OWLS HEAD, Maine — Selectmen have reached an agreement to acquire land that will retain public access to its deep-water harbor after it was unable to renew a 50-year easement on an adjacent wharf.
Selectmen have reached a purchase and sales agreement with Elizabeth and Thomas Watkinson to purchase 1.24 acres from the couple for $305,000.
The Board of Selectmen approved the agreement at its Jan. 19 meeting. Selectwoman Linda Post said a special town meeting is likely to be held in April in which voters will decide whether to agree to the purchase.
The proposed purchase is necessary because the town was unable to reach an agreement with Rodney and Anna Mason, owners of Ship to Shore Lobster Co., to extend the 3-foot wide easement for foot traffic along that wharf. That 50-year easement expires Dec. 7.
Post said the acquisition of the land was the best option with the inability to extend the term of the easement.
The Watkinson land is adjacent to the north of the town-owned parking area next to Ship to Shore. The town plans to install a ramp and floats but not build a wharf, she said. The ramp and floats can be removed in the winter, Post said. The town will have to apply to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to install the equipment, she said.
The money to buy the property, which is assessed by the town at $345,780, will be borrowed or taken from surplus.
Public access to Owls Head Harbor is required by the federal government for it to maintain the federal channel that eventually will have to be dredged again.
The town had been trying for several years to work toward an extension of the lease. A town committee was formed in 2008 to work on options for public access if renewal was not possible.
The easement was first signed between the town and Peter Reed Jr. on Dec. 7, 1966. The term was for 50 years or whenever the town built its own public wharf. The town pays nothing for the lease. The Masons purchased the property and 14,200-square-foot wharf in October 2008.
The current town lease for the easement allows the public access to the Mason’s wharf where the town has a ramp and floats. The ramp and floats will have to be removed by the town when the easement expires.
In November 2008, the Land for Maine’s Future Board voted to spend $226,250 to obtain a working waterfront covenant on the Ship to Shore property that requires the pier to be used for commercial fishing. But that covenant does not guarantee public access and the owners can determine who can use their pier.