A proposal to build new facilities for a sportsman’s club on the Sheepscot River in Alna continued to draw opposition during a three-hour public hearing before the Alna Planning Board on Friday, May 29.
Board Chair Jeff Spinney proposes to build a boat ramp and seasonal dock at his 126 Golden Ridge Road property. He has recused himself from the review of the project.
Jeff Spinney has received permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maine Department of Environmental Protection for his project. He still needs a permit from the town of Alna.
The new waterfront facilities would be used by members of a nonprofit club established by Jeff Spinney, the Golden Ridge Sportsman’s Club.
Residents of Alna, Newcastle, and the surrounding area have expressed concern about the project because they say it would bring development and an uptick in boating activity to a pristine area of the river. Critics have also said the sportsman’s club lacks a business license it needs to operate.
Jeff Spinney and his lawyer, Kristin M. Collins, pushed back against those criticisms Friday.
“The GRSC is simply not a commercial enterprise and is not subject to permitting,” Collins said in a May 29 letter to the planning board. “Even if it were, the Planning Board can only act on the applications before it for Shoreland Zoning approval. Any failure to obtain a business permit is solely for the Code Enforcement Officer and Select Board to enforce.”
The Alna Board of Selectmen has declined to act on the matter, with two of the three selectmen recusing themselves. First Selectman Melissa Spinney is married to Jeff Spinney, while Second Selectman Doug Baston said he has a conflict of interest because he wrote some of the applicable regulations while serving on the planning board.
During Friday’s Zoom meeting, Collins addressed a complaint that Jeff Spinney cannot build a permanent structure on the river. She said that because the dock will be removed in the winter, the structure is seasonal and not permanent.
Collins said the only permanent components are supports on land, which already exist. The boat ramp will be a year-round fixture, but Collins argued that the ramp will essentially be an extension of the road on the property.
Jeff Spinney also spoke at the meeting, showing photos of the property and explaining its current use.
According to Jeff Spinney and Collins, the project will not change the way the section of river is used. The same boaters will continue to use their boats with the same frequency. The project will only make it easier for Jeff Spinney and club members to safely get their boats and trucks in and out.
Still, many in Alna oppose the project.
“I’m not a person who is opposed to shared use and recreation along the Sheepscot River,” Alna resident Bridget Mullen said in a May 28 letter to the planning board. “Allowing the development of a fixed dock and pier for exclusive use by members is not a precedent that the town should ever allow under the current ordinances.”
Leah Sprague, of Newcastle, owns property with more than 1,000 feet of frontage on the Sheepscot River and has served as a board member of the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association and former president of the Newcastle Historical Society.
In a letter to the planning board, Sprague said many people canoe or kayak along the river instead of boating, because the river is narrow and shallow.
“I am aware that there is a need for access to the river, but the site Mr. Spinney proposes is not the appropriate location for such access,” she said. “The prospect of a boat ramp to entice motorboats or motorized water craft to enter the river at this point is very unsettling.”
Laura Chaney, of Golden Ridge Road in Alna, said Jeff Spinney’s project “appears to be a personal project causing potential greater impact to others beyond the scope of the physical project.”
The Alna Planning Board will take up the proposal again at 6 p.m., Thursday, June 11.