CAPE ELIZABETH – Negotiations to extend the state’s lease of a portion of Crescent Beach State Park remain stalled, but that’s not stopping town officials from discussing the future of the popular park.

Since around 1960, the state has leased 100 acres of the park from the Sprague Corp. That arrangement expired in 2010, but has been extended on an annual basis until next April.

State and company officials talked about a state purchase of the Sprague 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.

Jeanne Curran, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said there has been no change in the status of the negotiations.

The Town Council plans a workshop Wednesday to get an update about the park from Town Manager Michael McGovern and to discuss the issue publicly for the first time.

“Our No. 1 priority is to ensure that the park is open and staffed when the lease runs out,” McGovern said.

The council’s discussion will likely focus on a new park entrance that the state may develop if a lease agreement is not reached.

Officials from the town and Inn by the Sea — which would be next to the new entrance — are concerned that it could cause traffic and environmental problems in the area off Route 77.

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. The concession stand and bathhouse are on state land and aren’t affected by the lease.

Drawings of an entrance that the state would have to build to access the parking area show a road leading to a new parking area off Route 77, between the Inn By the Sea and Richmond Terrace. The plans would need approval from the Planning Board.

The road is now used by park rangers and has very little traffic, said Rauni Kew, public relations manager for the Inn by the Sea. Hotel officials are concerned about wetlands in the area, as well as piping plovers and New England cottontail rabbits, which are endangered.

“That road runs right along the edge of the beach and right up against the dunes,” Kew said. “We’d hate to see that road upgraded and more traffic on it.”

Kew and town officials also worry about traffic in the area if the state uses a new entrance.

“The new parking lot proposed is not in anyone’s long-term interest,” McGovern said in a letter to town councilors. “It is half the size of the current lot, would cause backups on Route 77, would be built on land that has traditionally been farmed, is adjacent to significant wetlands and wildlife habitat, is a much greater distance from the beach, would result in a major pedestrian link being unsafely shared with vehicles, and would have significant impacts on neighboring properties.”

Town Council Chairwoman Sara Lennon said she is looking forward to a more detailed update on the situation. She doesn’t think many residents know about it.

“I think the new plan would violate some pretty beautiful land that people love here,” she said. “I feel people, if they knew, would care passionately.”

McGovern said the town should continue to monitor discussions surrounding the state park, but “should not involve itself in the tick-tock of negotiations” between the state and Sprague Corp.

“This is an issue that involves the town’s interests in preserving public access, but goes well beyond one community’s interest,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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