Keeping it safe — Bridgton beaches now open dawn to dusk

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

If you plan to take a dip at local beaches, you better go swimming before dusk.

To keep people safe, Bridgton department heads recommended that parks and beaches should be open from dawn until dusk only.

“Bridgton is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and parks in New England, and every effort is made to keep these areas clean and safe for all our residents and visitors,” wrote the department heads in a letter to Town Manager Bob Peabody and selectmen. “However, in the town’s effort to make these parks and beaches accessible, we have over-extended the hours of operation, making them an attractive nuisance to those that would damage, litter and otherwise disrespect these beautiful sites.”

The department heads include: Chief of Police Richard Stillman, Public Works Superintendent James Kidder, Recreation Director Gary Colello, and Salmon Point Manager Robert Morse.

Previously, the parks and beaches were open until 10 p.m.

“Dawn” is defined as a half hour before sunrise, thus early risers will still be able to see sunrise. The same goes for those wishing to watch a nice sunset, as “dusk” is defined as a half hour after sunset.

“We believe the town has some risk in condoning the use of these parks and beaches after dark, especially our beaches, where all too often late night swimmers will be consuming alcohol, making for a dangerous mix,” they said.

Right now, sunset is at about 8:27 p.m., Stillman told selectmen Tuesday night.

Selectman Bear Zaidman asked the chief if there had been problems at town beaches resulting in the push to close them earlier.

“We’ve been lucky so far,” the chief said. “You can’t see people in the water. That’s my concern.”

Stillman clarified that the earlier closing time would not be in effect in all parks, such as people walking through Shorey Park or spending time at Veteran’s Park on Depot Street.

Town Manager Robert Peabody pointed out that Shorey Park is “not posted.”

Chief Stillman said his officers would use “discretion” when patrolling town beach areas.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when you give people adequate warnings that the park is closed, they leave,” Chief Stillman said. “We’re not going to start to write up summonses if we find someone there. If it becomes a constant problem, then we will issue summonses.”

Selectmen approved the change by a 3–2 vote. Voting “yes” were Bob Murphy, Fred Packard and Bob McHatton. Casting “no” votes were Bear Zaidman and Greg Watkins.

Selectman McHatton asked that when new signs are posted regarding beach/park hours, the signs should also include “No Smoking Allowed.”

On the topic of beaches, resident Deb Holden questioned whether enough parking exists at Salmon Point and suggested that the town ask the company that leases and services porta-potties to increase the number of cleaning days each week.

Holden found the temporary bathrooms “filthy, dirty and pretty gross” and the unit lacked adequate toilet paper. At this time, the cleaning schedule is once a week. Holden also found the units being leased to the town quite old.

As to parking space, despite the town developing a new lot, Town Manager Peabody pointed out, “We will never have enough space if the place is swamped. It is not swamped every day.”

Kidder added that, “if people park correctly, the new lot will hold more than the other (parking) lot.”

Chairman Watkins suggested that time be given to see if the amount of parking space is adequate or whether it needs to be reconfigured.

Noting that Bridgton experienced a large influx of visitors during the Fourth, Selectman McHatton suggested that the town bring in more porta-potties to “handle the flow.”

In other selectmen’s meeting notes:

Welcome to town. Audrey Knight, the town’s new Community Development director, received a warm welcome from selectmen.

Knight, who is in her first week on the job, has been busy meeting committee members and local officials.

Her goal is to implement the “vision” townspeople have put forth in the Comprehensive Plan. She is learning about various projects that are underway, as well as key issues heading to the forefront, including the streetscape along Main Street, wastewater system upgrades and the proposed Land Use Regulations, set to go to voters this November.

“I’m looking forward to working with you,” she said to selectmen.

Resident Marcia Sullivan asked where the Land Use Ordinance currently stands? Selectmen Chairman Greg Watkins explained that the Land Use committee is finalizing revisions and is scheduled to deliver the completed document to selectmen by Aug. 15.

“We want the ordinance to be clear and firm as to what we are discussing,” Watkins said.

Town officials plan to launch public awareness efforts regarding the proposed ordinance in the near future.

Should it stay or be moved? Lucia Terry has developed a plan to “regrade and repurpose” Veteran’s Park on Depot Street.

Being worked on in conjunction to “streetscape” improvements to the downtown, Terry’s plan includes five to seven benches, as well as new plantings and shrubs.

Bridgton Chief of Police Richard Stillman said if juveniles hang out at the benches in the park and cause trouble, his officers will “move them along,” which is a consistent practice elsewhere. If problems persist, summonses could be issued.

The chief’s bigger concern is the monument. When ceremonies are held there on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, there is little room for people to congregate, meaning the street is often closed to traffic. Stillman said usually just one officer is on duty at that time, which makes coverage during the ceremonies uncertain if a call comes in and the patrolman must respond, leaving that area.

