Mediator called to settle boat launch dispute

Posted Sept. 19, 2008, at 8:49 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:39 a.m.

DEXTER — Hoping to avert a court trial, the Dexter Utility District and the Dexter Town Council met with a mediator Tuesday in an attempt to settle a dispute about the location and future use of an unauthorized boat launch on Big Lake Wassookeag.

The dispute has been smoldering since October 2005 when the planning board first granted a permit to the Maine Department of Transportation to construct a permanent boat launch at the Route 23 picnic area, where a primitive launch has been used for years.

Both the Town Council and utility district agreed to try mediation before the matter went to trial. Attorney Jonathan Reitman of Gosline & Reitman Dispute Resolution Services of Brunswick serves as the mediator, and his $320 hourly fee is being shared equally by the town and the utility district.

“I hope we can come up with a solution that benefits the most people in Dexter,” Town Council Chairman Roger Brawn said Tuesday.

Although the Town Council, planning board and appeals board approved construction of the permanent boat launch, the utility district remained opposed to it because it is located 681 feet from the town’s public water supply intake.

The utility district filed a complaint last September in Superior Court to prevent work on the launch. The town and planning board filed motions in October to dismiss the utility district’s complaint, but the court denied those motions in July, which allowed the district’s complaint to go forward.

The DOT has taken no position in the dispute, Peter Newkirk of the DOT told the group Tuesday. The thought was that if the boat launch were constructed at the state’s expense, the town would take ownership of the property, which includes the picnic area. If the town doesn’t want the property, any erosion problem would be fixed, the launch would be removed and large boulders would close off the access, he said.

The utility district supports that latter move to protect the drinking water supply. Directors worry that the lake, the town’s only drinking water supply, might become contaminated by the introduction of foreign materials such as aquatic plant life or pathogens.

“It’s our understanding that any boat launch has pollutants, pathogens and nutrients that get into the water around that area,” Greg Brawn, utility district director, said Tuesday. He said the Department of Health and Human Services prefers to see no public boat launches on public drinking water sources, and those that are should be two miles from the intake system.

Fishermen, some camp owners and some town officials say the boat launch has been used for years without a problem. They suggest that a permanent boat launch at the location might reduce the churning of bottom sediment. They also point out that the current, unofficial boat launch is the only public access to the big lake for boats 18 feet and over. There is a boat launch on the little lake but to access the big lake it requires traveling below an underpass that larger boats with windshields are unable to negotiate.

Willing to find a solution, Greg Brawn said that with the new dam it might be possible to lower the water level during boating season to allow more craft to use the underpass. “We’re willing to bend any way we can,” he said.

Brawn’s suggestion, however, prompted George Powell, director of the Department of Conservation’s Boating Facilities Division, to point out Tuesday that the high water in the spring would prevent that from happening, which would affect spring salmon sport fishing.

If all boats were to be launched on Little Lake Wassookeag it would put more traffic near the intake, which is near the underpass, one resident said.

Another resident said Tuesday they would been told the state would not stock a lake without public access.

Deborah Turcotte, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spokeswoman, said Thursday the department has not made a decision. “We’d like to have an equitable public access to the big lake,” she said. “If we needed to, we could stock the big lake even using an airplane, however, if boaters and anglers can’t get to the big lake to fish then that becomes a concern.”

For Rick Goodwin of the Town Council, there has to be a compromise. “My concern is to maintain the clean water for the Dexter residents as their drinking water source, but at the same time improving boat launch access where it now exists on the big lake so it does not stir up the soil as it now does,” Goodwin said Tuesday. He said in addition to the small launch and the primitive launch, there are about 24-26 spots on private property where owners put in and take out their boats. That reinforced for him the need for a public boat launch.

Utility Director Peter Mealey said those private boat launches are not as apt to introduce the bottom materials that pose the most risk. “To me, we’re talking about the health of over 2,000 people over the enjoyment of 200,” Mealey said.

Both sides agreed at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting to do some homework within 60 days. The utility district will seek an objective technical analysis to assess the risk involved with the boat launch.

At the same time, the Town Council and utility district will work cooperatively to investigate alternative locations to the current boat launch.

Powell said the state, through Land for Maine’s Future, could provide to purchase property for a public boat launch site that can accommodate at least six parking spots, should the town find suitable lakefront property.

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