March 3, 2013

Accusations, legal briefs fly in battle over future of Clary Lake dam

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

WHITEFIELD — Pessimism is growing about the future of Clary Lake and its dilapidated dam as a complicated fight deepens among residents, state environmental officials and the dam’s owners.

click image to enlarge

Paul Kelley, the manager of the company that owns the Clary Lake dam in Whitefield, is pictured at the property Tuesday.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Some property owners on Clary Lake who are fed up with low water levels caused by the deterioration of the lake’s dam filed a petition last year asking the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to order a higher water level.

The case had been stalled since the dam’s owners filed a motion for that request to be dismissed, saying a department official conducted an unauthorized water depth study without alerting both parties and after improper communication with the property owners.

It appears the department will deny the dam owners’ motion to dismiss in a decision expected this week.

Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP, said the Office of the Maine Attorney General confirmed it was appropriate for the DEP staffer to conduct the study without notifying the parties. The department hopes to have a final decision by the summer, although an appeal is likely, Depoy-Warren said.

The owners of the dam, Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, originally purchased the mill across the street from the dam in 2003 to renovate the property into a working hydraulic dam again and add up to six residential and commercial units to the mill, according to the company manager. The mill is more than a hundred years old

The company successfully petitioned the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to add the mill and the dam as a contributing structure to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

The dam, with a 0.13-acre strip of land, was purchased in 2006 by the company in order to protect a small house on the lot from possibly being removed, said Paul Kelley, manager of Pleasant Pond Mill LLC. 

The mill is on about 3 acres on the west side of Route 218 with another dam in front of the mill. Water from the two dams feed into the Sheepscot River. 

Seven years after it bought the mill, the partnership fell apart when it was clear to some members that development at the mill was unattainable, Kelley said.

A different company formed, AquaFortis Associates, to buy the mill, the 1-acre strip abutting the dam property and the house, leaving Kelley managing Pleasant Pond Mill LLC and the dam.

Richard Smith, of Camden, left Pleasant Pond Mill LLC to join AquaFortis Associates.

Kelley blames the lack of progress in developing the property on Whitefield town officials, who he said refused to work toward a viable solution for the dam and mill despite a willingness from his company to invest in the properties.

But town officials say local and state ordinances and regulations made the company’s plan impossible to allow.

A restoration of the historic mill and dam in Whitefield, at least in the way the company had proposed, is unlikely without significant effort and additional studies by the company, said Bob Bills, chairman and longtime member of the Planning Board.

Bills has done business previously with Pleasant Pond Mill LLC. He designed the septic system for the mill property during the sale process. 

Kelley said his company did its due diligence before purchasing the property but was met with a town unwilling to put forth the effort to complete the project and change outdated ordinances.

Water wars

George Ferguson, spokesman for the property petitioners and a member of the Clary Lake Association, said the water level issue at the lake has been going on intermittently for more than 50 years.

The issue was contentious well before Pleasant Pond Mill LLC bought the land.

(Continued on page 2)

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