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Crescent Beach negotiations not improving; state employee union launches petition

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Crescent Beach negotiations not improving; state employee union launches petition

CAPE ELIZABETH — As the fate of more than half of Crescent Beach State Park hangs in the balance, the state employees' union has launched an online petition in an effort to prevent the park's privatization and urge the state to renew the lease.

The current lease on the park does not expire until April, 2013, but lease negotiations stalled last month between the state and the Sprague Corp., which owns 100 acres of the 187-acre park. The public is now in danger of losing access to sections of the beach, parking lot and hiking trails.

"Crescent Beach is one of the top five revenue producers in the state park system," said Mary Anne Turowski, political director for the Maine State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union, Local 1989. "And once you pull that out, it jeopardizes the whole system. It's not as simple as, 'well let's just privatize it'. It jeopardizes the whole state."

The union launched the petition a week ago and has about 460 signatures, Turowski said.

Will Harris, Director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, said it's true that losing a large section of a coastal park like Crescent Beach, which brings in the lion's share of the daily revenue for the state park system, would have a significant impact on the $7 million state park general fund.

Despite the potential consequence, little progress has been made on the negotiations in the month since the impasse was reached and the state has been actively looking at new ways to create public access to the park in the event the lease is not renewed, Harris said.

"We've been working on both issues trying come up with innovative solutions in house of how we might move forward with the whole thing," he said. "We haven't gotten there yet, but we are tyring to run down ideas of how we might."

Harris said the state has been looking at the best way to create alternative access to the park, with the main focus being on the maintenance access roads that run parallel and close to the beach.

Although the lease expires in April, the bureau has to have next year's budget complete by Sept. 1, Harris said, and right now, the park is being left out.

"At this point, we don't have an ongoing lease," Harris said. "So, until that happens, you can't budget for what you don't have."

Seth Sprague, president of the Sprague Corp., said the negotiations have not progressed since last month and he would prefer not to discuss the details of the lease publicly.

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