CAPE ELIZABETH – Town leaders said Wednesday they would like to see the state and Sprague Corp. find a long-term solution to stalled negotiations over the future of Crescent Beach State Park.

Since around 1960, the state has leased 100 acres of the park from the Sprague Corp., an arrangement that expired in 2010 and has twice been extended. The current lease extension expires next April, but negotiations between the state and Sprague family have stalled and the two parties no longer seem to meet frequently, said Town Manager Michael McGovern.

State and company officials had 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 any more debt without paying down other long-term obligations.

Crescent Beach State Park is among the most popular beach parks operated by the state, drawing about 110,000 people a year, according to the Department of Conservation.

“This is a concern that goes beyond Cape Elizabeth,” McGovern said.

The Town Council is not involved in the negotiations, but asked McGovern to continue to provide updates as he receives information from LePage’s office and the Sprague Corp. He said at Wednesday’s council workshop that he gets the sense that the governor’s office wants to work with the Spragues to find a solution, but the sticking point may be the cost of the lease, which has not been disclosed.

“(The Spragues) have told us they very much want to work with the state,” McGovern said. “They’d like to have a long-term solution.”

Seth Sprague, president of the family-owned company, said in July that his company will likely operate its land as a separate park if the talks fail.

The state owns 87 acres of the park and, if an agreement is not reached, may build a new entrance and parking lot at the park. It is that entrance that has town officials concerned.

The portion of the park owned by the Sprague family includes 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 show a road leading to a new parking area off Route 77. The road would run between the Inn by the Sea and Richmond Terrace, over land that has been used by local farmers to grow strawberries.

In a letter to town councilors and during Wednesday’s meeting, McGovern emphasized that the new parking area is “not in anyone’s long-term interest” and “really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” The new lot would be half the size of the existing parking area, could cause traffic to back up onto Route 77 and is farther from the beach, he said. The road and parking area would require Planning Board approval.

Officials from Inn by the Sea say the road and parking area could present environmental issues, particularly with piping plovers and New England cottontail rabbits.

Julie Sprague, who is not on the Sprague Corp. board but is a shareholder, said Crescent Beach State Park is “a very important nugget in the town of Cape Elizabeth.”

“A lot of my family would like to keep this park open,” she said.

Town councilors asked McGovern a few questions, but otherwise offered few comments about the situation. Several said they wanted to recognize the Sprague family’s commitment to maintaining open space in town.

“I do want to make sure the public is aware of the generosity of the Sprague family,” Councilor Jessica Sullivan said.

The chairman of the Sprague Corp. is Robert C.S. Monks, an owner and director of MaineToday Media, parent company of the Portland Press Herald.

Last month, the Maine State Employees Union joined the debate by starting a petition drive to urge LePage to sign a lease. The union fears he might move to privatize the park, as he did with the Fort Knox site in Prospect. The union said revenue from Crescent Beach State Park is used to support other state parks.

 

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

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