Less than two weeks after an emotional meeting of Clary Lake waterfront owners from Whitefield and Jefferson, Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) and Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Somerville) issued a strongly-worded letter Sept. 7 urging the Department of Environmental Protection to enforce the water level order it imposed on Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, the deeded owner of the Clary Lake dam.
On Sept. 15, the Whitefield Board of Selectmen agreed to write a letter supporting Sanderson and Johnson’s statements, to be sent to the same list of recipients.
The water level order has languished in Lincoln County Superior Court since it was issued in January 2014, with Pleasant Pond Mill LLC and downstream property owner Aquafortis Associates LLC appealing the order. After more than a year of a court-ordered mediation that netted no resolution, the appeal will now be considered in superior court.
“We are aware of litigation currently in the courts and understand the DEP’s inaction… pending the outcome. However, the above harms have been going on too long,” Sanderson and Johnson wrote.
“Inaction on the behalf of the Department is clearly a violation of the charge which you were given via legislative direction to protect and prevent diminution of the natural environment of the State.
“We strongly encourage the department to act in seeking equitable relief…in the form of a reasonable water level while cases are pending,” the letter stated.
The letter was also sent to the Office of the Maine Attorney General, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, and the Lincoln County Commissioners.
Since the meeting of Clary Lake waterfront owners, Sanderson and Johnson personally met with Paul Kelley, manager for Pleasant Pond Mill LLC. “We have a much better understanding of his perspective, but we didn’t reach any agreement on actions that would get us closer to a resolution without the courts.” Johnson said.
Kelley has maintained the Clary Lake dam is unable to safely impound water due to damages that occurred in 2011 as a result of Hurricane Irene. If Kelley were to abide by the water level order, the dam would breech and the downstream property would flood, Kelley previously said.
The downstream property, the Clary Mill, owned by Aquafortis Associates LLC, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been unable to obtain flood insurance due to Whitefield’s non-participation in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Sanderson also personally met with Butch Duncan, a Jefferson shorefront property owner who is opposed to the water level order. “The depleted water level has given me my land back,” Duncan said. “Now I have a meadow instead of a swamp.” Duncan has owned property on Clary Lake since 1949. According to Duncan, the current water level is the lake as it is naturally supposed to be.
The Clary Lake water level is currently 5.5 feet below the top of the Clary Lake Dam, according to Sanderson’s and Johnson’s letter. What was, at one time, a 670-acre lake has shrunk to 400-acres, resulting in increased phosphorous levels and algae blooms, the letter stated.
The letter also reiterated shorefront owners concerns over the loss of wildlife habitat, the impact on the lake’s wetlands and marshes, and the inability of shorefront owners to use the lake for recreational purposes.
“I’ve toured Clary Lake and seen the impact,” Johnson said. “It’s devastating.”
There has been no official response to the letter from the DEP, Johnson said. According to Johnson, the best possible temporary outcome would be for the DEP to pursue “equitable relief” in the form of a compromised water level for Clary Lake while the water level order is reviewed by the court.
The best outcome would be for the court to resolve the issue, so the water level is restored and complications are removed, so people can come together and restore the dam, Johnson said.
“It’s a very complex issue and I understand the frustrations in the community,” David Madore, DEP’s director of communications, said. According to Madore, the DEP has spent a significant amount of time in the past several weeks reviewing the Clary Lake water level order with the attorney general’s office.
“The letter and information it contains will certainly be a part of the discussion going forward,” Madore said. Due to ongoing litigation, Madore was unable to comment further. Madore said he was unable to speculate on the possibility of a compromise water level while the court reviews the order.