Town grapples with swim lines, illegal patios, dredging issues

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

When you live in a town blessed by three lakes, all eyes are on the water, and every inch of shoreline is scrutinized.

Therefore, at their last meeting, Bridgton Selectmen stayed close to the letter of the law in dealing with three separate shorefront issues — swim lines, illegal campground structures and dredging.

Swim lines

Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker sent out a letter this spring to the Lakeside Condominium Association on Moose Pond, telling them they could no longer rope off a private swim area for their 60 townhouses because the state does not allow it. The association’s president, Byron Gayman, told the board that a state official advised him the town could, if they so desired, make an exception; but the board wasn’t inclined to agree.

The swimming area for condo owners extends around 65 feet from the shore to the right of the swim dock, and in the past had always been roped with a swim line that enclosed a free-standing swim platform.

“I don’t think the state statute gives us the authority to do that,” said Chairman Doug Taft. Selectman Bernie King agreed, saying, “The state statute is quite clear.”

Under rules titled Regulation of Swim Areas on Inland Waters, the only shorefront owners allowed to have permits for swim lines are “a camping area, recreational camp or governmental entity or governmentally-sponsored group.”

Gayman said George Powell of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry told him that he’d provide an exception if Selectmen wrote a letter in support of Lakeside’s request.

“This has caused a great deal of concern among Lakeside owners, since most of our owners have young children and grandchildren who swim off our small beach area,” Gayman said in a July 17 letter to the board.

Gayman said he believed Powell “may have read more into the law because it’s a big, big issue” that’s been growing since the law was enacted in June 2009, in response to conflicts that arose between boaters and shoreland owners on Sebago Lake.

But Baker said he spoke to Powell, who told him “the only way to issue a permit is if it’s a town swim area. I have told the other people to take their swim lines in, and my recommendation is to not take any action.”

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz told selectmen they’d be setting a precedent if the town decided to go to bat on behalf of Lakeside. “Others would ask for the same,” he said. “You, as a selectboard, don’t have the authority, so to me it’s so black and white.”

Illegal structures

When members of the Community Development Committee prepared their in-depth report on ways to improve the profitability of the town-owned Salmon Point Campground on Long Lake, they had a suspicion the town might be at odds with state Shoreland Zoning laws by not enforcing the plethora of decks, patios and screen rooms that have sprung up on the 51 campsites over the years. Until a seasonal manager was hired in recent years, the campers created their own infrastructures and were under little or no supervision, the CDC report stated, and may have exposed the town to state violations and fines.

Turns out, they were right.

Baker told the board he met with Mike Morse and Jeff Kalinich of the Department of Environmental Protection July 10 for a site walk at the campground. Several of the lakefront and lagoon sites had the structures placed within the 100-foot setback line from the lake, which is not allowed.

However, Baker said he was given assurances that he could grandfather those sites. He apparently was also able to convince state officials not to take any enforcement action against the town. The sites further back from the 100-foot setback also have accessory structures, but these sites are not in violation of the law.

“No violation notices will be sent. However, as of this date these types of structures will no longer be allowed,” Baker stated in a July 23 memo to the board. If the campers with sites within the 100-foot setback give up their leases at the end of the season, they must remove the decks, patios or screen rooms, and new leaseholders will not be able to replace the structures.

In answer to a question, Baker said the same rules of grandfathering would apply to any private shorefront owners with accessory structures within the 100-foot setback line.

Lagoon dredging

Selectmen agreed to take up, in their next budget review, the idea of setting aside funds for dredging the lagoon area at the Salmon Point Campground. The dredging, along with repair of the bridge, was included as a recommendation in the Salmon Point Report. But not all were convinced the expense is warranted.

“I don’t think we should spend the money because it only affects a certain few,” said King. Selectman Paul Hoyt, who leases a campground site, said, however, that if the town continues to do nothing, “It’s not a question of if the lagoon will fill in, but when. We have to look at the long term.”

Baker said the town’s last dredging permit was issued by the state in 1996. A similar permit for limited dredging was later issued in 2002. But in any case, the town has lost the ability to apply for a less expensive permit by rule, because such permits can only be issued if less than 10 years has elapsed since the prior dredging permit.

“I sent an e-mail of our intentions (to dredge the lagoon) to the (DEP’s) Portland office, and they advised me we’ll need a Tier 2 Permit, a more stringent level of review,” Baker said. An engineering survey will be required, and the permitting process will require 120 days before approval, he said.

“How many sites are in the lagoon?” asked Selectman Bob Mchatton. Twenty sites was the answer, or about 45% of the total.

“The lagoon used to be about five or six feet deep, but that’s now filled in,” Baker said. Rowboats and canoes can navigate across to shore, but boater with outboard motors must manually lift their props in order to avoid hitting bottom.

“I’d like to see us get an estimate before we go either way with this,” said Hoyt. Mchatton said such an estimate should include all costs, including permit fees, engineering and equipment.

Baker and Berkowitz agreed to provide the information in time for the board’s first meeting in October.

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