The State of Maine and the corporation that controls land that’s part of a beachfront state park in Cape Elizabeth are continuing to negotiate on a long-term deal to guarantee continued public access to the entirety of the park’s beachfront, according to officials close to the issue. Both sides say they are actively seeking to complete negotiations as soon as possible, and there is hope that the issue will be resolved before the lease expires in April 2013.
100 acres of the 187-acre beachfront parcel is owned by the Sprague Corporation, and was leased to the state until recently for $1. But in 2010, the 50-year lease expired without a new deal in place, and the state and the landholding entity have been working under one-year leases for roughly $10,000 a year. Negotiations have been ongoing, but drawn out, said Seth Sprague, president of the Sprague family-owned corporation.
“It has taken a while for everybody to get on the same page,” Sprague said.
The best outcome for the corporation would be to sell the land to the state, he said. The Sprague Corporation previously sold land to the state that was being leased as part of Scarborough State Park. Rather than continue with one-year leases or privatize the land, Sprague would prefer to have a long-term solution negotiated before the end of the year.
News reports throughout the summer have reported that negotiations over the fate of the land had stalled amidst reluctance within the LePage administration to commit the money to buy the land in light of the administration’s efforts to close budget gaps. That perceived reluctance has sparked a petition drive by the Maine State Employees Union calling on the governor to reject privatizing the state park.
Jeanne Curran, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Conversation, said it’s important to maintain the beach’s waterfront access, and that the prospect of privatization has not even been discussed. Curran said that while the state and the Sprague Corporation were having “substantive conversations” about the land, the LePage administration would not negotiate the deal through the press. For his part, Sprague sounded cautiously optimistic.
“We’re feeling that the state is focused on this and we’re somewhat hopeful,” he said.
The failure to reach a deal up until now has worried local officials, business-owners and conservationists. The town of Cape Elizabeth has discussed contingency plans if half the park were to be privatized, which would have necessitated the construction of a new parking lot and access road. Aside from providing access for beachgoers and recreational boaters, the land connects to a cove used by approximately 10 lobstermen, said Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern. Working waterfront access is limited in southern Maine, McGovern said, but he says the Sprague Corporation has assured him that lobstering access will be maintained.
“The indications given to me is that no matter how it turns out, that isn’t a threat,” McGovern said.
Conservationists are carefully watching the negotiations over the fate of the land, which includes fragile dune and nesting habitats. Cape Elizabeth Land Trust Executive Director Chris Franklin said that conservation groups might be in a position to partly fund the sale of the leased land to the state, which sees some 100,000 visitors a year, but the state must first indicate that it is a priority to maintain access to its public lands. Beachfront is a finite commodity, Franklin said, and he worries the state could lose out on the opportunity to assure continued waterfront access and a strong revenue stream for all public lands.
“Once these places are sold, they’re gone,” Franklin said. “The question is, does the state want to maintain its state parks or not?”
Craig Idlebrook is a freelance contributor living in Medford, Mass.