Mount Desert officials need to reexamine the town’s policy concerning the use of Pond’s End in Somesville. The issue came to light recently when the operator of a stand-up paddleboard business was denied the use of the area for launching trips on Long Pond.
The current policy grandfathering a nearby canoe rental business gives one company a de facto monopoly on use of that facility. It also ignores the fact that other guiding services currently are using the area regularly without seeking advance authorization.
While no entity should be given permission to effectively set up shop on public property at Pond’s End, the facility’s entire purpose is to provide the public access to the largest lake on Mount Desert Island. That access should be open to all.
The state of Maine makes no distinction between commercial and individual use at the hundreds of public fresh and salt water access points it administers. In fact, the state’s Great Ponds Act prohibits non-residential landowners from restricting access to those on foot to any body of fresh water greater than 10 acres. Theoretically, that law applies to towns as well as to individuals. The only exception is for lakes or ponds used as reservoirs.
If the paddleboard company is barred from using that area, should the town also prohibit Registered Guides from launching a boat there when they are taking a client fishing? Should kayaking guides be barred from the ramp as well? Both are regular and frequent uses now.
Canoe races and other events often monopolize the area and are arguably more disruptive than the launching of a few paddleboards.
Under the interpretation of the rules provided the town by an attorney for the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), it is possible for officials to decide that since the primary commercial transaction occurs well off site, access by the paddleboard company is merely an incidental activity. It is unclear, too, whether or not the MMA attorney considered the Great Ponds Act in forming her opinion.
Simply hand-carrying a canoe, kayak or paddleboard across a beach is not an inherently commercial activity. It’s not setting up a hotdog stand or a kiosk to rent out motorboats or jet skis.
Officials should give top priority toward implementing a policy that allows the appropriate use of the facility by the broadest possible segment of the public.