The Standish boat launch has been reborn smaller and more expensive, but still a victory for town officials who wanted to residents and visitors alike a way to get on to Sebago Lake.

The boat launch was officially opened Friday at noon with a ceremony involving local and state officials, as well as town employees who had a hand in the construction. The area, off Route 35 in Sebago Lake Village, is now known as Sebago Lake Station Landing, a name that harkens back to a time when the railroad and the lake combined to give Standish a potent economic engine.

The new launch also comes with new fees. Parking for residents, which used to be free, is now $5 a day, while nonresidents must pay $15 a day. The fees go to the town to help pay for the supervision and maintenance. The launch will be policed by both town workers and someone representing the Portland Water District, which owns the land around the launch.

Not long after noon Friday, Mark and Edwina Bates of Gorham pulled up, as they have many times, to the Standish boat launch, their boat, trailer and two kids in tow. Pavement and parking spots now cover what was once a wide open dirt area, and trees have been removed from the formerly narrow entrance road, providing a panoramic view of the lake.

“It’s nicer. It looks cleaner,” said Edwina Bates as her husband jumped out of the truck to check on the boat. The new pavement covers just a portion of the old dirt area, and parking has been cut down considerably. Where once 100-140 boat trailers could fit, there are only 39 spots now. “I wish we had more parking, but you have to be first I guess.”

It is a victory unto itself, town officials said, that the boat launch is open just in time for the summer season. The launch has been the subject of a long debate between the town and the district, which wants to cut down on the use of the lake in the area because of concerns over water quality. The site is near the intake pipe the draws drinking water for almost 200,000 people in southern Maine, and the rules of the launch prohibit bodily contact with the water.

The district has in the past offered to build a parking lot at the site or move the launch to the new location, but the requests were shot down by Standish voters.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that the town had a 99-foot right of way to the lake. In March, the district cut off the area outside of the right of way to parking, so the town, which had prepared for such an event, started building the new lot. Residents approved a bond two years ago in anticipation of a showdown over the parking area, so the $125,000 for the project was already set aside, said Councilor Phil Pomerleau.

“We saw it. We didn’t get blindsided. We didn’t want to get into a position where we were knee-jerk,” Pomerleau said.

With only the 99-foot right of way to work with, the town could only create 39 spots for trailers, plus seven more for vehicles without trailers and five free, one-hour spots for scenic viewing.

The spots themselves are 43 feet long, which may cause a problem for some boaters. The Bates’ boat was a little more than 22 feet long, hardly the biggest boat on Sebago, and their trailer barely stayed within the test markers drawn in the parking lot. The truck and trailer just did squeeze into a parking spot, with the back tires of the trailer resting on the dirt.

“It’s tight. Too tight,” said Town Manager Gordon Billington as he surveyed the new launch prior to the ceremony Friday.

Councilors, too, said Friday that the new area makes the best out of an imperfect scenario.

“It doesn’t accommodate as many boaters, but we’ll do the best we can,” said Councilor Louis Stack.

It’ll be a race to gobble up the few spots at the launch, which used to draw as many as 140 boats on a busy summer day, said Pomerleau.

“As long as they are one of the first 39 boaters, they’ll be happy,” he said.

The people on hand to take fees will probably find themselves in the middle of disputes over parking, which used to occur even when there was room for more than 100 trailers, Billington said. “That’s kind of his role down here, to keep people civil,” he said.

But what the launch has lost in parking it has gained in other ways, said Billington. Up until construction started and the trees were removed, the lake, such an integral part of Sebago Lake Village, couldn’t even be seen from the road.

“It’s great to restore the view back to the village,” said Billington. “It just opens the view up to the village.”

Area residents are pleased with the new view, as well.

“I own two pieces of property up on the corner. I own lakefront property now,” said Brenda Walker, with a laugh. “It’s amazing how many people have commented about coming down over the hill and seeing the lake. It’s beautiful.”

The launch, and the rail that runs through it, were once central to the town’s commerce, officials said at the ceremony. Standish farmers brought their goods to the station that sat on Sebago’s shores in order to ship them to Portland by rail and across the lake by boat.

“The area was made by rail and this road. This was the eight-rod road that went to the lake. It was a rural community supporting the commerce that took place in Portland,” said Bud Benson, the town planner.

It could be central to Standish again, said Billington and state Rep. Mike Shaw, D-Standish. Efforts are underway to reactivate the rail, which could help draw more people to the village, sparking the local economy, with the new launch a central part to the revitalization.

“There’s a lot more that could happen and should happen,” said state Rep. Mike Shaw.


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