ELLSWORTH — A bill seeking to provide clearer guidelines for the regulation of houseboats, floats and other floating dwellings on Maine lakes and ponds has been referred to state agencies for review and future recommendation. The proposed legislation has been watched with interest by city officials grappling with tensions between Green Lake property owners and recreational users of the lake.
The state Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee on Feb. 22 voted that LD 626, “An Act To Clarify Temporary Mooring Privileges for Moorings on Inland Waters,” ought to pass as a resolve directing state agencies to explore the issue and report recommendations back to the Legislature by January 2024.
Bill sponsor state Rep. Paul Stearns (R-Guilford) supported the move. “I’m fully on board with that and it is a complex problem and it’s going to require that much time for certain,” he said.
The bill would have required municipalities to have a designated official or entity responsible for overseeing mooring privileges in inland waters. It also would have directed the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (IFW) to develop model ordinance language for regulating moorings.
Committee members Feb. 22 recommended that the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, likely through its Submerged Lands Program, take the lead on further researching the issue. The agency will collaborate with the IFW and seek input from other stakeholders, such as the Maine Municipal Association and Maine harbormasters.
Jurisdictional authority and whether increased oversight would fall to the state or municipalities is one of many questions that have been raised. If it falls to municipalities, what happens when multiple communities border the same body of water? Who will pay for the enforcement? There is no legal definition of floating dwellings in state statute. Some have been registered as watercraft; some have not. Motorboats must be registered, but what if the structure has no engine? Should a house float meet certain standards? What about the floating structure’s proximity to land? Sewage? Light? Noise?
In Maine, property owners on great ponds (standing water of 10 acres or more) own title to the normal low water line as it stood at the time the property was acquired, according to a 2018 article in the Maine Law Review. State law provides for public access to great ponds. Some shorefront property owners, while acknowledging they do not own the water, have been frustrated by floating structures moored close to shore. They say that the dwellings diminish their enjoyment of their properties, for which they pay a premium in property taxes, and that property values ultimately could be affected. Owners of floating structures contend that public waters belong to the public and restrictions would diminish time-honored rights. Some have questioned why summer floats would be singled out in a way that winter ice shacks have not.