June 23, 2013

Boaters threatening sandhill cranes

The state law regarding headway speed is being routinely disregarded along the Serpentine.


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Christine Keller paddles through a section of the Serpentine waterway, a three-mile waterway that cuts across a peat bog as it connects East Pond and North Pond and is home to a sandhill crane. Speeding boaters and Jet Skiers along the Serpentine waterway may be unwittingly threatening a comeback by the sandhill crane, a species that recently returned to Maine after being pushed to the brink of extinction.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Over time, the speeding boats literally frighten the birds to death.


The sandhill cranes aren't the only ones bothered by speeding boats, equipped with propellors that can injure wildlife such as turtles, or chop up and spread invasive plant species, including milfoil.

The waves have a series of other effects on the ecosystem, none of them good.

One important measure of lake health is its level of clarity, measured by submerging a disk at the end of a pole into the water until it can't be seen any more. Cloudier water means a less healthy lake, according to Maggie Shannon, president of the Maine Congress of Lake Associations, which includes the East Pond Association as a member.

The relationship between water clarity and property values is difficult to measure, but it is significant, Shannon said.

Shannon points to a 1998 University of Maine study which found that a 1-meter decrease in clarity is equivalent to a loss of $7,629 in value for each waterfront property, while other estimates have put the property loss value at as much as 10 percent per meter of decreased clarity.

When a boater travels at high speed in shallow waters, sediment is disturbed from the bottom, releasing algae-feeding nutrients such as phosphorus into the water, reducing water clarity and leading to algal blooms.

The waves also lap at the shore, speeding erosion that can eat away at the banks and further cloud the water.

The silt stirred up by the passing motorboats also makes things unpleasant for the human inhabitants of the Serpentine's waterfront.

"There are some people along the Serpentine that get their house water for showering and dishwater from the Serpentine, and boats churning up a lot of the bottom, that clogs up their intakes," Jones said.


With more boat motorists flouting the law, the East Pond Association has been working to bring awareness to the issue.

Since 2006, Keller said, she has been trying to build support for buoys and signs that would remind boaters to travel at headway speed and not to leave a wake.

Jones said the association spent years lobbying the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to help control boat traffic.

Part of the issue was convincing the state that there was enough of a problem to spend resources to combat it, and so Keller made numerous reports on behalf of herself and other eyewitnesses to the speeding.

Thanks to their efforts, three buoys were approved in December and deployed earlier this month by association volunteers.

The association is also looking for the optimal spot for a large sign that reads "Headway Speed/No Wake."

Jones said there's no way to quantify the impact of the buoys, but he's heard some discouraging anecdotes.

"Some people are just breezing right past the buoys," he said.

Association members are also encouraging people to report speeding boaters to police and game wardens, in the hope that a special patrol of game wardens would be justified.

Keller said people often just fail to make the connection between piloting their boat quickly and environmental degradation, and she hopes to encourage a mindset of individual stewardship.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:



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