Songo Lock fee increase eyed to fund dredging

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

NAPLES — Marina owners, local businesses and two chambers of commerce are urging the state Department of Conservation to increase the lock fee at Songo Lock this summer from $6 to $10 per trip.

The higher fee would be split between the department and an ad-hoc committee that is racing against time to pull off a dredging operation near the Lock to prevent the spread of invasive milfoil.

The Songo Lock Committee, an informal group formed to come up with a milfoil battle plan, has been meeting regularly since February. They need to raise between $30,000 and $40,000 fast if the dredging is going to happen before the boating season gets into full swing this summer.

“The local interests seemed very supportive of this approach, and despite reluctance to raise fees, this seemed very appropriate and affordable to most of us,” said Peter Lowell, executive director of Lakes Environmental Association, in a letter to committee members.

The committee includes marina owners in Naples and the Sebago Lake Region, local businesses including Dyke Associates, Rick’s Café and Sebago Dock World, and both the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region and the Sebago Lakes Region Chambers of Commerce.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation said Tuesday that Commissioner William Beardsley is reviewing the request, but is deferring a decision until he consults with officials at the Bureau of Parks and Lands. Thousands of boaters use the highly popular Lock each summer to go back and forth from Sebago Lake to Brandy Pond and Long Lake.

Lowell said LEA has completed transects of the river bottom for about 800 feet of shoreline in the area below the Lock that is likely to be dredged. A permit by rule will be needed from the Department of Environmental Protection for the dredging. The soil that is removed could be barged temporarily to a stagnant river segment, and placed behind the DOC work sheds, Lowell said.

A team of plant control specialists, some of whom have six years experience, will be assisted this year by the Lake Region High School 4-H Club. The club received a $1,000 Maine Youth Community Action Grant to help build bottom barriers. In the interest of saving money, the barriers will be built with rebar attached to shrink wrap from marinas and the Songo River Queen II.

Additional funds for the barriers will come from a $6,000 DEP grant, $5,000 from the town of Naples and a $2,000 donation from the Portland Water District. Lowell said that the $5 they receive directly from each boat going through the Lock under the request won’t be enough to cover the dredging, and that additional fundraising will be needed.

Fundraising letters will be going out soon to all landowners on Brandy Pond, Long Lake and the Songo River, and both chambers will be mailing an appeal to their memberships. Boaters will be asked to purchase voluntary stickers at marinas, and a Songo River Queen II benefit is planned for Saturday, Aug. 20.

The committee wrote to Beardsley that the milfoil problem at the Lock — and the resulting threat of infestation upriver — can be directly traced to the decision to stop dredging the river 20 years ago.

“In previous years, Air Marine Corporation used to perform annual dredging maintenance, allowing for optimal navigation and a water flow, which discouraged the growth of the now iniquitous and ubiquitous milfoil plant,” the letter states.

“Improving navigation and eliminating milfoil will increase safe boat traffic and increase lock fee revenues as well, bringing more business into this area. Waterfront property values will also be enhanced by these efforts as well.”

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