ELLSWORTH — A floating party house or a place for family recreation on a summer’s day? Green Lake residents upset over the presence of a home-built house float anchored close to shore filled the council chambers for a workshop on the issue on July 15. The owners of the house float, Terry Pinkham and Jason Spinney, told councilors that it was used for family recreation, and they had moved it to a new location.
But that should not preclude them from returning to the cove in the future, said Spinney.
In Maine, property rights on waterfront land end at the mean low tide, but the public has the right to “fish, fowl or navigate” between the high- and low-water marks on otherwise private land. Mooring is included as an allowed activity under this law, which comes out of Maine’s Colonial Ordinance of 1647, which was written when Maine was still a Massachusetts territory.
But for residents who are paying high taxes for a lakefront property, having boats anchored for days at a time near their private beaches and shores is a question of fairness as well as law. The house float was anchored off a private Green Lake beach all last summer and again starting this June. It also draws other boats that tie up or linger for hours. Residents pointed to other Maine towns that have enacted mooring ordinances or revised harbor ordinances to address the issue more strictly than the state does.
“I’m not happy,” Green Lake resident Louis Lenfest told councilors. “I pay a lot of money and that’s not what I want to see outside my window.”
About 36 Green Lake residents attended the council workshop, called so councilors could hear from city staff and residents as councilors mull over drafting a city ordinance to address the issue.
Other Maine towns have done just that, and Economic Development Director Janna Richards outlined a Harrison mooring ordinance created, in part, to ensure that mooring installations do not “infringe on the interest of property owners.” The ordinance requires registering a mooring, and the written permission of a property owner for non-owners to moor 100 to 200 feet from the normal high-water line.
“There’s a lot for the council to consider,” Richards said, including resources for enforcement of the ordinance for which “we just don’t have the capacity in-house right now.”
The house float owners do not want the city to regulate.
“I’m 100 percent not in favor of an ordinance,” Pinkham said following the meeting. “It’s not even a city issue, it’s a state issue.”
But Green Lake resident Andy Hamilton, one of the residents who had turned to the council in April, said he just seeks balance between public access and riparian owners such as himself.
“We all respect the ability to have access to the great ponds,” he said. “[But] public use is not unlimited.”
Councilor Gene Lyons had spoken with the float owners prior to the workshop, noting they were open to a gentlemen’s agreement with lakefront residents.
“I think it’s something that can definitely be solved between the two parties,” Spinney said, while Pinkham was more cautious, saying he was “not opposed” to it. Hamilton said, “I’m not optimistic, but I’m open [to it].”
But that ship may have sailed. Pinkham and Spinney may not favor an ordinance, but Green Lake residents at the workshop meeting appeared to.
“This [house float] is just one example,” Green Lake resident Layne Rowe said. “I don’t think it’s going to go away.”
Held as a workshop meeting, no council action was taken.