Land Management Planning Committee Wades into State Law on Moorings, Sends Solar Moratorium to Select Board [re-posting for Facebook – eds.]

“Be careful what you wish for” might have been the subtext of the Land Management Planning Committee’s May 22 meeting.  Taking up a request from the Sabbathday Lake Association to consider regulating docks and moorings, the LMPC began getting up to speed on relevant Maine law.  By meeting’s end, LMPC members and town planner Scott Hastings were commenting that lake residents “may want to rethink” their request for a mooring ordinance, noting that it “could be adverse to a number of property owners on the lake.”

The town currently has no rules on docks or seasonal moorings for boats, jet skis, and swim floats.  Municipalities are allowed to regulate moorings, Hastings said, but subject to state statutes.  Among notable points: Maine law appears to entitle each waterfront property owner to only one mooring; a municipal harbor master, compensated and specially trained, decides mooring requests, locations, and numbers; and the town can—or might have to—designate an area for public moorings, including some for non-residents. 

Terms like harbor master and mooring may call to mind images of the coast, but Hastings explained that Maine’s great ponds, those larger than 10 acres as Sabbathday Lake is, are subject to the same laws as harbors.  Those laws are set out mainly in Title 38, ch. 1 and supplemented by court decisions, he said.       

Hastings repeatedly cautioned that his research was still preliminary.  Even so, his remarks prompted plenty of questions.  If the town were to regulate moorings, and if only property owners with lake frontage are entitled to a mooring under state law, what about multiple owners with deeded access to a single front lot, as has been the case for Sylvan Shores residents since 1928?  Are their moorings grandfathered?  Or what about west-side camps on leased lots where the Shakers retain the frontage?  How about a lot that has multiple co-owners? Is the rule one mooring per owner, or one mooring per property? 

The idea of public mooring ‘fields’ for residents and nonresidents prompted other questions.  Is the town required to make public moorings available, or is that simply an option?  Are seasonal folks considered “residents” for these purposes?  Can a shorefront owner who gets an ‘automatic’ mooring get second one in the public area?  Jean Libby read the room and commented, “I can see that we’re going to have to have a lot of legal help on this.”

Complicating the picture is the public’s existing right of access to the water.  As resident Tom Driscoll told the committee, “You can come have a meeting right in front of my camp and go out a couple of feet of water, set up your chairs and drink a beer, and I can’t do a thing about it.”  Could they also drop in a few moorings?  According to Hastings, without mooring rules, “Effectively, anyone can bring their boat in and moor it somewhere on the lake.”  Resident Cathy Gregory said a moratorium on new moorings and docks and an ordinance are urgently needed to prevent lots of new moorings becoming grandfathered. Committee member Don Libby cautioned against haste, however, saying LMPC faces a difficult challenge in “balancing the needs and rights of everybody,” while protecting the lake from environmental impacts.

As for docks, LMPC sidestepped that topic because Don Libby also serves on the Planning Board, and it has a controversial application pending for a 70’-long/36’-T-section dock to serve the seven-lot Sabbathday Shores development.  A public hearing on that application is set for Tuesday June 4.

In other business, LMPC is sending language for a proposed 180-day moratorium on solar arrays to the Select Board for inclusion at the June 19 special town meeting.  Meanwhile, Hastings encouraged committee members to be thinking about “big questions” on solar development: where in town solar arrays should be permitted and how hidden from view they should be, given their potential visual impact.

Video of the full May 22 Land Management Planning Committee meeting is available here.       

                                         — Reported by Joanne Cole and edited by NGX staff

Sabbathday Lake in early summer — photo Joanne Cole