CAPE ELIZABETH — The state and the company that owns a majority of the land used for Crescent Beach State Park have reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year lease, according to the company’s owner.
Seth Sprague, the president of the family-owned Sprague Corp., said the deal hinges on passage of the state’s supplemental budget for the current fiscal year.
That budget package includes a provision that allows the Department of Conservation to divert some of its fee revenue to pay for land leases. Without the provision, the fee revenues flow directly into the General Fund and a legislative allocation would be needed to allow the department to pay for leases. That would also make it difficult for the state to start making lease payments for the Sprague Corp. land before the next budget goes into effect on July 1.
Will Harris, director of the Division of Parks & Public Lands, confirmed that was the “framework” of the deal, but said there were still some details to work out.
“We haven’t inked anything,” he said.
The original lease with the state, signed in 1960, ran for 50 years and there have been two one-year extensions since it ran out in 2010. The latest extension expires in late April.
Sprague Corp. owns about 100 acres used for the park, while the state owns the other 87 acres. When negotiations seemed to be stalled late last summer, the company said it was exploring operating a privately run park on its land, while the state was searching for routes to build a new entrance road and plan a new parking area for the park.
Sprague and Harris declined to say how much the lease calls for the state to pay, noting that the deal is still tentative.
The land the state leases from the family company includes the entrance to the popular beach park, part of the road leading to the parking lot, roughly a third of the parking lot and about a quarter of the actual beach. The state-owned land includes the section where a concession stand and bathhouse are located.
Last summer, state officials started scouting out a possible new route for the entrance, probably on land currently used as strawberry fields between the Inn by the Sea and Richmond Terrace.
But Inn by the Sea officials said they were worried that the new route would endanger habitats for piping plovers and the New England cottontail rabbit, while town officials were concerned that a new parking lot would be insufficient and too far from the beach, which is one of the most popular in the state park system, drawing about 110,000 visitors a year.
Town officials were also worried about traffic — the current entrance includes a left-turn lane for cars going into the park while headed south on Route 77, as well as a long drive up to the entrance gate, where fees are collected and passes checked. Cape Elizabeth officials said a shorter entrance drive could lead to traffic backing up on Route 77.
In addition, the state public employees’ union said it was concerned that the administration of Gov. Paul LePage wasn’t negotiating seriously in order to privatize the park.
State Rep. Kim Monaghan-Derrig, D-Cape Elizabeth, said the supplemental budget also calls for any new lease to be reviewed by the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, to make sure any concerns are addressed in the new deal.
“It’s a concern that the negotiations between the Spragues and the state are somewhat private, but when it comes time to finally agree … it should go before a (legislative) committee,” she said.
Monaghan-Derrig said the future of the park is an issue of concern to most communities in Greater Portland, not just Cape Elizabeth. She noted that the recreation departments in many towns have regular outings to the park during the summer and it’s often jammed on hot summer days.
In addition to the beach, the park has picnicking and barbecuing areas and a small playground, plus walking paths through the adjacent woods. The concession stand sells food and drinks and the bathhouse is used by bathers to shower off and change after going to the beach.
The state had been interested in buying the Sprague Corp. property once the original lease expired, but LePage has said he doesn’t want the state to take on additional debt. The talks then shifted toward a new lease.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers contributed to this story
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:
[email protected] The original lease with the state, signed in 1960, ran for 50 years and there have been two one-year extensions since it ran out in 2010. The latest extension expires in late April.