OWLS HEAD, Maine — Selectmen finalized Monday the purchase of slightly more than 1 acre of waterfront property to ensure continued public access for both commercial fishermen and pleasure boaters to Owls Head Harbor.
Selectmen acknowledged, however, that some type of wharf or facility will not be ready before the expiration of a 50-year easement on an adjacent parcel where that access currently is provided.
The selectmen signed the deed Monday at the law office of attorney James Brannan, after the purchase of 1.24 acres off Lighthouse Road from Elizabeth and Thomas Watkinson. During the town meeting in March, residents approved spending $305,000 for the purchase.
The acquisition became necessary when the town was unable to negotiate an extension of a 3-foot-wide easement along the side of a wharf owned by Rodney and Anna Mason of Ship to Shore Lobster Co. That 50-year easement ends Dec. 7.
The town has a ramp and floats at the end of the wharf and the easement is heavily used because there is no other public deep-water access to the harbor, according to town officials.
Select Board Chair Linda Post said Monday there would be an attempt to negotiate a temporary extension of the easement since it is unlikely the town will be able to have any facility completed on the new property by December. She said the next step would be for the town’s harbor committee to meet and look at what grant opportunities are available to assist the town.
Selectmen said that without public access, the town also would not be in compliance with an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that has the federal government responsible for dredging the channel so boaters can navigate the harbor. Without that agreement, the town might have to pay for any future dredging on its own.
Post said the town will contact the Army Corps to see if Owls Head can get an extension if the easement with the Masons expires and the town does not have the facility completed.
The town tried for several years to work toward an extension of the prior lease. A town committee was formed in 2008 to work on options for public access if renewal was not possible.
The easement first was 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 paid nothing for the lease.
The Masons purchased the wharf in October 2008. They could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.