BRUNSWICK — Issues involving use of the town boat launch at Simpson’s Point may go far beyond a conflict between fishermen and clammers, and residents who have come to see the launch as a prime recreation destination.
Since the launch was closed to motorized boats in 2008 it has become a increasingly popular place for residents to swim, kayak, relax on the beach and walk their dogs.
But increasing use of the area has raised other issues, including safety, sanitation, unleashed dogs, and even possible infringement on adjacent private property.
Aside from taking minor steps to address dogs, however, the town’s recently established Rivers and Coastal Water Commission does not intend to make any further recommendations for recreation at Simpson’s Point, at least this year.
The 11-member commission was created earlier this year and includes representatives from the Parks and Recreation, Marine Resources and Conservation committees, and Town Council; citizen representatives Mark Worthing, Sue Stableford and Bill Good; commercial representative Helene Harrower, and two citizen alternates, Douglas Niven and Mark Holbrook.
The town’s 10 boat launches and landings are managed and maintained by the Recreation Department.
One of the central issues, raised by Recreation Director Tom Farrell at the commission’s Wednesday meeting, is that the town ordinance governing boat launches actually prohibits swimming at the area.
Moreover, the town only possesses a right-of-way to the barely 50 foot-wide launch, Farrell said. The land on either side is privately owned.
Even though there have been no formal complaints from land owners, continued heavy use could create serious complications in the future, Farrell warned.
“If Simpson’s Point is going to continue to become a destination point, as more people realize the asset that’s there, I think we’re going to see an exacerbation of the problem,” Farrell said.
Harbormaster Dan Devereaux agreed with Farrell’s assessment, noting that the launch already attracts up to 50 people a day.
“Only more people are going to come,” Devereaux said. “If we don’t get a handle on it sooner rather than later, the problems are really going to exacerbate a few years down the road.”
Even if the town’s Recreation Commission considers formally designating the area for recreation, it may face insurmountable obstacles. There is inadequate room for parking and no room to install sanitary facilities, Farrell said.
“I don’t see how you can increase what’s going on there,” he said. If the town was to begin promoting Simpson’s Point as a destination, it would create an “unmanageable problem” he added.
Furthermore, Simpson’s Point has also become a popular place to bring dogs to swim, often in violation of the town’s on-leash rules.
Animal Control Officer Heidi Nelson told commissioners the launch has become one of the places in town where she receives the most complaints about loose animals, and the No. 1 area with water access.
Most of the time, people either plead ignorance or state they believed the rules didn’t apply to their animal, Nelson noted.
“I can’t turn around and say, ‘you’re a good dog, you’re OK, you’re a bad dog, you belong on a leash,'” she said.
Stableford, the commission vice chairwoman, said she is a regular visitor to Simpson’s Point and has witnessed unleashed dogs knock over small children and even adults at the launch.
“So here we have swimmers who aren’t supposed to be swimming, dogs off leash who are not supposed to be off leash, and no one cleaning up after themselves,” Worthing, the commission chairman, concluded. “So what do we do to try and make it better?”
For now, at least, the answer is very little.
The commission agreed to have Devereaux send a memo to the Recreation Department requesting an explicit sign instructing people to keep dogs on leash to supplement the existing sign asking people to pick up after their animals, and asking Nelson to help set up a public information campaign about leash rules.
Otherwise, commissioners intend to leave the situation as is for the time being.
The commission will, however, hold a public hearing about re-opening the boat launch to motorized craft, at least in the off-peak season, from October through April.
If it decides to make a recommendation to the Town Council, a request to reopen the space will still need state Department of Environmental Protection approval.