By Ike Morgan: DEXTER - Greg Brawn, Dexter Water District Chairman is quite blunt with his words when he says the proposed boat launch on Lake Wasookeag has the potential to be a serious threat to Dexter’s water supply.
“To have a boat launch only 681 feet away from the intake valve for the entire town’s drinking source is a danger that we just don’t need to have,” said Brawn. “There are 2,200 customers served by that source as well as future generations who will hopefully have access to a quality source of water…it is our job to protect the water and that is why we are definitely opposed to the new launch”.
The proposed boat launch, which was approved by the town’s planning board would be located on Route 23 at the site of an existing rest area owned by the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT). The MDOT has offered to refurbish the site and construct a boat launch that would allow greater lake access for larger boats. Presently, the lone public boat launch on the small lake makes it necessary for all boats to go under the bridge on Rte. 23 to access the big lake. Clearance under the bridge is not enough to accommodate some larger watercrafts.
The ongoing battle between the Dexter Town Council and the Dexter Water District over the proposed boat launch appears to have entered its final phase as the issue will now be decided in court. The water district will be filing a brief in Superior Court at which time the town and the MDOT will have 30 days in which to respond.
Dexter Town Manager Dave Pearson appears resigned to the fact that a judge’s decision will finally put to rest what has been several years of disagreement about the launch. “It’s back in front of the judge, if we lose we lose, if we win, well…good. We can start building the launch in the spring”.
A recent compromise proposed by the water district would have lowered the water level by 6 or 12 inches in the spring to allow more access for larger boats attempting to get from the small lake to the large lake. The town council voted 6-1 to reject the compromise citing information provided by Bill Woodward, biologist for the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Woodward, in a letter to the council, stated that lowering the water level would have a negative impact on several of the fish species in the lake and could cause problems with algae growth. Greg Brawn disagreed with this assessment.
“Over the course of a few years, the lake level fluctuates a great deal with no negative impact at all, those who think a one-foot lowering would harm the lake do not know what they are talking about,” he said.
Brawn also acknowledged all the efforts to avoid litigation have been exhausted and the issue will be decided by a judge.
The town council argues the new launch will provide increased access for all boaters on the lake and that the water district has failed to provide hard scientific proof that this site will impact the water quality of the lake.
Brawn disagrees. He cites information presented to the council by the Maine Rural Water Board stating a boat launch that close to the water intake valve could lead to the increased risk of oil, gas, and human contagion contamination.
“This is an issue of risk management…it’s an added danger we just don’t need to have”, he said. “The water district has no problem with boating on the lake, but this is not a boating issue, it is the potential of having a serious effect on Dexter’s water supply” he said. “There is the possibility of having to shut down the water plant if there is an accident at this site”. He noted that state entities such as the Department of Human Services recommend boat launches be located up to 2 miles away from intake valves.
Brawn also believes that it is a very small proportion of boats that can’t gain access to the big lake. “I would approximate that 90% of the boat traffic on the lake is not big boats and any that can’t fit under the bridge can usually gain access at other points on the lake”, he said.
Brawn also expressed serious concerns about the process that led to the present situation. “I believe the planning board did not exhibit due diligence when issuing a permit for this project. They failed to develop a complete set of specific plans that are required of everyone in applying for a project such as this… they did not follow standard procedure in issuing a permit because they were pressured by the DOT to make a commitment”.
Proponents of a new boat launch say the water district and other lake groups are engaging in typical scare tactics that have no basis in fact. In a letter to the editor to thedailyme.com website Jeff Nicholas of Palmyra wrote:
“The Water District says they will accept compromise, but in reality they want the ramp closed, which has the effect of denying the people of Maine access to the lake… What it boils down to is this. The State DOT offered to provide a Free State of the art ramp to the citizens of Dexter, and special interest groups have pulled everything they can come up with to prevent or stall the project”.
Other proponents say a new boat launch would be built within strict environmental standards and safety guidelines as part of the overall plan.
Asked if the boat launch were approved and there was a major accident at the site, Brawn replied, “if something happens that effects Dexter’s water supply then it should be noted that the water district has given plenty of warning”.
Both the town and the water district are in the process of developing arguments that will be presented to the court at a future date.
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