MONMOUTH — Town officials may close a boat launch on Annabessacook Lake temporarily early next week over concern about an invasive plant that has grown rampant in that section of the lake and instead direct boaters to use another launch in Winthrop.

On Wednesday night, selectmen tentatively agreed to halt public access to the Waugan Road boat launch, at the urging of people who own lakefront property and fear the launch is contributing to the spread of variable-leaf water milfoil.

“You have a boat landing that is infested with milfoil,” said Fred Kahl, a homeowner on Cobbossee Lake who lives just downstream from Annabessacook Lake, during the meeting. “Every boat that goes through there, every Jet Ski, every outboard motor, every inboard motor sucks water in for cooling, and in doing that, they pull in the milfoil. You can inspect it until hell freezes over, and you’re never going to find that in a Jet Ski. And every lake it goes to is potentially a victim of milfoil.”

Under the proposal that was approved by selectmen, the Monmouth launch would be closed until later this month. At that point, the public would be invited to a hearing about whether it should close permanently.

However, before town officials go forward with the closure, they are checking with an attorney to make sure they can do so legally, according to Town Manager Curtis Lunt.

If they can, the temporary closure would take effect on Monday morning, Lunt said. The launch is at the southwest corner of Annabessacook Lake, in a wetland area that is lined with the invasive plant.

Instead, boaters would be able to use a boat ramp at Augusta West Kampground in Winthrop, located at 183 Holmes Brook Lane on the opposite side of Annabessacook Lake. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Monmouth selectmen agreed to the proposal in a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, after more than an hour of discussion with people who own property on and around Annabessacook Lake.

The dissenting vote came from Selectman Harold Jones III, who insisted that the public needs more of an opportunity to comment on the change.

More than 40 people attended the meeting this week. The Select Board now plans to hold a public hearing about the closure, possibly on Aug. 22, Lunt said.

At this week’s meeting, Bruce Balfour, the town’s public works director, said the town is likely to “get a lot of phone calls” about the change.

But that’s a small price to pay, according to its supporters. “I’m less concerned about phone calls than I am about natural resources,” Selectwoman Darlene Sanborn said.

Variable-leaf water milfoil is an underwater plant that grows in thick, yellowish-green fronds and easily can take root when its fragments reach other bodies of water. It’s not native to Maine and has so far been documented in about 25 bodies of water here, according to the website of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Its spread can crowd out other plant species, reduce water quality and impair recreational activities. It’s also been associated with reduced property values.

Various groups have been trying to eradicate milfoil since it was first discovered in Annabessacook Lake four years ago. They’ve hired divers to cut the plant from their underwater beds. They’ve placed signs cautioning boaters against traveling through infested areas. They’ve stationed volunteers at the Waugan Road boat launch to inspect vessels for fragments of the plant.

But those property owners now think it’s too dangerous to keep operating the boat launch, given the risk that watercraft might come or go with fragments of the plant.

They’re now trying to work with state officials to open a new public-access boat launch in a section of the lake that’s not so susceptible to infestation, said Kent Ackley, a legislator from Monmouth who is vice president of the Annabessacook Lake Improvement Association and who also operates a retreat on an island in the lake.

If the Waugan Road boat launch closes, there also will be a place for people to drop canoes and kayaks into Jug Stream in east Monmouth, which flows into to the southeast corner of Annabessacook Lake. That area is near the intersection of Sanborn Road and Route 135, which crosses over the stream, according to Ackley.

“Nothing is going to be perfect in these circumstances,” Ackley said on Thursday. “There is no magic bullet that will make this problem go away. We’re taking a common-sense practical approach to reducing a problem and hoping for the best in the long term.”

The owners of Augusta West Kampground, Kale and Brittany Malmsten, also support the relocation of the boat launch and have volunteered to let people use their ramp, even though that will create new challenges for them. Numerous people thanked them for their offer at the Select Board meeting this week.

“I’d hate to put you in a position where you’re having challenging situations and having a negative impact on your business,” said Jones, the selectman who voted against the temporary closure of the Waugan Road boat launch.

“I think we’ll have more of a problem if the lake is infested with milfoil,” Brittany Malmsten responded.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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