With his regular access to the Spurwink River unavailable now, Peter Angis, who makes his living clamming, might have to leave his boat in the water this winter. And that makes him nervous.

“I don’t think people understand – I’ve got $5,000 floating out there,” said Angis of his 16-foot boat.

The problem for Angis, a former Scarborough town councilor, is that a ban on motor boats is now being enforced at the place many local shell fisherman have used for years to launch their boats – access to the Spurwink River on the border between Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, just off of Route 77. The site is part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, which recently built a handicap-accessible pier and regraded the bank next to it, covering it in rock and making it much steeper.

Until this year, said Angis, fishermen had used the bank there to launch their boats. While Angis said he has no problem with the new fishing and observation pier, he is angry that he and others can no longer use a place he’s been launching from for more than 40 years.

Ward Feurt, the manager of the preserve, said that for at least 11 years, the area has been posted as closed except for portage of boats like canoes and kayaks.

“It’s a popular fishing spot, and it has been for a long time,” said Feurt.

To stop people from parking illegally and to create handicap access, the preserve built the pier and a small parking lot, said Feurt. In between the bank and the pier, he added, is a spot to launch kayaks and canoes.

“We’re always going to come down on the side of wildlife,” said Feurt. “That’s the law we operate under. It’s not like I can make my mind up on that – the wildlife refuge is here for the wildlife.”

Angis said he never saw any posting forbidding motor-boat launchings.

The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 1966 and named for Carson in 1969. Carson, who died in 1964, wrote the influential book, “Silent Spring,” which connected chemical pesticide use with environmental impact. The refuge is now scattered along 50 miles of Maine coast in York and Cumberland counties and has 5,293 acres. The refuge is still busy acquiring land and once complete, will contain about 9,125 acres.

Banning motorized boats, said Feurt, is necessary to protect delicate nesting areas and migratory birds that depend on areas like marshes, clam flats and the Spurwink River. The new pier and parking lot were built with the environment in mind, added Feurt. The pavement is designed to absorb any runoff from cars, and the pier itself is made of a plastic lumber. The pier, finished this summer, was built by members of a Youth Conservation Corps, said Feurt. The materials cost about $30,000, money provided by the federal government.

The pier and parking lot, said Feurt, guarantee access to the public. “We try to accommodate wildlife dependable activities,” said Feurt, such as birdwatching, kayaking, canoing and fishing.

A canoe or kayak, said Angis, isn’t a feasible way to transport his clams and would take him twice the amount of time to paddle back to shore.

“Without a boat ramp, there is so much more work to get our clams up river,” said Angis. “It takes a half hour with an outboard to get back to the landing. If I were in a canoe or kayak after five or six hours of digging, it would take me more than an hour.”

For now, said Angis, he keeps his boat in the river and walks across his friend’s property to get to it. Keeping the boat in the water, said Angis, especially in the winter, is risky.

“Try to go against the ice,” said fellow shell fisherman Tim Downs, “and you could go out with the tide.”

Downs, a former planning board member, town councilor, Scarborough Land Trust trustee and secretary for the town’s Shellfish Committee, is letting Angis take the lead on the access dispute, though he is also concerned.

Downs, like Angis, grew up clamming in Scarborough and used the Spurwink River.

“Pete’s very intelligent,” said Downs. “I trust him completely in this.”

Though Downs said the previous makeshift ramp was crude, it was much better than nothing at all.

Angis would like the rocks on the bank removed to allow him to back a boat trailer to the water. At the last Scarborough Town Council meeting on Dec. 20, Angis asked the council to look into moving the rocks and building a small, 8-foot boat ramp in their place. Angis suggested a permit system to regulate use of the ramp.

“All we want is to get a trailer in and out,” said Angis, who told the council that after two months of calling, he spoke with the office of Maine Sen. Susan Collins about the problem.

“We didn’t even know about it until it was built,” said Angis.

Councilor Sylvia Most recommended that the council refer the request to the finance committee to see if a boat ramp could fit into the capital improvements budget before going any further.

“Scarborough has an active fishing community,” said Most. “Whether this impacted it inadvertently or on purpose, it is a role of the council to advocate for local businesses.”

According to Town Manger Ron Owens, the refuge did present plans of the pier to the council, but the land is not owned by the town.

The refuge went to the town, said Feurt, as a part of the lengthy permitting process. A stipulation of the Natural Resources Protection Act permit, added Feurt, required the town review the project.

“We need this. We’ve traditionally used it,” said Angis after the meeting. “This is a problem everywhere. Fishermen are getting closed out of a lot of areas.”


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