The chief wondered if a better location for the monument might be Farragut Park on North High Street. There is plenty of space in that park, as well as ample parking across the street at the Old Town Hall.

Apparently, that idea has been floated before, and received mixed reactions from veterans.

Chairman Watkins feels Farragut Park is “tucked away” and placing the monument there would lack visibility. Watkins feels the monument acts as a nice “cornerstone” to Veteran’s Park.

Resident Bill Vincent, a veteran, likes the Farragut Park option, feeling with some landscaping it could become a “crown jewel.”

Selectman Bob Murphy remembers enlisting at the former Army barracks, which is now the town’s Community Center, and feels it makes sense to locate the monument there.

The board took no action on the park plan, and left the matter “in the hands of the town manager.”

Dangerous or not? When the town declared his Willis Park Road residence a “dangerous building,” Ben Guiliani Sr. started to take a closer look at other structures around Bridgton.

In his opinion, 12 buildings could also be found to be dangerous, be it their present condition or whether the structure could safely handle heavy snow loads.

Guiliani submitted several color photographs of buildings he deems possible “dangerous structures” to selectmen and questioned what criteria the town uses to make the designation.

When he used the word “target” and wondered if everyone is treated equally, Board Chairman Greg Watkins responded in a firm manner, outlining the process from a complaint or concern raised by the public to the code enforcement officer or selectmen. Each case is “treated uniquely,” Watkins said. “We don’t seek out a property, unless it is brought to the CEO or town’s attention. It can be the wealthiest taxpayer or people that are struggling. We don’t discriminate on any basis. We charge the CEO to evaluate said property. We don’t evaluate, it’s not our duty.”

Watkins added that state statute outlines a process and legal definition as to what constitutes a “dangerous” or “nuisance” building.

Code Enforcement Officer Rob Baker said three buildings last year were deemed “dangerous” — and two were torn down. Guiliani’s home was the third. The previous year, Baker said there were either two or three structures that were deemed “dangerous.”

When Guiliani attempted to bring his Willis Park Road property into the conversation, Watkins stopped him and said the board would not “rehash your case.”

Selectman Bob McHatton ended the conversation by making a motion to turn over photos and information provided by Guiliani about other town buildings to the CEO and instructed Baker to make assessments and report back to the board.

Guiliani demolished a good portion of his Willis Park Road home, but informed selectmen that he doubts that he can finish the project in the allotted 45 days given by town officials due to financial reasons. If need be, Guiliani said he could appeal the 45-day deadline at the court level.

Future of the skate park? Rec Director Gary Colello hopes Tuesday night was the “start of conversation” regarding the future of the town’s skate park.

The issue draws mixed reviews. On one hand, Colello sees the park as a place where teens can stay busy and meet. He also pointed out that skateboarding and extreme biking have grown in popularity over the last decade and it is a great “alternate” sport for youth and young adults who do not participate in traditional ball sports like baseball, basketball and soccer.

When Colello mentioned the skate park has experienced some “wear and tear” the past few years and the “integrity of some equipment” is questionable, Selectman Bear Zaidman asked the rec director why he did not request money in his last budget to address safety issues there.

Repairs are made as needed, Colello said, but he feels what the future holds for the park should be decided before major upgrades requiring extensive funding occurs.

Bridgton Chief of Police Richard Stillman believes a skate park should be developed in the lot adjacent to police headquarters. The estimated cost of developing a new skate park could be in the $130,000 range.

“The current skate park off Depot Street has become an attractive nuisance where youth hang out without any organized activity. This has an overall negative impact on the neighborhood as groups of youth smoke cigarettes, yell at or to each other, and we have information from some parents that their children are buying marijuana from other youth while there,” Chief Stillman said.

The chief likes the property next to BPD headquarters because of its visibility. Chief Stillman and Colello agreed they would like to see the site as a multi-generational facility that could include shuffleboard, bocce courts and chess tables.

Officials did speak with some young parents, who frequent the small playground with their young children, regarding their thoughts on placing the skate park on the same site. Most felt it would be workable.

Selectman Zaidman said development of a new skate park could run into “issues” at the site since culverts were installed there to address water issues when the municipal complex was developed.

Colello noted that successful skate parks across Maine are the ones located near police departments.

Regarding “issues” that arise at the current skate park, Chief Stillman said, “We drive through there on a regular basis and address what we can.”

Presently, Bridgton leases the park site from SAD 61 for $1 per year. A lease agreement was signed June 2003 and runs to June 2, 2023. The lease can be terminated by either party upon written notice.

Under the lease, the town is responsible for liability, as well as improvements.

Selectman Bear Zaidman feels local contractors would be willing to assist with improvements at the park, and suggested that new half- and quarter-pipes be bolted to the cement surface.

Resident George Bradt supports keeping the facility open.

