The opposing parties in the process to establish a water level on Clary Lake have both sent comments objecting to parts — or the entire premise — of a depth study conducted last year by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Property owners on the 667-acre lake in Jefferson and Whitefield petitioned the department at the beginning of last year to order a water level management plan for the owners of Clary Lake dam.

The department held a public hearing last August and released the findings of the bathymetric study, along with a revised recommendation for water flows, earlier this month.

George Fergusson, spokesman for the petitioners and member of the Clary Lake Association, wrote in his comments to the department that he believes the volume and area calculations have significant inaccuracies because of errors made in the modeling of the areas of wetlands in the northwest and southeast ends of the lake.

Beth Callahan, project manager for the petition, wrote in the email releasing the data that low water levels forced the department to base the volume in the northwest end of the lake on existing data and visual interpretation of aerial photographs.

Fergusson said a field check would have prevented the errors, and he expects the department to fix the study.

“They’ve invested a lot of time and effort in this report,” Fergusson said. “To not update it, revise it and issue a revised plan would be devaluing all their work up to this point.”

Samantha Warren, spokeswoman for the department, wrote in an email that they would need strong technical evidence to open the study up for revision.

“As the leading environmental agency in the state,” Warren wrote, “we stand behind the validity of our data and, as we focus our efforts on reviewing the comments received, have no plans to do a revision at this time.”

The manager of the company that owns the dam objects to the study on the grounds that he believes the record is closed and that new evidence should be presented in a public hearing to allow for cross examination.

Paul Kelley, manager of Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, said the department should say why another study is needed, since it already submitted a bathymetric study for the August public hearing in the water level petition process.

“My company’s basic position is the DEP initiated a process during a period when they had lost the appropriate personnel to manage this process,” Kelley said, referring to the 2011 retirement of Dana Murch, the department’s former dam supervisor. “Our company from the get-go tried to raise these issues, and the DEP, for whatever reason, decided to proceed.

“It’s become clear, I think, to both Pleasant Pond Mill and the petitioners themselves, that this process has not led towards a solution.”

Warren wrote in her email that the department is allowed and obligated to do its due diligence in collecting whatever applicable information is needed to reach a decision.

Parties have until May 8 to request having the hearing reopened for cross examination of the new study, according to Warren.

Warren has previously stated that she doesn’t think anyone in the case was done a disservice by Murch’s departure, despite the department losing institutional memory when he retired after 30 years at the DEP.

The department will respond to the parties’ comments by May 1, and parties may submit additional comments on the data by May 8.

The dispute over the water level at Clary Lake, which parties say has been ongoing for years before Pleasant Pond Mill LLC purchased the dam in 2006, took another twist earlier this month when Kelley filed a petition with the DEP to release ownership of the dam.

Maine law allows dam owners to relinquish ownership by finding a new owner who benefits from having the dam.

Kathy Howatt, hydropower coordinator for DEP, said the department requested more information from Kelley, and she’s currently reviewing the materials submitted.

The process includes consulting with the municipal officers in the towns affected, lakefront property owners and the heads of related state agencies.

If an owner can’t be found, state agencies evaluate the public benefit of maintaining the dam.

The DEP will order the release of water from the dam if a new owner doesn’t step forward during the process.

Howatt said the ownership release and water level processes will run concurrently, although the water level order could be put on hold to find a new owner.

“If a new owner is found, then the dam will be conveyed in normal manners to the new owner,” Howatt said. “That will be the outcome. That will be the end of it.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]