Bridgton selectmen eye June referendum on selling Salmon Point Campground

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton voters may be asked in June to give selectmen the authority to sell the Salmon Point Campground, providing the price is right and the public beach from the point to the lagoon is not part of the deal.

On Tuesday, selectmen discussed what steps needed to be taken over the next few months before taking the issue to voters. Selling the 14-acre campground and its 26-acre rear well source protection area was the primary recommendation of a detailed cost benefit analysis done on the town-owned property by the Community Development Committee.

The report concluded that the town should sell the campground to a residential or resort developer for not less than $2.3 million, and then expand the beach 15 feet east of the lagoon from the lake to Salmon Point Road. Until the land is sold, the report said, the campground should continue to be run, but with fee increases over three years to bring costs in line with other privately-run campgrounds in the region. The lagoon should also be widened and dredged and the bridge rebuilt, the report said.

A first step, the board agreed, would be legal advice, since the campground was originally purchased in 1987 with funds from the Moose Pond Land Trust. Voters authorized using $525,000 from the fund to buy the campground, and later agreed to taking another $125,000 to create a sewer system. The question is whether that money would need to be returned to the fund if the land was sold.

Comprehensive Plan Committee Chairman Bob Wiser said he didn’t believe the town could sell something that had been bought with those funds. “It violates the intent of the use of those funds,” he said. Community Development Committee Chairman Mike Tarantino, however, disagreed.

“As long as (the money) goes back into the general fund, it’s fine,” Tarantino said. Selectman Woody Woodward said he believed a sale could take place, “as long as we keep the beaches.”

CDC member Chuck Renneker said legal questions aside, “You still have a whole lot of homework to do” before bringing the question before voters. Renneker suggested asking developers for proposals on what they’d do with the land, prior to the vote. Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz disagreed, however, saying the Salmon Point Campground Report “has the salient points to support the sale,” and is sufficient in itself to justify asking residents to take a binding vote on the question.

Any more information — as in asking developers for a request for proposals — could “give the impression of a pre-determined outcome” prior to the vote, giving the referendum process the appearance of a “rubber stamp,” he said.

In addition, at lease two selectmen — Paul Hoyt and Bob McHatton — have stated that they are opposed to selling the campground. McHatton said the 1987 vote authorizing the town’s purchase of the campground “was the only chance the town had to buy it, otherwise it would have gone to condos.”

Berkowitz said any ballot question ought to provide specifics on what the board would do with the money raised from the sale. Hoyt, a summer camper at Salmon Point, questioned the report’s conclusion that the land could sell for $2.3 million. Of the report’s suggestion that the land could be developed with a 30-lot subdivision of $300,000 homes, Hoyt said, “I don’t think that could possibly happen.”

CDC member Mark Lopez said that’s why the committee wants the town to seek Requests for Price (RFPs), “because there may be an ever better way” to realize a profitable return on the property. Berkowitz noted that when the town decided to sell the Town Hall Annex, a condition was placed that the property remain taxable even if occupied by a nonprofit entity.

Woodward said he was comfortable with a June vote, saying, “I don’t think this is a brand new idea of selling Salmon Point.” Hoyt, however, said he was “concerned that it’s happening too fast.”

The board asked the CDC to research parameters of a possible sale price, and come back with the information at selectmen’s March 9 meeting. The question would need to be finalized by April 9 in order to meet legal requirements for a town-wide referendum.

Referring to an earlier discussion about pursuing federal grant money for sewer system expansion, Waste Water Committee member Glen “Bear” Zaidman said it could be advantageous, in terms of scoring, for the town to have a specific development proposal in mind for the campground. “It could be the trigger we need,” he said.

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