ELLSWORTH, Maine — Ellsworth Planning Board members unanimously approved Wednesday a plan from the Maine Department of Conservation to build a public boat launch on Branch Lake.
The launch will provide public boat access to the main portion of the lake for the first time in 10 years. The lack of public access had prompted the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to stop stocking fish in Branch Lake. But collaboration on the project by the city and the state convinced DIF&W to stock the lake with landlocked salmon in May, the first stocking in a decade.
The city initially had opposed the construction of a boat ramp on the lake, which also serves as the city’s water supply. Despite those earlier concerns about the impact on the water supply, the city signed onto the project earlier this year after years of discussion about how to protect the city’s drinking water. City Manager Michelle Beal said after Wednesday’s planning board meeting she was happy with the final project and level of cooperation between the city and the state.
State officials “worked with us; all of our requirements and requests, they’ve fulfilled them all,” Beal said. “I think we’ve got a really good project — a lot better than what we would have had six years ago when this was first proposed.”
At Wednesday’s planning board meeting, George Powell, director of the Department of Conservation’s boating facilities division, also noted that the department had made several changes to the project, including moving the proposed site of the boat launch, in order to accommodate the city’s concerns about the water supply.
“I’ve been heartened by the cooperation,” Powell said. “We’ve been able to develop a project that will provide access and protect the city’s drinking water.”
The boat launch will be constructed on a small section of the 1,217 acres that the state owns on the eastern shore of Branch Lake, north of the Narrows and near the department’s existing sand beach.
According to Robert Prue, president of Pine Tree Engineering, who has designed the estimated half-million-dollar project, it will involve building a 6,000-foot gravel access road from Happytown Road to the boat launch site. The road, for the most part, will follow an old tote road and was designed to minimize impacts on streams and wetlands.
The road will cross Branch View Drive to reach the launch site. Prue said the state will erect bollards on Branch View Drive at its property line to prevent motorized traffic from using that road for access to the site. Prue said area residents still would be able to walk or ride bicycles from the end of Branch View to the boat launch and to the sand beach. There will be two gates, one near the Happytown Road end of the access road, the other at the boat launch itself.
The launch will include a 25-foot concrete ramp with a paved area that will accommodate 25 vehicles.
It will be operated by the city and will include a boat washing facility that will be staffed by a city employee who will check all boats for invasive species.
Some property owners around the lake raised concerns about the impact the project would have on traffic on Branch View Drive, on the fish that spawn near the planned site and on the property owners who use the lake for their private water supplies.
Supporters, however, noted that there already are many private, unsupervised boat launches on the lake and that the proposed facility will monitor the boats using the lake. Others supported the expanded access for boaters and for fishermen. The city now operates a public boat launch at the southeast end of the lake, but a bridge restricts access to most of the lake to all but the smallest of boats. The city is unsure yet whether that boat launch will remain open.
The project still needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Prue said the state hoped to have those permits in hand and to begin construction on the project this fall.