The applicant behind a rejected proposal to build a permanent boat ramp on the Sheepscot River in Alna is now proposing to use a temporary aluminum roadway to launch boats at the site.
The Alna Planning Board heard the new proposal from Jeff Spinney on Tuesday, Nov. 10. His new application is for earthwork and the use of the temporary roadway at his 126 Golden Ridge Road property.
Spinney proposes to use the military-grade surface to improve access to the river from his property. The roadway would be 15 feet wide and 35 feet long, although he may extend the length in the future.
According to the application, the temporary surface will be rolled out for boat launching and removed when not in use.
If the planning board approves the application, Spinney will also do soil stabilization to control erosion and make it easier and safer to access the river. The work would take place between the highest annual tide and mean low water lines, an area of about 12 feet by 36 feet.
Spinney was previously denied a permit under the town’s shoreland zoning ordinance for a boat ramp and dock for use by the private Golden Ridge Sportsman’s Club. The planning board denied the application June 26 and the board of appeals upheld the denial Oct. 16.
Spinney’s new application does not mention the sportsman’s club.
The previous application is subject to upcoming mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the case will go to court.
Prior to discussion of Spinney’s application, planning board Chair Jim Amaral asked each member of the board, including new member Beth Whitney, if they had any reason to recuse themselves from the matter.
Peter Tischbein recused himself, as he did for Spinney’s previous application, because he works for the Army Corps of Engineers, which approved a permit related to the previous application.
Because of Tischbein’s recusal, alternate member Joel Verney served as a regular board member during the discussion of Spinney’s application.
Whitney and Verney both signed a letter to the editor, published in The Lincoln County News and the Wiscasset Newspaper in June, supporting Spinney’s project.
“Unlike many of the opponents that have recently arrived to save the river from us, we actually know our selectmen and planning board members, and it looks to us like these volunteer citizen officers, under enormous pressure, are doing their level best to make sure Jeff Spinney’s project is treated fairly under our ordinances. … Well, it is our river too. And Mr. Spinney’s only fault seems to be that he would allow access to it by those of us who don’t have our own waterfront property,” the letter said. “It is insulting to say that he, and we, do not care about the Sheepscot. Many of us have lived near it all our lives, and fished, and hunted and snowmobiled, and, yes, boated around it without doing it any harm.”
Amaral said he spoke with the Maine Municipal Association regarding bias, and a signature on a single letter does not necessarily indicate bias.
“Jeff’s application that we’ll be looking at tonight shares many, many similarities to the application we looked at this summer,” Amaral said. “That’s why I’m trying to be really careful that when we decide who’s going to be making decisions regarding this application, that everybody in town has the sense that the board is acting in the town’s best interest.”
Carol Ervin, an abutter to Spinney’s property and a vocal opponent of his previous application, said the proposed earthwork would constitute a permanent structure and would therefore be prohibited.
In his application, Spinney wrote that he would create a “consistent and stable base” by removing a mixture of stone, mud, and gravel from the area and replacing it with gravel and stone cobble.
He estimated the volume of material to be removed and replaced at about 8-12 cubic yards.
The board scheduled a site visit for 10 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Also at the Nov. 10 meeting, the board discussed a citizen’s petition to amend the shoreland zoning ordinance. Alna resident Ralph Hilton submitted the petition to the town office Oct. 23. The Alna Board of Selectmen has tentatively set a referendum vote for Dec. 8.
Hilton’s petition seeks to amend Line 17 of the table of uses in Section 14 of the ordinance. The line says that temporary piers, docks, wharfs, bridges, and other structures and uses extending over or below the high-water line or within a wetland are subject to planning board approval. The line also says that no permanent structures may be permitted by the planning board.
Through the citizen’s petition, Hilton wants to make it possible for the planning board to approve a permanent structure if the applicant has received a Natural Resources Protection Act permit, where required.
Amaral said it’s “a good discussion for the town to engage in.” The way the ordinance is currently written, someone who buys waterfront property that does not have an existing boat ramp cannot build one.
“If somebody buys property on the river, is spending considerably more in taxes because they own waterfront property, should they have the right to at least, if they can meet all the regulatory hurdles, put a ramp into the river?” Amaral said. “It looks to me as if this particular change would allow that to happen.”
In explaining his petition, Hilton cited construction at the Head Tide Dam in fall 2019, when heavy equipment was used in the water to modify the dam and improve public access. He said he believes that permit was issued in error, and that if the ordinance were applied consistently, Spinney’s application should have been approved.
Tischbein agreed that there are inconsistent aspects of the ordinance, and that the Head Tide Dam permit would not have been approved if the board had followed the ordinance more strictly.
“Admittedly, the selectmen took the lead on the Head Tide Dam, but we probably made those decisions in the public interest,” Tischbein said. “In hindsight, if you look at what a structure is, within a wetland or the high water line, we probably should not have permitted those.”
The planning board scheduled a public hearing regarding the citizen’s petition for 6:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 23, via Zoom.