December 23, 2013

DEP issues draft plan for Whitefield’s Clary Lake Dam

The longstanding water level dispute surrounding the Clary Lake Dam in Whitefield took a step forward last week when the Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft management plan.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft lake management plan late last week for the owner of Clary Lake Dam in Whitefield, setting deadlines for making repairs to the dam and outlining how it must be operated.

The plan, issued Thursday afternoon, is a draft, and parties have until Friday to submit comments to request clarifications or changes. There isn’t a timetable for when a final order will be issued.

The department has received complaints dating back more than 20 years about varying water levels of the 667-acre lake and the condition of the dam along Route 218, according to the draft plan.

Lakefront landowners in Whitefield and Jefferson submitted a petition more than two years ago requesting the department issue a water management plan over concerns that the lower lake level was hurtful to the surrounding wildlife and the recreational use of the lake. The dam owner has countered that because of damage the dam sustained by a storm in the fall of 2011, it’s unable to hold a higher water level without risking damage to a historical mill directly downstream.

The water level order, if issued as is by the department, would require the dam owner make repairs to the dam by next October.

The dam owner is also required to hire a professional licensed land surveyor to determine the lake’s historical normal high water line and keep the level no more than two feet below it at all times.

George Fergusson, spokesman for the petitioners, said he’s pleased with what’s included in the draft order.

Fergusson, who has criticized the department in the past for taking so long to resolve the issue, he said he expects the department to issue the final order sooner rather than later.

“I think they’re done dragging their feet. They certainly put together a very complex and detailed document, and I can see why it took as long as it did,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

Fergusson said he doesn’t plan to submit any recommended changes to the order. He expects the normal high water line to be set at the top of the dam, but the manager for the company that owns the dam disputed that the historical high level is that high during the department’s public hearing in August 2012.

Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, which bought the dam in 2006 to protect a small house on the property, bought the more than 100-year-old mill on the other side of Route 218 of the dam in 2003 to renovate the property into a working hydraulic dam again and add residential and commercial units to the mill. The partnership fell apart seven years later when some members felt the development was unattainable, according to Paul Kelley, manager of Pleasant Pond Mill LLC.

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

Kelley didn’t respond to an interview request for this story.

The spokeswoman for the department, Jessamine Logan, said the draft order could be changed depending on what the department receives for comments.

“We will be carefully considering those comments and may or may not include them in the final order. I’m sure we will receive comments from both sides,” she said.

Beth Callahan, project manager for the petition, said in an email that enforcement could be necessary if the deadlines in the final order aren’t met.

She said the department typically works with violators to bring sites or projects into compliance. The department usually issues a letter of warning and then a notice of violation, depending on the nature of the violation and the cooperation of the offender, Callahan said.

Logan said the water level management plan will remain in place even if the dam changes hands.

That could happen because Kelley filed a petition this year with the department to release ownership of the dam. State law requires a dam owner to get rid of the property by consulting with various parties to see if anyone is interested in taking the dam. If a new owner can’t be found, the department will order the release of water from the dam.

Pleasant Pond Mill LLC has until April to file a report on the consultation process, according to Logan. She said the department has heard of two parties, including the Clary Lake Association, that have expressed interest in owning the dam.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663pkoenig@centralmaine.comTwitter: @paul_koenig
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