Waterboro selectmen on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance designed to keep water levels at Little Ossipee Pond under local control. Folks in the audience applauded the vote.
It’s unknown whether the new ordinance will head off an Aug. 21 public hearing by the Department of Environmental Protection, along with a DEP ruling about lake levels in response to a decade-old petition to lower them.
The town has controlled the level of Little Ossipee Pond since the 1700s, and through policy since 1969, when the summer level was set at 6 feet, 6 inches. But a petition filed in August 2007 asked the state to lower the lake level to try and head off an erosion problem.
There was no movement by the DEP on the petition until recently. The agency won’t say why it took them 10 years to proceed.
State law says municipalities can control water levels if they have an ordinance in place. Until Tuesday, Waterboro set them by policy.
Dale Witman, whose property is on a shallow cove at the northern end of the lake, said if the level is lowered by 10 inches, as the 10-year-old petition requested, it will present problems.
“We’re on a driven point well. It is very shallow, and if the lake is drawn down as the petition requests, it would have a significant impact on our water supply,” Witman told selectmen.
“I appreciate the town being active and I feel the ordinance ought to pass,” said resident Sandi Binette.
Resident Richard Sevigny said he believes the height of the water has increased over time.
Cleo Smith, who headed the 2007 petition signed by 59 lakeside property owners, said erosion is eating away the land.
“The control should be in the hands of the town,” said longtime lake summer resident Ross Dindio. “I don’t think Waterboro wants a state agency to come in and take control over the lake.”
Chairman Dennis Abbott said the Board of Selectmen in 1969 selected the 6 feet, 6 inch summer level because folks living on the lake wanted different levels. He said the dam constructed in the 1990s — the third on the lake since the 1960s — has two gates and that the operator is able to keep the water levels fairly consistent over the years.
“Eighty percent of the erosion is caused by the size of the boats,” said Abbott.
The ordinance sets lake levels at their current level of 6 feet, 6 inches in the summer, with a draw down beginning Oct. 15 to a level of 4 feet, 6 inches until ice-out in the spring. Every fifth year, the lake is drawn down another foot, to 3 feet, 6 inches, starting Oct. 1, to allow shoreline repairs.
Smith said she wanted the town to have control over water levels — she was looking for a solution to the erosion issue. She has previously suggested a compromise of a six inch decrease in water levels but selectmen rejected that proposal.
Town Administrator Gary Lamb has contended that the petition is no longer valid, since, he said, one of the petitioners has died, 14 no longer own lakefront property and 14 others have told him they want their named withdrawn from the petition, but the DEP disagrees.
Lamb was to forward the newly-approved ordinance to DEP Commissioner Paul Mercer on Wednesday. If Mercer approves, that could forestall the Aug. 21 hearings — one set for 1 p.m. at Massabesic High School for presentation of pre-submitted testimony and another set for 6 p.m. that evening, also at MHS, for public comment. Lamb on Tuesday said the DEP wouldn’t say whether passage of the ordinance would cancel the hearings.