2018-10-12 / Front Page

Report touts move of cove boat launch

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Lobster traps rest at the shore of Cape Elizabeth’s Kettle Cove commercial boat launch, while some of those boats sit moored at the ready. A new report looking at coastal access issues not formally studied since 1988 has recommended several changes, including a move of the cove’s public boat launch. (Duke Harrington photo) Lobster traps rest at the shore of Cape Elizabeth’s Kettle Cove commercial boat launch, while some of those boats sit moored at the ready. A new report looking at coastal access issues not formally studied since 1988 has recommended several changes, including a move of the cove’s public boat launch. (Duke Harrington photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — The report of an ad hoc harbors committee has recommended a number of changes in Cape Elizabeth, including the move of the public boat launch at Kettle Cove.

The committee was created in October 2016 and given $15,000 to cover expenses. Its final 196-page report was delivered in May to the town council, which workshopped its recommendations on Sept. 17 and Oct. 2.

The council was scheduled to refer to its ordinance sub-committee proposed amendments to the town’s Coastal Waters and Harbor Ordinance.


A satellite image from a recent report of the Cape Elizabeth Harbors Committee Report shows the various points at Kettle Cove, include the current and suggested new locations of the public boat launch. (Courtesy image) A satellite image from a recent report of the Cape Elizabeth Harbors Committee Report shows the various points at Kettle Cove, include the current and suggested new locations of the public boat launch. (Courtesy image) Those changes are mostly minor, such as eliminating references to buoy color, since the bouy in question was painted at some point and isn’t the color described in the ordinance. Other recommendations include the definitions for “houseboat” and “overhaul.”

The biggest change is the suggestion to move the public boat launch at Kettle Cove.

According to the report, the Kettle Cove/ Crescent Beach area is “the one coastline in Cape Elizabeth that needs solutions,” given that it presents “ongoing challenge of varying commercial and recreational uses, state and local jurisdictional boundaries and responsibilities, and often conflicting neighborhood interests.”

Technically named Seal Cove, but more popularly known as Kettle Cove, the area between McKenney Point and Richmond Island’s East Point is owned by the state. The cove is considered Cape’s primary harbor, however, and the town maintains a public access point.

When issues at the cove were raised in 2015 by Councilor Caitlin Jordan as part of that year’s council goal-setting session, she said she was concerned ongoing friction could squeeze out fishermen and the history of Kettle Cove as a working waterfront.

In 2011 the town held a forum on harbors, at which lobstermen who work the waters off Kettle Cove asked the town and the state to unclog congestion on the one usable boat landing in Two Lights State Park, located in a section adjacent to Crescent Beach, known as Boat Cove.

Lobstermen complained at the time of a gaggle of canoes and kayaks, along with associated camping gear, lined up waiting to launch at the same time they were trying to earn a living.

Too often, they said, someone with no understanding of the tides would try to launch a pleasure boat at the wrong time, resulting in a stuck vehicle in the muck that backed up working access even further.

There is a separate public launch that is limited to Cape residents only, but the Cape Elizabeth Fishermen’s Alliance, along with many residents who took a survey included in the report, have proposed relocating the existing public beach access to a historical boat launch area further to the northwest off of Kettle Cove Road. That area was discontinued several years ago “due to improper activities,” the report says, and access blocked by “large boulders placed by the state along the west side of Kettle Cove Road.”

That access point was then allowed to become overgrown with vegetation by the state, which took ownership of much of the land in the area a century ago to create Crescent Beach and Two Lights state parks. Still, it is believed that the gravel base of that old access point still exists in some form.

The report backs the move idea, further suggesting that the current public launch site be converted to pedestrian-only shore access.

According to the report, “state representatives stated that the state would be very much behind the effort to move the public vehicle beach access and would not impede its progress.” However, “any improvements to reuse it would need to be funded by the town,” with improvements “engineered and properly permitted.”

It also notes a state demand for a “comprehensive agreement between the state and the town that stipulates each party’s responsibilities. That agreement would need to be followed by an easement which would allow the town to construct and maintain the improvements as well as operate the boat launch,” the report says.

Fishermen’s Alliance members say they also want an agreement — one that guarantees their continued access to the commercial launch site, which they still share with the police department WETeam.

“There is nothing in writing at all that says that’s commercial,” group spokesman Nate Perry said at the Oct. 2 workshop.

“We all say it’s commercial access,” Perry said. “The town put up a sign that says it’s commercial. But legally, of somebody wanted to challenge it — and it has been challenged — the state says, ‘We have no right to stop anyone. That’s a public beach.’”

“That’s state property. It’s not our property. And there’s nothing in writing that says it’s commercial access, and it’s been a chronic problem over the years.”

The committee has backed the alliance request for a formal negotiated agreement.

The report also advocates for a fix of stormwater drainage lines in the area, given that most of the water in the area now dumps right into the area of curren public launch, which tends to drive some to attempt use of the commercial site.

“The biggest problem is the erosion of that [public] ramp,” 50-year fisherman Daniel Harriman told the council October 3. “When the town installed that stormwater system, all the area from that neighborhood lands at that eroding ramp. If you go down there right now it [the resulting washout] is about three feet deep.”

One concern about improving the Kettle Cove public boat launch will result in more traffic to an area that already has very limited parking and no options for expansion.

“In a reverse of the theory that if you build it they will come, the public boat launch at Bug Light Park in South Portland will always be more reliable,” Perry said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@inthesentry.com.

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