Two state legislators are pushing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to do something about the low water level of Clary Lake in Jefferson and Whitefield, saying the department is failing to protect the environment.

The letter sent by Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, and Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, to top officials with the state DEP last week is the latest attempt to find a solution in a fight over a lake level that has dried dozens of acres of high-value wetlands and has limited recreational uses on the lake.

The department issued a water level management plan to Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, the owner of the dam impounding the lake, in January 2014 but has yet to enforce the order, which required repairs to be made by last October. The dam owner appealed the order to Lincoln County Superior Court, and it’s unclear when the case will be resolved.

Lakefront property owners have said the water level has been low for the last four years, but many say the problem became more acute this summer.

Johnson and Sanderson, who hosted a public forum last month to hear constituents’ concerns about the lake level, wrote in the letter that the lack of action from the department has resulted in continued concerns from shorefront property owners, environmentalists and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

They wrote to the department officials that although they understand the department hasn’t enforced the order because of the ongoing litigation, the inaction is “clearly in violation” of the legislative mandate to protect and prevent diminution of the state’s natural environment. The lawmakers encouraged the department to seek “equitable relief” in the form of a reasonable water level while the litigation is pending.


“It is a matter of personal landowners rights and safety as well as a devastating environmental impact,” the letter said.

Sanderson, who represents Chelsea, Jefferson, Whitefield and part of Nobleboro for House District 88, said the goal of the letter was to make sure the department remains on top of the issue.

“We’d like to see them do something to provide relief to those disenfranchised,” she said. “These folks are not going away. They’ve waited quite some time.”

Landowners originally filed the petition with the department to set a water level plan for the lake nearly four years ago. Although problems between owners of the dam along Route 218 in Whitefield and landowners on the lake go back decades, landowners say the issue worsened about four years ago.

The owner of Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, Paul Kelley of Camden, has maintained throughout the process that the department should have never accepted the water level petition, beginning a process that the department had never undertaken before.

His company was preparing to make repairs to the hole in the dam caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 when the state started the lengthy procedure, Kelley said. He said his company believes that the resulting water level order by the department is illegal and unconstitutional.


He said the company has kept the lake water level so low because raising the level would expose Pleasant Pond Mill LLC to potential lawsuits from upstream and the owner of the mill property below the dam. A higher water level could breach the dam further, he said.

Kelley said it’s also impossible to obtain flood insurance coverage for the dam because Whitefield is one of the few Maine municipalities that have not joined the federal flood insurance program.

Although many lakefront owners have voiced concerns about the low lake level hurting their uses of the resource, one landowner, Frederick “Butch” Duncan, has said he prefers the lower level. Duncan, who owns around 200 acres on the northwest end of the lake in Whitefield and lives in Jefferson, said a constant high lake level would damage hardwood trees that grow on a portion of his land.

He said if a higher lake level damages his trees, he would sue Pleasant Pond Mill LLC.

Johnson, who represents both Jefferson and Whitefield as part of Senate District 13, said he hopes the department will seek some equitable relief in court, which can require a party to do something while a case is ongoing. He said that although the appropriate level of the lake is being contested, he thinks there should be some middle ground that would be agreeable to both parties.

“Enough harm has been done. It’s time to start putting things back and restoring habitats and restoring a usable water level for people that for generations have enjoyed it,” Johnson said.


Timothy Feeley, the spokesman for the Maine attorney general’s office, which is defending DEP in court, said in an emailed statement: “We understand the frustrations of those who have been affected by non-compliance with DEP’s Clary Lake water level order and are actively discussing with DEP its options for remedying the situation.”

Spokesman for the DEP David Madore said in a statement the department is continuing to “work on the complex issues surrounding the water level order for Clary Lake.”

Madore said the department has been reviewing information pertaining to the issue over the past several weeks and will include the concerns raised in the letter as part of its ongoing analysis.

He didn’t respond to questions about the purpose of the “ongoing analysis” or whether the department agrees with the sentiment expressed in the letter that it failed its legislative mandate to protect the natural resources at Clary Lake.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig

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