It’s transition time on Sebago Lake. As the ice thins, Rod Beaulieu will soon trade his snowmobile for a 23-foot patrol boat.

As a Portland Water District security officer, Beaulieu spends his days watching the district’s extensive landholdings and enforcing no trespassing zones set up to ensure that the drinking water for 200,000 Maine residents remains safe.

On the job since 2005, Beaulieu is the first security officer the water district has ever had. A retired Sanford police officer, he oversees a staff of nine in the busy summer months. His mobile office is a 2004 Chevy Tahoe equipped much like a police cruiser. He has a laptop and two-way radios capable of contacting local police and fire should a situation arise.

He spends plenty of time on the trails and out on the ice in the winter, interacting with local snowmobile clubs and those ice fishing. With ice conditions deteriorating around Sebago’s Lower Bay in Standish last weekend, Beaulieu decided to remove the markers drilled into the ice around the 3,000-foot no trespassing zone at the water district’s intake pipes.

“When the ice sets up, we want to get those markers in as soon as we can, and we try to leave them in as late as we can in spring,” he said.

“Right now, you have to tiptoe a little bit; the last thing you want to do as a Portland Water District employee is put your snowmobile at the bottom of the lake!”

He has a few spots where he monitors ice thickness and said that as of last weekend, there was about 14 inches of ice: 6 inches of clear, solid ice and about 8 inches of frozen slush and snow.

The ice is disappearing around the shoreline. But Beaulieu recognizes what’s really happening. The shoreline doesn’t necessarily melt first; rather, the lake level is rising. As the lake increases in size, the ice appears to retreat from shore.

“It’s time to pay attention out there,” Beaulieu said.

With 2,500 acres of land, the water district permits public access on 1,700 acres where people are free to enjoy hiking, fishing, even hunting and trapping. Other pastimes are mountain biking, berry picking and horseback riding. Guidelines and usage permits can be found at any one of 11 self-serve kiosks around Standish.

Beaulieu isn’t the only person keeping an eye on the ice conditions. People ice fishing also know what’s up. At one of Beaulieu’s many checkpoints, the public boat launch in Standish, a proactive guy was towing his ice shack off the ice with an ATV. A few others lined the shore awaiting pickup.

“I check and see if anything it’s been abandoned out there,” Beaulieu said. “We’re a visible presence. We’re monitoring. Typically there’s not a problem. I’m amazed at how little is left out on the ice.”

Beaulieu sees himself as the face of a public utility and wants to promote good relationships with those he encounters.

“We’re not spying on people,” he said. “We’re opening almost all of our property for passive permitted use, while protecting what’s important to us: water quality.”

Beaulieu works 40 hours a week and gets to choose his own days and hours, making his schedule purposely unpredictable in case the unscrupulous are paying attention.

With about 115,000 miles on his Chevy Tahoe, Beaulieu will soon take delivery of a full-size Ford pickup truck he said will be more efficient since he’ll be able to keep his snowmobile with him while on the road.

Beaulieu is passionate about the lake and the land he oversees. With many working years still ahead of him after his police force retirement in 2001, he said he’s in a wonderful retirement job and is proud to be the first full-time PWD security officer.

“In the past, security was an added function to someone else’s job,” he said. “I came from a very busy town with a busy police force. That was a great experience learning how to deal with people. Coming here has been an awesome opportunity.”

 

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]