ELLSWORTH, Maine — It’s still in the preliminary stages, but the city and the state once again are discussing a state plan to build a boat launch on Branch Pond.
And once again, the proposal has generated some support and concerns among city residents, which were aired Monday at the regular City Council meeting.
“We’ve had some discussions with the Department of Conservation,” council Chairman John Phillips said. “But there’s nothing set in stone.”
The Department of Conservation owns approximately 1,200 acres on Branch Lake, which is the city’s water supply. The department has not yet developed a formal plan, but City Manager Michelle Beal explained that in recent discussions, agency officials have proposed a boat launch north of the peninsula, with parking for up to 25 vehicles and trailers.
This would be a gated facility that would be staffed for day use only, although Beal explained that there would be some mechanism that would allow boaters to leave the parking area after hours. It also would have an inspection station for invasive species and a power washer to clean boats before they entered the lake.
Access would be along a new road the state would build to the site from Happytown Road.
There’s no estimate as to how much area the facility would cover, but it would be much smaller than an earlier proposal. That site was much closer to the intake for the city’s water supply and would have used the existing Branchview Drive for access to the site, factors that figured into the city’s objections to the initial plan.
The facility would not have a campground, although the department has indicated that they would like to develop some of the property for public recreation use including, hiking, snowshoeing and mountain biking.
Alan Stearns, deputy director of the Bureau of Public Lands, stressed that the department had no formal proposal but wanted to begin a dialog with the city and to hear from residents.
“We want to make that land available to the public to use for recreation,” Stearns said. “We want to take the steps we need to get to a win-win solution.”
Danny Martin, the state’s inland fisheries and wildlife commissioner, reminded residents that his department had stopped stocking the lake with land-locked salmon a number of years ago because there was no public boat launch. Martin said he hoped to be able to begin stocking the lake again.
Although the city has a small public boat launch, it is near the southern end of the lake and a bridge blocks access for many larger boats.
A number of residents voiced support for the new proposal and encouraged the city to move forward with the plans. Others, however, had concerns, including about the size of boats that would be allowed on the lake and who would regulate that. There also were concerns about controlling native milfoil already found in the lake as well as other invasive species; night use of the facility; whether the city launch would remain open and whether private boat launches would have to be removed.
Phillips said some of the concerns already had been raised in the preliminary discussions with the state, and that they and others would be addressed as they discussed the details of the plan. Councilor Gary Fortier said he felt comfortable moving forward with the discussion considering the protections for the lake the city has put in place in the past several years.
The next step, Phillips said, would be to get a formal proposal from the state that the city can review and bring to a public hearing. According to City Manager Beal, no timeline has been suggested for the project.