March 11, 2010

Cozier Standish boat launch set to reopen today

JOHN RICHARDSON

— By

click image to enlarge

John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer:Thursday., May,21, 2009. Rocks block the old parking lot as over 40 new spaces are created that are part of a new boat launch facility in Standish on Sebago Lake that will open on Friday.

Staff Writer

STANDISH — A popular public boat launch at the southern tip of Sebago Lake is reopening today with a new name and a new look.

The Sebago Lake Station Landing, as it is now called, features a paved road and parking spaces and a striking view of the lake from Route 35 and Sebago Lake Village. Until a couple of months ago, the lake was obscured by trees and a narrow dirt road led to the boat ramp and dirt fields where vehicles and trailers were allowed to park.

''They should have done this years ago,'' said Vincent Plummer, owner of Plummer's Service Center, near the launch entrance. ''It's a beautiful lake.''

The new town-owned launch also features new daily fees for parking vehicles and boat trailers -- $5 a day for town residents and $15 a day for others. (It used to be $10 for non-residents and free for residents.) Six one-hour parking spots are free.

And it will be harder to get into the new launch area on busy weekends. The paved parking areas will hold far fewer vehicles and trailers than the fields did. Even with the dirt fields, the lot would fill up on busy weekends.

Sebago Lake State Park in Naples is expanding its parking area, anticipating more demand for access there, officials said.

The launch makeover is the latest, and perhaps final, resolution to a long-running dispute between the town and the Portland Water District.

The two have faced off in multiple court cases over lake access and residents have voted down efforts to relocate the launch.

Along with being the only public boat launch on the southern end of Maine's second largest lake, the site is near intake pipes where the district draws drinking water for nearly 200,000 people in Greater Portland. Signs posted at the launch warn that bodily contact with the water is prohibited.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that the town owns a 99-foot-wide right of way to the lake but has no right to continue using the district's surrounding land for parking. In March, the district placed boulders blocking vehicles from using the last accessible field. With boating season a couple of months away, the town quickly started construction on the new parking area. The project cost the town about $125,000, and Shaw Brothers Construction Inc. of Gorham finished the work under budget and ahead of schedule, said Town Manager Gordon Billington. The water district is still allowing the town to use some land to access the lake, and the dispute appears settled for now, at least. Both the town and the water district will have attendants at the launch to manage parking and monitor boaters.''From a water quality issue, it would be better if the boat launch wasn't there, but we can't control that,'' said Bill Lunt, vice president of the district's board of trustees. The new launch is expected to reduce impacts on water quality, if only by limiting use, and the water district had no objections, Lunt said. The district had even offered to build a similar parking area years ago, but the town voted it down, he said. While the reduced parking is expected to lead to some competition for spots and potential traffic backups this summer, the project is already generating some pride in Sebago Lake Village. Billington predicted the new view and the new name of the launch will reconnect residents with the lake and its history. In the late 1800s, Portlanders would get off the train at Sebago Lake Station and board steamboats traveling up the lake. ''All of the sudden it opens the lake back up to the village again,'' Billington said. ''It's going to stimulate activity'' there. Rich Robinson hopes so. He and his wife opened the Corner House Cafe in Sebago Lake Village last fall. ''From our front tables, we have a water view now,'' he said. Plummer said many people passing through never knew the lake was so close.

''It's a great thing for the community,'' he said. ''It's not just because of the boats. It's about being able to see what we've got. It's our heritage.''

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

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