“A number of kids don’t want to look at ‘screens’ and should be encouraged to do physical activities year-round,” he said. “I talked to two kids (from Casco and Naples), who took the bus (Lakes Region Explorer) to get there. It (the park) has economic potential.”

Chairman Watkins ended discussion saying, “We should maintain what we have. I don’t see reaching an answer tonight.”

But, at least, the conversation has started.

Exempt status for LEA. In the past Assessor Agent Denis Berube fought against tax-exemptions for nonprofit organizations, often suggesting that the groups utilize “open space” considerations.

However, with a shift in recent court decisions siding with nonprofits that are considered “charitable and benevolent organizations,” Berube said the town should approve two requested tax exemptions requested by Lakes Environmental Association.

One exemption is for property off Willett Road, which houses the Lake Center. Berube said the property’s value is $182,151.

The second property, which was formerly in tree growth, is the recently donated Hancock Preserve (115 acres), located on the backside of Highland Lake on Upper Ridge Road. LEA says the property will be available for public recreation.

Meanwhile, officials noted that the local tax rate would be set at $15.30. Berube said Bridgton’s valuation increased a little more than $2 million over a year ago. New construction was valued at $7.5 million, but homestead exemptions were up $5.5 million.

Island closed. Sabattis Island sustained substantial damage during the recent tornado that touched down in Bridgton, forcing its closure until further notice. A gate will be placed blocking the entrance.

“It will be closed until we are able to get it cleaned up and safe to use,” Peabody said as part of his manager’s report.

Peabody recognized the efforts of the Bridgton, Naples, Raymond and Casco Fire Departments during the brutal storm that caused extensive damage along Moose Pond, Highland Lake and Bridgton Marina. He also thanked police, Public Works and the EMA director for their work.

No dogs allowed. Due to continuing complaints of dogs and dog excrement on public beaches — particularly Woods Pond and Highland Lake — the town will be stepping up its enforcement efforts. Dogs are not allowed on public beaches.

“People have to take responsibility. Every day, we’re telling people [no dogs at the beach],” Peabody said. “People are not being good citizens or good dog owners.”

Former selectman Bernie King also raised that issue during the meeting’s public participation point. He also noted that a sign outlining beach rules was positioned to the far right (and out of clear sight) of the Woods Pond Beach parking lot. King suggested that “No Smoking” should be added to the sign, and have the sign positioned in a more visible spot.

King also feels the town should consider placing a lifeguard at the beach after seeing two paddle boarders inside the roped swimming area.

“I think it’s a big safety factor,” he said.

The former selectman kidded that he attended Tuesday’s meeting to “see what it looks like from the back row.”

King added that he remains concerned about candy being tossed from floats during the Fourth of July parade. He saw a “close call” involving a young child racing out to pick up candy and come close to a rolling float.

Finally, King commended the police department for its handling of traffic during the fireworks and Fourth of July.

Out on leave. Transfer Station manager Bob Fitzcharles is out on medical leave. Public Works Director Jim Kidder will oversee the transfer station until Fitzcharles returns.

Agreements approved. Selectmen unanimously accepted two consent agreements involving Shoreland Zoning violations.

One agreement was with the estate of Robert Johnson. According to Code Enforcement Officer Rob Baker, soils and vegetation was disturbed at property on Santa Claus Drive.

The agreement called for a vegetation plan that included sod, blueberry bushes and lilacs to be planted, as well as a $3,500 fine.

A second agreement was reached with Thomas and Kimberly Piffath of Pioneer Lane.

Baker told selectmen that the Piffaths contacted his office when they discovered that their residence’s foundation, at one point, juts out four feet thus failing to meet the 112-foot horizontal distance from the normal high water line. A deck constructed off the building, however, does meet the allowable 100-foot setback, Baker said.

Baker recommended a $6,000 fine, which selectmen concurred.

Also, selectmen approved a quit-claim deed to John D. Muse Jr. for property on Old County Road. Muse paid $7,236.55 and also satisfied work outlined by CEO Baker.

And, officials approved a special amusement permit and liquor license for Bridgton House of Pizza.

Selectmen’s concerns. It may be okay to sell one trailer alongside the road, but what if that number keeps increasing? Does the property owner need a license was a question raised to Selectman Bob Murphy regarding activity on Route 302. He asked the code officer to check the matter.

Selectman Bear Zaidman wondered when the Wastewater Committee plans to begin a public education campaign regarding an upgrade to the town’s wastewater system?

Board Chairman Greg Watkins said the Land Use Committee and the Community Development Committee both support hiring an outside agency — much like the town did regarding the proposed wastewater ordinance — to conduct a public awareness effort prior to the November vote.

Zaidman noted that engineering firms like Woodard & Curran, who is working on the town’s proposed waste system expansion, have divisions that do such work, and Bridgton should inquire if such services are available.

Next meeting: The next board meeting is set for Tuesday, July 25 at 6 p.m.

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