CAPE ELIZABETH – The state’s lease of land that makes up more than half of Crescent Beach State Park will expire early next year and negotiations for an extension have stalled.

The uncertainty has led state officials to start considering a new place for the entrance to the popular park, because the leased land — owned by the Sprague Corp. — includes the park entrance off Route 77.

At the same time, the company is considering operating a park on its own.

The Sprague Corp. owns 100 of the 187 acres that make up the state park, including the entrance, a portion of the road that leads to the parking lot, about a third of the parking lot and about a quarter of the beach itself.

State and company officials talked about a state purchase of the Sprague Corp.’s land, but those discussions fell apart after Gov. Paul LePage said he doesn’t want the state to take on more debt before it pays down some of its long-term obligations.

“We’re looking for a long-term solution, but how we get to that final solution has yet to be determined,” said Will Harris, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands in the Maine Department of Conservation. “Maybe in other times, if the state were in a better financial position, we would be in other discussions that were moving along.”

The state has leased the land since about 1960, but its free lease ran out in 2010. Since then, the lease has been extended on an annual basis. The current agreement runs out in April.

Under the current lease, the Sprague Corp. gets about $10,000 a year, Harris said.

Crescent Beach State Park is among the more popular beach parks operated by the state, drawing about 110,000 people a year, Harris said. Generally, it’s about as popular as Popham Beach and Reid State Park, he said. The most popular overall is Sebago Lake State Park, where camping is available.

Harris and Seth Sprague, president of the family-owned company, said the two sides began by talking about the state buying the land when the long-term lease lapsed a couple of years ago. They never talked about the price before it became clear that the state wouldn’t have money for the purchase.

Sprague said the town of Cape Elizabeth assesses the entire parcel at about $16 million, but the assessor told him he didn’t spend a lot of time developing the value because the town doesn’t collect any property taxes from state park land.

Both sides have floated ideas to resolve the issue, including the Sprague Corp.’s offer to run the park for the state, as it does at Scarborough Beach State Park.

Sprague once owned the land at Scarborough Beach, but sold it to the state years ago and now runs the park.

Workers at the park are employed by the company, which pays the state 5 percent of gross revenue as rent, according to Sprague.

Harris said the company has rules at Scarborough Beach that are different from rules at other state parks.

For instance, the Sprague Corp. sells a surfer’s pass, allowing surfers to get into the park outside of normal operating hours to take advantage of good conditions.

He also noted that the Sprague Corp. doesn’t accept the Department of Conservation’s statewide park pass.

Those are among the reasons the state has rejected Sprague’s offer to operate Crescent Beach State Park, he said.

“We like the state touch,” Harris said. “We like to offer a similar experience to folks throughout the park system.”

Both sides are preparing for the possibility that no agreement will be reached.

Harris said the state must figure out where an access road would go, without disturbing wetlands or sensitive areas of the park. He said the concession stand and bathhouse, along with most of the parking lot, are on state land and wouldn’t be affected.

“We’re just sort of exploring things,” Harris said.

Sprague said his company will likely operate its land as a separate park if the talks fail. Sprague Corp. wanted to develop a park on land it owns near Scarborough Beach State Park, with a separate parking lot and a concession stand, but that proposal was scrapped after it drew intense opposition from neighbors.

Sprague said the company owns most of the property around Crescent Beach State Park and the only neighboring landowner is the state, so a similar operation in Cape Elizabeth might not draw opposition.

Selling the land for house lots “isn’t in our DNA,” Sprague said, and operating a separate park would preserve access to the beach and some hiking trails.

“It’s use that’s good for the public and better for us than having the thing sit there and not have any return,” he said, even though it might “be a little awkward” next to the state park.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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