners are expected to address in the coming months.

At their meeting Wednesday, the commissioners agreed to dedicate the next six months to the Simpson's Point launch, recommendations for the town's zoning ordinance re-write, and a comprehensive update for the town's marine activities ordinance.

The Simpson's Point boat launch was by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2008 in exchange for opening the larger Mere Point launch, to reduce damage to eelgrass habitat.

Since its closure, the launch has become a popular recreation area for swimmers, kayakers and beach-goers.

"It is by far the most used swimming access in town," Harbor Master Dan Devereaux said at the meeting.

A study released last year by MER Assessments, however, found the decline in eelgrass in the area after 2008 could not be attributed to motorized craft, setting up a conflict over recreational and commercial use of the space. 

The Town Council can request opening the launch, but a final decision rests with DEP. Commission Chair Mark Worthing said the group should aim to have a recommendation for the council by September, possibly setting up the launch to reopen this winter.

Aside from the larger issue, Commissioner Sue Stableford said the commission should also address sanitation and the prevalence of unleashed dogs at the launch.

The smaller issues could be taken up separately from the larger debate, Stableford noted.

The commission may also be pressed to make recommendations on the town's zoning ordinance re-write.

The commission was created too late to give input on the document to the Planning Department, Devereaux said, but it might have time to review the ordinance and make recommendations before a public draft goes to the council.

The time-frame to act might be pretty short, said Town Councilor and commission member Steve Walker, noting the zoning document might come in front of the council later this summer.

Although third on its list of priorities, re-writing the town's marine use ordinance may prove to be one of the commission's most difficult tasks.

The proposed amendments to the ordinance include a proposed program for mandatory mooring registration, inspection and fees, which has already generated controversy.

Commissioners are expected to look at the issue and take input from seasonal and year-round residents about the changes, which will not take place until next spring at the earliest.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.