Friday, May 24, 2013
As we continue to starve our natural resource agencies of funding, the impact is more and more difficult to watch. Here's a sad tale about one of the state's most popular beaches with a sidebar lament for two endangered species.
More than 110,000 people enjoy Cape Elizabeth's Crescent Beach State Park every year, making it as popular as Popham and Reid.
The park is a partnership between the state's Bureau of Parks and Lands and the Sprague family's corporation, which owns 100 of the park's 187 acres including most of the road into the park, a third of the parking lot and a quarter of the beach.
Starting in 1960, the Spragues generously leased their land to the state without charge. When the lease expired in 2010 after 50 years, however, the family had expanded to new generations, some of whom would like to turn the property into cash, perfectly understandable.
Over the last two years, negotiations between the state and the Spragues have been ongoing, with the lease extended annually and the state providing about $10,000 a year for the lease.
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Parks and Lands, lacking the support of either the governor or the Legislature, has no money to pay more for this lease, or to buy the property -- something the Spragues explored with the state until recently.
Even if the family wanted to sell its land to the state, our Land for Maine's Future Fund is out of money, and Gov. Paul LePage says if we vote for the LMF $5 million bond on this year's ballot, he won't sell that bond or spend that money.
Now the Sprague family, which must be exasperated with the state's situation, has offered a lease at a price that is not yet disclosed, but which one local observer said is "very reasonable."
Still, BPL doesn't have the money -- and won't have it anytime soon. Even the $10,000 fee for this year's lease, which expires in April, was difficult to find. The Sprague Corporation manages Scarborough Beach for the state, sharing a portion of the revenue with the state. BPL gave up its share of that revenue to fund the $10,000 lease for Crescent Beach.
Will Harris, BPL's capable director, who told me he's "looking for a permanent solution that keeps the park together," has alarmed a number of people by suggesting a new park entrance road that would be entirely on state land, but require vehicles to drive over the back of the sand dunes to get to the parking lot and the park's building that includes rest rooms and concessions.
This alarm was expressed to me most clearly by Rauni Kew, marketing director for Cape Elizabeth's Inn by the Sea that is adjacent to the park and just behind the beach. The Inn has spent a ton of money turning two acres of parkland into suitable habitat for the endangered cottontail rabbit, something Kew proudly calls her "rabitat."
The cottontail, once prolific from southeastern New York to southern Maine, has lost 86 percent of its habitat since the 1960s, according to the Wildlife Management Institute.
Crescent Beach State Park has more cottontails than any other place in Maine.
Crescent Beach also is designated as essential habitat for endangered piping plovers. They're in worse shape than the rabbits.
In order to stop harassment of plovers by people and their pets, game wardens got a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant so they could spend time enforcing the laws that protect plovers.
You may have read recently about a case in which the wardens encountered a group that was camping beside the plovers and had destroyed their nests and even stolen DIF&W's camera at that site.
Unfortunately, the grant money has been spent and that special enforcement detail will end if DIF&W can't win another grant.
The new park road would travel right through the habitat, piping plovers to the left, cottontail rabbits to the right. That's unimaginable and unacceptable.
The road will require permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and Maine's Department of Environmental Protection. Will Harris said he must submit a permit application to the agencies by mid-October, in order to have the new road in place before the state's lease expires with the Spragues next April.
Stuck between piping plovers and cottontail rabbits, between his state agency and the Sprague family, and between his desire for a permanent solution and his lack of funding, this is certainly no day at the beach for Harris.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.