NAPLES — More than 100 waterfront property owners in this Lakes Region town might find themselves with a problem when they go to take out their motorboats, sailboats and jet skis this spring.
Only one watercraft per property will get a spot to tie up offshore.
“I’ve had two moorings forever,” said Joseph Dole, surprised to hear he’d get only one this year by his home on Brandy Pond.
The change in the town’s rule — from a limit of one mooring for every 50 feet of shorefront property to a limit of one for every property owner — came about because of a lawsuit filed by Cynthia White, a resident of Long Lake, who had a problem with the placement of her neighbor Peter Serunian’s second mooring. Moorings are heavy anchors that stay in place all season and are attached to buoys so boats can easily be tied up when not in use.
A Cumberland County Superior Court judge found in August that Serunian wasn’t allowed to have a second mooring at all — and no one else is either.
State law says harbor masters can assign moorings to property owners “provided that not more than one mooring may be assigned to any shorefront parcel of land.”
Naples officials are now breaking the bad news to property owners seeking mooring permits for the upcoming season. And the sinking feeling being experienced by property owners here might eventually spread beyond Naples’ borders.
That little-known state law could well conflict with moorings limits in other lakefront towns, too. But because no one enforces the state limit, it’s unclear whether the Naples case will affect other waterfront property owners around the state.
“It would come up if someone challenged the town,” said attorney Mary Costigan, who represented Naples in the court case.
The town of Harrison, like Naples, has an ordinance that allows one mooring for every 50 feet of waterfront land.
Harrison Harbor Master Gary Pagel said Thursday he was unaware of the state law and declined to comment before conferring with other town officials.
It’s not clear how many towns have ordinances similar to Naples’ and Harrison’s.
Many lakeside towns, however, don’t keep track of the number of moorings each property has.
Officials from Windham, Raymond and Frye Island in the Sebago Lakes Region, as well as Belgrade and Greenville to the north and Waterboro to the south, said they don’t regulate them or set any limits.
In Rangeley, there is a mooring ordinance, but it doesn’t limit the number per lot.
“It’s kind of a complaint-based thing,” said town planner and Code Enforcement Officer Amanda Lessard, meaning the ordinance is there if an issue comes up.
Greenville Code Enforcement Officer Jack Hart said he’s sure some properties have multiple moorings, but they’ve never caused problems.
“It’s nothing we keep an eye on,” he said.
George Powell, director of the boating facilities program for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said towns with lakes used to be required to have harbor masters and mooring ordinances. Now, only coastal towns are required to have those things. The department doesn’t police mooring numbers, he said.
The way Powell reads it, the state law limits towns from granting more than one mooring per property.
“So if there’s no mooring ordinance, there’s no restriction,” he said.
There are 102 property owners in Naples who have more than one mooring registered with the town, said Code Enforcement Officer Renee Carter.
Aside from a sign posted on the door of the Town Office about the new limit of one mooring per property owner, the only notification they’re getting is when they come in to renew their mooring permits for the season.
They’re just starting to do that, Carter said, and she’s just starting to feel their wrath.
“This morning’s reaction wasn’t very happy,” she said last week.
Carter said the town is considering appealing to the Legislature to try to get the law changed, but that wouldn’t happen until next session. It’s unclear what prompted the passage of the law, or whether anyone would step up to defend it.
But, for this summer, at least, residents are going to have to live with the new rule.
Ben Walter said it’s hard enough managing the two-mooring limit at his mother-in-law’s home on Brandy Pond, where his wife and her three siblings have their families and their boats every weekend in the summer.
He doesn’t know what they’ll do if there’s only one.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Walter said.
Rhonda Frisch said her family likes to keep a boat and a jet ski on their moorings in Long Lake, rather than letting them slam against their dock when the winds get rough.
But they might not have that option this year.
“If they get ruined, we’d have to make an insurance claim,” she said.
Dole, the property and boat owner on Brandy Pond, said he would like to see a reduction in his property taxes.
“That’s part of the value of your property,” he said about the two moorings. “Now, you’re devaluing it by taking something away.”
Matthew Iddings, who comes up to Brandy Pond from Massachusetts as often as he can, said the change “would be a real bummer,” but he wouldn’t protest the rule.
“Life is too short to fight the government,” he said. “I’d rather enjoy Maine.”
Correction: This story was revised at 10:22 a.m., March 10, 2014, to state that the town of Naples used to allow one mooring for every 50 feet of shorefront land with no cap on the number of moorings per property. Incorrect information provided to the reporter.