Public divided over Brunswick boat launch reopening

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BRUNSWICK — The Marine Resources Committee heard arguments for and against reopening Simpson’s Point to motorized boats Wednesday night, but it remains unclear what action the panel will take.

While the committee is still waiting for clarification on a new study that triggered the debate, members encouraged Simpson’s Point stakeholders to attend an Aug. 12 meeting that will discuss the town’s waterfront needs.

“Brunswick is in the midst of going through a harbor management plan which includes access (issues),” committee Chairman Mark Latti said. “… It’s the second out of three meetings that involves stakeholders in Brunswick’s ocean front.”

Latti said the meeting will begin at 5 p.m. in Room 217 at Brunswick Station.

During a public hearing that lasted nearly an hour Wednesday, the committee heard from residents who use Simpson’s Point for recreation and others who had used the boat launch to support their livelihoods prior to its 2008 closure.

“While the landing was open to power boats, there rarely was anybody down there using it for recreation,” said Greg Kelly, of Simpson’s Point Road, who advocated for maintaining recreational use. “Since it’s been closed, there’s been a constant flow of people and the problem has been parking.”

While some members from each side focused on their own interests, others asked for compromise, saying they didn’t want this to become an adversarial situation.

Tim Johnson, a commercial shellfish harvester who also swims at Simpson’s Point, said he could see a situation in which boats use the launch at low tide and during the winter months, when recreational use might be low.

“But I think really what this does is it points out that the town of Brunswick doesn’t have adequate coastal resources for the residents of this town,” Johnson said. “What’s happening here is a very important aspect of commercial use of the waterfront is being taken away from the clam diggers.”

Simpson’s Point was closed to motorized boats in 2008 as one of the conditions from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to open the larger Mere Point Boat Launch.

The boat launch has since been used for swimming, kayaking and other recreational uses.

One of the reasons for closing Simpson’s Point was DEP’s determination that motorized boats were having a negative impact on eelgrass, a marine plant considered integral to the habitat.

But a new study from MER Assessment Corp. suggests that motorized boats were not responsible for eelgrass decline in the area.

Harold Austin, a commercial shellfish harvester, expressed frustration with the possibility that Simpson’s Point may not reopen despite the new study.

“If we closed it because of that, and to sit here now and forget about why we closed it in the first place, is just crazy,” he said. “Now we’re saying we can’t use it anymore?”

Austin also pointed out that duck hunters had used Simpson’s Point before it closed, and now face dangerous waters when launching from Mere Point, especially during the winter.

Latti said the committee is still waiting for a presentation from MER President Chris Heinig, who conducted the eelgrass study. He said Heinig’s presentation could happen in September, but it’s unclear what the committee might do afterward.

The committee would only be able to make a recommendation to the Town Council to reopen Simpson’s Point to motorized boats. The council would then have to make a formal request to the DEP, and the state would have the final say.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.