Ellsworth City Hall

Mooring ordinance presented to council

ELLSWORTH — A controversial issue, first brought before the City Council over a year ago, reappeared on the docket at this month’s meeting.

City employees Janna Richards (economic development director) and Lori Roberts (code enforcement officer) on Monday presented a draft ordinance that “… restricts the overnight mooring/anchoring of boats, floats, houseboats, or other floating structures …” as they had been instructed to prepare by the council in September 2021.

“Throughout the past year and a half, we’ve heard several comments and concerns from both the public as well as the council … and we tried to narrow down the focus of what those concerns really are,” Richards explained. “We came up with the fact that there was a need for environmental protection on our Great Ponds within the city of Ellsworth as well as a concern for property rights and a need to regulate extended or overnight stays on Great Ponds.”

The best way to do that, they propose, is to ban any sort of craft that could possibly be considered a houseboat from being beached, grounded, tied or anchored anywhere in and around any Great Pond between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

The draft ordinance purposefully defines houseboat in a broad manner as “[a]ny ship, boat, raft, float, catamaran or marine craft of any description upon or within which are located sleeping and/or toilet facilities, regardless of whether such facilities are of a permanent or temporary nature.”

Enforcement of the ordinance would fall mostly on the shoulders of the Ellsworth Police Department, with code enforcement able to handle any complaints or violations during their hours of operation. City Manager and Police Chief Glenn Moshier said the department would use its drone in most cases or borrow a boat from the Fire Department or a local citizen as it has done in the past.

Richards noted that there had been discussion of including a provision that would allow boat owners to moor or anchor on the water if they receive written permission from a property owner as is the practice in other towns. Ultimately it was decided that allowing written permission would not accomplish the intended purpose of the ordinance.

“Staff believes that if the primary purpose of the proposed ordinance, which is environmental protection and to regulate extended overnight or short-term rentals on Great Ponds, that the ordinance should apply to all houseboats on Great Ponds in Ellsworth regardless of ownership by a landowner or permission from a landowner,” Richards explained.

She also noted that in New Hampshire there’s a system in place where property owners or people who have permission from property owners to moor their houseboats can do so as long as they file the necessary paperwork with whatever entity is charged with regulating the practice. This is something that could be replicable in Ellsworth if the necessary governmental structures were created but is not something that was included in this draft.

Discussion of the proposed ordinance was relatively tame compared to previous public hearings on the subject.

“I’ve spent my entire life on Green Lake and the waters of Maine and I’ve never heard of anything being drafted like this,” said Terry Pinkham, whose house float on Green Lake is what sparked these discussions. “We spend the winter out there on ice shacks to the tune of 120, we sleep in them overnight. People have to go to the bathroom out there as well. Nobody cares about that six months out of the year but for some reason these three summer months are a gigantic issue … I’m opposed to any ordinance in any manner restricting the Great Ponds of Maine Act.”

“Unlike ice shacks that are out there in the winter, which we absolutely tolerate, they’re part of Maine tradition, there’s something new that’s happening on Maine water … you’re going to see overnight rentals. And I think you have to do something and I think this is a sensible step,” said Andrew Hamilton, a Green Lake resident.

Councilor Steve O’Halloran was also opposed to the ordinance, offering an alternative solution to any sort of specific regulation.

“I’m for everybody getting along,” said O’Halloran, “and finding a way on Green Lake and Branch Lake and what have you, to let everybody have their fun and try to be respectful of everybody. I think there’s a root cause of this whole thing here and I would ask everyone to respect everyone.”

Specific feedback on the ordinance included a request to extend the hours of enforcement from sunset to sunrise as opposed to the specific hours of 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., though Richards noted that recreational fishing often begins before the sun is up and many of those craft may have restroom facilities on board.

Ultimately the motion was tabled so that the full council could weigh in with their thoughts. Councilor Gene Lyons, who has been involved in the previous discussions on this issue, was not present at the meeting.

Zachary Lanning

Zachary Lanning

News reporter Zach Lanning covers news and features in the Ellsworth area. He comes to Ellsworth by way of New Jersey, which he hopes you don't hold against him. Email him at [email protected].

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