ELLSWORTH, Maine — A contentious new state boat launch seven years in the making is finally under construction at Branch Lake.
George Powell, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands for the Maine Department of Conservation, which is building the launch, said the entire project will cost about $850,000.
The $205,000 contract for the boat launch already has been awarded to Harold MacQuinn Inc. of Ellsworth. The launch will be located on state-owned land on the western side of the lake, a few hundred feet from the popular state-owned swimming beach at the end of Beachview Drive.
It has taken years of conversation between the Department of Conservation, the city and residents to get to the point of construction. Residents and the city both initially were hesitant to increase boating access on the lake, which is also the city’s water supply.
The Department of Conservation has pushed to get a new boat launch on Branch Lake since 1999, when Hanson’s Landing was closed. That closure left boaters with only the city-owned access ramp at Mill Pond, but to get from there to the main portion of the lake, vessels have had to go under a low causeway bridge. That has prohibited anything but small boats from getting into the lake.
Residents near the lake said construction of the ramp would bring heavy, bothersome traffic down Branchview Drive, the winding dirt road that runs the western edge of the lake and is home to many summer cottages and camps.
Those residents and the city also said the launch would invite dangerous invasive species, such as Eurasian milfoil, into the lake, which is Ellsworth’s water supply.
So a compromise was struck to allow the city to staff an inspection station at the boat launch, where it could control the flow of boats into the water supply and seek out invasive species.
The city will operate the launch from sunrise to sunset. It will be gated and closed at night.
“Our biggest fear was never that the public would use the lake,” said City Manager Michelle Beal. “We just wanted to make sure we were protecting it.”
But some residents still say it’s a bad plan to encourage boating on Branch Lake.
“Considering it’s a drinking water supply, and such a critical source of tax revenue for the city, endangering it in any way is a questionable path to pursue,” Terry Hollande, a former president of the Branch Pond Association who has been summering on Branch Lake since 1956, said on Friday.
Another compromise was struck when the Department of Conservation agreed to build a new access road to the boat launch, one that would bring traffic from Happytown Road to the launch site, bypassing Branchview Drive entirely.
Last month, crews from the Maine Army National Guard cleared trees to make way for the new road. The Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands is putting together bid documents for completion of the new throughway.
Outdoorsmen are sure to be happy to have the boat launch under way. From 2000 to 2010, while the launch project languished in limbo, the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stopped stocking landlocked salmon in the lake. Now the lake is home to a healthy salmon population.
While the new boat launch is now a foregone conclusion, Hollande, with the Branch Pond Association, says the whole process left a bad taste in his mouth.
“With the city, we could have fought it,” he said Friday. “But the state made it very clear that if it was going to be a contest of wills, they were going to prove theirs was bigger and more important than anyone else’s.”
Powell, at the Bureau of Parks and Lands, said the boat launch and new road will be complete and open by next year.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.