Neighbors object to a ‘boardwalk to nowhere’

MOUNT DESERT — Developer Shep Harris has revised his plans for a boardwalk extending over marshland to a finger of water at the northern end of Echo Lake. But other nearby property owners still oppose his application for a conditional use permit.

Harris wants to build the 150-foot boardwalk across a lot owned by his son, Parker, so that residents of his Lakeside II and Lakeside III subdivisions can move kayaks and canoes to the lake.

The town’s Planning Board met March 9 to begin reviewing plans for the project but decided they needed more information. Since then, the plan has gone through several revisions. It no longer calls for a seasonal platform at the end of the boardwalk where canoes and kayaks could be stored.

The Planning Board resumed its consideration of the project Oct. 26 and continued its deliberations Nov. 2. The board has scheduled another meeting on the issue for Nov. 30.

Jules Opton-Himmel, a land use consultant hired by Harris, told the board at the Oct. 26 meeting that the latest plan meets all federal, state and local requirements.

“We’ve done everything we could to respond to your concerns,” he said. “And we’ve done everything we can to be respectful of the neighbors’ concerns and modify our application short of not building the project.”

But not building the boardwalk is exactly what members of the Echo Lake Owners Association and Echo Lake Road Association want. They say the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did not consider all relevant factors in issuing a permit for the project last year. The DEP determined that the boardwalk would “not unreasonably interfere with the existing scenic, aesthetic, recreational or navigational uses” of Echo Lake and would have no significant impact on plant or animal life.

Echo Lake residents Gregory and Ann Benz said in a letter to the Planning Board that the boardwalk would pose “a critical threat to the ecological health of Echo Lake, Denning Brook and the rest of its drainage system.”

Boardwalk opponents also maintain that, when the lake level is low, the water where the boardwalk would end is not deep enough to launch a kayak or canoe.

Echo Lake resident Sue Ferrante-Collier said it would be “a boardwalk to nowhere.”

Another Echo Lake resident, Jack Russell, told the Planning Board, “Our obvious concern is the prospect of a 60- or 70-foot kayak-dragging, wetland-damaging trek to the shallow, rocky shore for any attempt at lake access.”

Opton-Himmel said that on Sept. 1 he was able to launch a kayak where the boardwalk would end and paddle into the lake.

“I’m not saying it was easy or ideal,” he said. “Ideally, we would like to have the boardwalk extend farther into the lake, but we are limited by the LUZO.”

The town’s Land Use Zoning Ordinance limits piers and other structures that extend to bodies of water to 150 feet.

“Whether it’s an ideal location or not, I don’t think that has anything to do with whether we’re legally allowed to build this or not,” Opton-Himmel said of the boardwalk. “I think it still has utility and should be approved just like any other project that follows the letter of the law.”

Harris created his first Echo Lake development, called Lakeside I, in the late 1980s. He told the Planning Board last year that his intention had been to provide lake access for that and future Echo Lake developments. But due to what he said was an oversight by his attorney at the time, only the six Lakeside I lots were granted approval to access the lake across the easement on abutting property.

Since then, Harris has created Lakeside II and Lakeside III with a total of seven lots. He said the idea of a boardwalk emerged as a way to provide access to Echo Lake for those lots.

Boardwalk opponents claim that Harris only wants the boardwalk to make the lots more attractive to potential buyers. Russell called it “a misguided marketing gesture.”


Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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