Salmon Point campground sale challenged

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Peter Lowell, who was instrumental 25 years ago in Bridgton’s acquisition of the Salmon Point Campground, called it “a remarkably bad idea” to consider selling any of the campground land to provide tax relief, even if the town retains the beach property.

Not only is it shortsighted, in his opinion, “to sell off the family jewels for short-term financial gain,” but Lowell questioned whether it was even legal to do so.

“The single biggest concern is that this property was bought with restricted money,” Lowell told the Bridgton Board of Selectmen at their March 26 meeting, as the board debated whether to hold a binding or nonbinding referendum on the sale question this June.

The town borrowed $650,000 in 1987 to finance the purchase, and paid off the debt over the years using both tax revenues and money from the Moose Pond Trust Fund. Lowell said, “A state gift to the town is highly restricted,” and told the board he had contacted the state Division of Parks and Public Lands for an opinion.

“The good news is that the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands is taking a major interest in this, and is pushing” for a quick answer on the question from the state Attorney General’s Office.

The bureau’s Chief of Planning, Kathy Eickenberg, e-mailed Lowell March 26 with her opinion, which was that “the sale of public lands acquired from the proceeds of the fund for purposes of tax relief would not be consistent with the intent” of the Moose Pond Trust Fund’s provision that its proceeds be used to acquire and maintain recreational lands.

Selectman Woody Woodward said the board has the same concern as Lowell about the legality of selling off the back portion of the campground land to a developer, as has been suggested by the Community Development Committee. He said the board is awaiting a legal opinion from the town’s attorney on the question.

Woodward said the board felt it would be important to have the public weigh in first on the CDC’s recommendation, in either a binding or nonbinding way, before proceeding further. If voters say no, the CDC’s Salmon Point Report contains several other recommendations of ways to increase revenues at the campground, which currently fall well below those of professionally-run campgrounds.

“Personally, I’m not for selling it,” Woodward said. “The CDC wanted to find ways to make it more profitable, and this is one of the committees we appointed. So we wanted to ask the people before going any further.”

The proposed language of the referendum question, as drafted by the CDC, reads as follows:

“To authorize the Board of Selectmen to solicit RFPs (Request for Proposals) for the sale and development of a portion of the Salmon Point Campground. The beach area would be retained by the Town and deed restricted, in perpetuity, against sale or development of the beach area. The minimum sales price for the portion that may be sold shall be $2,000,000 and the minimum annual tax revenue from the development shall be $75,000. If these parameters are not satisfied, the Town will have no obligation to sell the property.”

Woodward said the board still hasn’t made a decision on whether to put the question before voters. The deadline for deciding one way or another is April 29, in order to meet legal posting requirements for the June 11 Town Elections/Referendums. The Town Meeting is on June 12.

Lowell said many other questions remain unanswered as well, such as whether a formal appraisal will be done or whether the original owner still retains a right-of-way for the campground’s septic and well system.

“You need to have a whole lot more homework done,” he said. “We’ll be asking them about selling a piece of property we might not be able to sell.”

Resident Scott Finlayson followed Lowell to the mic, saying, “I can’t believe it’s gotten to this point that we haven’t dismissed the idea out of hand.” Even if the town could realize a $2 million sale, said Finlayson, the money wouldn’t be worth the price of a beautiful waterfront resource “that future generations will benefit from for years and years to come.”

Besides, Finlayson added, “I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would build a $4 million house down there and have to share it with the rest of the town.”

The board agreed to table the discussion until their next regular meeting on April 9.

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