Officials from Standish, Portland Water District and Sebago Boating Club are close to an agreement that would allow residents lake access.

The Standish Town Council will vote Aug. 11 on a management plan and two lease agreements that could collectively impose a cap of 400 people and 75 boats on the sandbar beach located on the western shore of Sebago Lake.

On June 9, Standish voters approved a $441,565 bond question that will facilitate the conversion of the Cargill lot that includes the sandbar beach, which has been used primarily by boaters associated with the Sebago Boating Club since 1985, into a public beach facility for both boaters and Standish residents. The approved beach bond will fund the construction of a 1,200-foot access road from Harmon’s Beach Road and a series of right-of-way acquisitions to enable construction of the access road.

Next month, the town of Standish, the boating club and the Portland Water District, which owns the sandbar beach, are set to sign off on a set of leases and a beach management plan that will clarify the rules that will govern the beach, which was named the John Rich Jr. Memorial Beach in March 2014 and is separated from the mainland by wetlands.

If the draft agreements are approved, the town of Standish will lease the beach from the Portland Water District for 25 years at a rate of $100 per year, with an option to renew the agreement for another 25 years. The shoreline will be divided between a cordoned-off swimming area and an area for 75 boats affiliated with the boating club. A maximum 200 members of the boating club will be allowed on the beach at any one time, while 400 people in total will be allowed on the beach at any time. All beach users will be required to obtain a season sticker, either through the town or the boating club, depending on their preferred means of entry to the sand bar beach. The draft agreements do not yet specify the sticker prices.

Under the current arrangement, Standish, the water district, and the boating club have a three-way lease in which the town pays $500 a year to lease the beach, which the boating club maintains. Standish boaters are allowed to use the beach for free, while non-Standish residents pay $100 fee to join the club, which allows them access to the beach. While a maximum of 100 boats are allowed at the beach, there is no maximum head count in place.

According to Bill Lunt, a member of the Portland Water District board of trustees and the liaison between the town and the district, the agreements seem likely to be approved.

“As far as I know, we will probably agree to it,” Lunt said. “It looks like everybody’s pretty much on the same page.”

Originally, town officials advocated the public beach only be open to Standish residents, according to Beach Committee Chairman Steve Nesbitt. Given that, even though the representatives of the boating club originally pushed to maintain the 100-boat cap, they still support the pending agreements, according to club Commodore Joel Campbell.

“We have no choice,” Campbell said. “We’re taking what we can get.”

But not everyone is satisfied with the compromise. Boating club member and Standish resident Brian Webb, a supporter of the public beach who is also a columnist for the Lakes Region Weekly, said he is concerned that there will not be enough room for 75 boats and 400 people.

“Everybody’s trying to work together, but having been around and seeing how much space 75 boats takes up, that’s going to be a clash,” he said. “My feeling is you’re going to have a clash of authority here.”

Nesbitt said that he thinks those numbers could prove restrictive on busy holidays, such as July 4. In that case, paid beach attendants employed by the town and the boating club will turn people away. Furthermore, the beach management plan can be changed annually, Nesbitt said.

“We are looking at the experience from the Portland Water District and the history with the boating club,” Nesbitt said. “And if they feel comfortable starting at 400, that’s what we will certainly work with. This is all a little bit of trial and error.”

The water district recommended the specific numerical caps on people and boats, according to Lunt.

“It’s based on history and then it will be followed up by actual data collected over time,” Lunt said. “That’s about the best you can do, I guess. The boat club’s been using that facility for a number of years. They’ve loaded that with people on occasion and they’ve had problems.”

Under the draft Standish Beach Management Plan, the town of Standish will be responsible for E. coli bacteria testing every Saturday and Sunday around noon at three different locations. If any of the tests are higher than the EPA-recommended safe swimming beach level of 235 coliform forming units per 100 milliliters, the town will immediately close the beach and re-test the water.

The town plans to enlist the Pentagon’s Innovative Readiness Training labor assistance program in beach infrastructure construction efforts, including a boardwalk through wetlands connecting the beach and a new parking lot. According to Town Manager Gordon Billington, officials with the Pentagon program, which uses the National Guard and other military to provide labor, have indicated they are willing to assist the town with heavy equipment operators, project managers and truck drivers, although nothing has been formalized yet.

Even if the agreements are approved next month, there are more hurdles to come. Town officials hope to complete the project by either the summer of 2016 or 2017, according to Nesbitt.

“Once these agreements are passed, the boat club still has to move forward an operational budget through the Town Council and set a fee schedule,” Nesbitt said. “We have to finish acquiring the access land that we need to access the Portland Water District property, and then Mr. Billington mentioned the National Guard possibly helping out, and we’re looking into that as well. But we’re moving forward with all those fronts. We’re hoping to start construction by next spring.”

Members of the Sebago Boating Club enjoy the sandbar beach on the Western shore of Sebago Lake. Representatives of the boating club, the town of Standish and the Portland Water District have drafted agreements that will limit the number of boats and people using the beach to any given time to 75 and 400, respectively, in coming years. Staff photo by Ezra Silk


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