August 23, 2019

River in Camden becomes a pond > Planners to meet on state designation

CAMDEN — A part of the Megunticook River has been reborn as a pond as far as the state is concerned, but some residents aren’t too happy about the change.

The town’s planning board meets Wednesday to discuss the testimony it heard at a public hearing on the issue on June 21, and whether to endorse the new designation or ignore it.

The river flows from Megunticook Lake to Camden Harbor, but in one mile-long stretch, it is bounded on one end by the Seabright dam and on the other by the Fish Hatchery dam.

Under a state-approved shoreland zoning ordinance, buildings must be 75 feet from the water if the water is classified as a river, according to Jeff Nims, Camden’s code enforcement officer.

Structures must be set back an additional 25 feet from ponds, however, making the new setback 100 feet, he said.

In 1990 when the town sent its maps to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the portion of the waterway in question was accepted as a river.

Earlier this year, the town sent DEP updated maps, which were based on aerial photographs. The new maps included more details, Nims said, and the state observed something new.

“They noticed suddenly there were dams, because they were labeled,” he said.

Because the water was impounded — held at one level by the dams — DEP reasoned that the river was in fact a pond. A great pond, under state statute, is defined as an area of water over 10 acres, or over 30 acres if it is man-made.

The portion of the Megunticook River in question consists of about 80 acres of water, Nims said.

DEP Commissioner Martha Kirkpatrick sent a letter to the town requesting the change be put on the warrant of the next town meeting. The November meeting would be the earliest at which the proposal could be considered.

Nims has completed an analysis on what the change would mean. He said Friday that there are 79 properties along the river, of which 59 are developed. Those 59 properties have a total of 71 structures: houses, garages and sheds.

Currently, Nims said, 28 structures do not conform to the 75-foot setback requirement. If the setback becomes 100 feet, another 20 structures become nonconforming, meaning that 68 percent of the buildings along the river or pond would be out of compliance.

The area is “within our designated growth area,” Nims said, and half the lots are on public sewer, thereby eliminating the threat to the water quality. And some lots might become unbuildable if the river is designated a pond.

At the public hearing, planning board members and property owners had the same questions for DEP’s Dan Prichard, Nims said. “Why change it? It’s been this way for 10 years,” he said.

The planning board can vote to endorse the change, and forward it to selectmen. Selectmen could then put the matter on the warrant for the November town meeting. The selectmen or the planning board could take no action at all, thereby forcing DEP’s hand.

Nims said DEP would then probably go before the Board of Environmental Protection to try to get approval to enforce the rule.

Some planning board members suggested trying to persuade DEP to drop the change, but Nims doesn’t think that is likely.

“They sounded pretty firm at the hearing,” he said of DEP officials.

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