2012-08-24 / Community

Town manager: beach plan doesn’t work

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


The state of Maine leases the section of Crescent Beach State Park that includes the current access road and much of the current parking lot from the Sprague Corp. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by the time the state’s lease expires in April 2013, the state will have to change the parking alignment. (Jack Flagler photo) The state of Maine leases the section of Crescent Beach State Park that includes the current access road and much of the current parking lot from the Sprague Corp. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by the time the state’s lease expires in April 2013, the state will have to change the parking alignment. (Jack Flagler photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — The state of Maine and the Sprague Corp. are still working on an agreement for a long-term extension of the Crescent Beach State Park lease that would keep the beach open to the public. But as the expiration date of the lease in April 2013 draws closer, the town of Cape Elizabeth has begun discussions with both parties to plan for what will happen should the two sides fail to come to an agreement.

Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern reviewed a preliminary design for the park from Skip Varney, director of engineering and real property in the Maine Department of Conservation.


Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern said in a memo to the town council this proposal from the state is “not in anyone’s long-term interest.” (courtesy image) Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern said in a memo to the town council this proposal from the state is “not in anyone’s long-term interest.” (courtesy image) The design would move the new parking lot for the state park across to the east side of Inn by the Sea. A new access road to the lot would have to be built, because the state currently leases land from Sprague Corp. that includes the access road. According to that design, the new access road from Route 77 would be significantly shorter than the current layout.

“Our intent for having the parking lot closer to the street is to lessen the environmental impact to the area while allowing our patrons to walk to the beach area,” Varney said in an email to McGovern.

But McGovern said the new design “doesn’t make any sense” for the town. He said the plan would cause traffic backups on Route 77, cause the town to lose farmland the new lot would be built on, and the parking area would be too close to other properties. Additionally, McGovern said the road going through the park to a smaller lot to accommodate overflow parking and those with special needs would “cut through the spine of the park.”

McGovern said in an Aug. 17 memo to the town council, the project “Is not in anyone’s long-term interests.”

The council will become involved in the discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 5, when a workshop is scheduled.

Varney said the proposal town officials have reviewed is not set in stone. In fact, he said it is one of eight different options. If changes do have to be made, Varney said, they will be made with the interests of the town and its residents in mind.

“Everything we’re looking at, we want to be looking at the impact to the environment and the neighbors, and make sure we’re doing it properly,” Varney said.

The overarching goal for the state of Maine, Sprague Corp. and the town of Cape Elizabeth is to make no changes at Crescent Beach and find an agreement for new terms on a lease or a plan for the state to acquire the park outright that won’t interrupt public access at all.

“We’re talking with the folks at the state and we’re still hopeful. I think we’re making a little bit of progress but things are slow,” said Seth Sprague, president of Sprague Corp.

Will Harris, who is director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, is on the other side of negotiations from Sprague, but he emphasized the shared priorities of the two parties.

“The biggest goal is to keep Crescent Beach open and accessible to Maine residents and visitors,” Harris said.

What the two sides can’t agree on, Harris said, is the issue of “dollars and cents.” The state of Maine leased the land for 50 years for $1 a year until 2010. When that lease expired, Sprague said his family’s corporation was “not in a position to continue to make it available for free.”

Harris said he has been involved in negotiations surrounding Crescent Beach since he took over as director of parks and lands in 2007. The two sides have agreed to extend the lease on a year-to-year basis since 2010. Harris said there have been discussions around extending the lease another year while the two sides come to “a workable, long-term solution,” but he did not say if that was a viable or realistic option.

Although Sprague Corp. and the state of Maine wouldn’t divulge too many details about the ongoing talks, both sides made it clear that difficult economic times have strained the negotiations.

“The state is in kind of tough financial straights,” Harris said, which has created what he called a “thorny issue.”

McGovern said while it may be easy to place blame on the parties involved in the current negotiations, the real issue goes back further than just this year.

“Unfortunately over the last five to seven years when this should have happened the state didn’t make it a priority,” McGovern said. “It’s easy in this environment to blame Gov. (Paul) LePage but this is an issue that was dumped into his lap.”

LePage was elected governor in November 2010 and assumed office in January 2011. The $1 lease for the state expired around the same time.

Cape Elizabeth resident Laura Libby, who visited the beach with her two sons David, 10, and Andrew, 7, on a recent Friday afternoon, said she hasn’t followed the local news too closely as the negotiations between Sprague Corp. and the state unfold, but Libby was surprised to see the usuallyprivate Spragues in the headlines in a negative light.

“The Spragues must feel really strongly about it. They don’t usually put themselves out there,” Libby said.

Fellow beach-goer Bruce Chalmers, a Portland resident, said he’s confident the two sides will eventually come to an agreement.

“I would think they would work it out. If they don’t it would be a sad state,” Chalmers said.

Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at sentry.mainelymediallc.com to leave your thoughts.

Return to top