Land Management Planning Committee considers docks on Sabbathday Lake and solar arrays

| Joanne Cole, NGX |

At its August 28 meeting the Land Management Planning Committee (LMPC) discussed docks on Sabbathday Lake and resumed work on a draft ordinance to regulate large solar arrays.  Meanwhile, independent of the LMPC’s work, the Select Board will hear from ReVision Energy about solar energy at the board’s Monday September 16 meeting. 

Solar arrays.  Residents’ comments on the draft solar ordinance led off the August LMPC meeting. Town planner Scott Hastings reported that resident Mark Power, who participated in a public workshop on solar power, has asked whether the committee is considering where in town they may or may not want arrays, perhaps restricting them by zone, and also whether to include incentives for putting solar arrays in already-developed locations like parking lots rather than in green areas. 

Resident Carl Wilcox spoke and asked the committee to consider fire protection, fencing and wildlife, and decommissioning, among other concerns.  After Wilcox noted that fire protection is not explicitly addressed in the draft ordinance, the committee agreed to consult with the fire and rescue chief. 

Wilcox also addressed the impact of large fenced arrays on wildlife.  A chain-link fence built tight to the ground could result in a “wildlife desert,” he said.  Owls and hawks can’t hunt efficiently because of the panels, and bobcats and coyotes can’t get to the mice.  Wilcox acknowledged owners’ interest in protecting their substantial financial investment from vandalism and argued that those large project developers can afford to consult with technical specialists to protect wildlife passage. 

Among other open questions about solar arrays is how to ensure that they aren’t abandoned at the end of their useful life.  The committee discussed requiring a bond to protect the town’s interests, as is currently required of gravel pit and cell tower owners.  Hastings will research the cost of bonds and whether they ‘run with the land’ when the property is sold. 

Wrapping up on solar, Hastings said the committee is “getting pretty close to having a solid ordinance.”  He thought perhaps one more LMPC meeting, followed by a public workshop, and then a public hearing in January or February would put the ordinance on a path to be considered at town meeting. Although the current six-month moratorium on solar development expires in December, the Select Board can readily extend it, Hastings said.

Docks at Sabbathday Lake.  The committee also fielded a resident’s inquiry about the dock ordinance that’s on LMPC’s to-do list.  Cathy Gregory asked what the overall goal is for the dock ordinance and expressed hope that it will prohibit large docks like the one approved for the Sabbathday Shores development, which she described as a “debacle.” 

The ensuing discussion focused on two issues: whether to set dimensional limits for all docks, and how to handle back lots, where multiple parcels funnel to a single co-owned lot with lake access.  What size dock should be allowed in that case?  

The current ordinance allows docks of any length, one per lot with 250’ of frontage.  Docks are supposed to have permits, but there’s currently no registry for enforcement, noted member John Salisbury.  Further complicating the regulatory picture, some number of docks on Sabbathday are grandfathered, with lots that lack the requisite frontage. 

Resident Tom Driscoll commented that a focus on dock size might be misplaced.  In some areas, steep shorelines and cold, deep water mean that long docks are impractical as well as unnecessary.  Dock length is ‘self-regulating,’ in Driscoll’s view, given the short season and difficulty of installing and removing long docks.  Gregory disagreed, saying dock length is an issue if there’s collective ownership and multiple boats.   

Whether the committee will ultimately use dock length restrictions to safeguard against large docks for back lots remains to be seen.  In the near-term planner Hastings will look for examples and precedents in other towns.  The goal would be to regulate docks without being “overly restrictive,” he said, “but protect against something that’s too much.”

Video of LMPC’s August 28 meeting can be viewed here.

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