Float causes splash as residents clash
Hope — About 25 residents came out for a contentious discussion of the town-owned float on Hobbs Pond when selectmen met Tuesday, June 10, at the Hope Corner fire station.
The discussion of whether to launch the float again this year began with Town Administrator Jon Duke reading several letters he had received by email that day from people who could not attend the meeting. Most were in favor of launching the float, including some children who authored letters. One suggested that if the boat ramp area at Hobbs Pond was becoming too crowded, the town might look into buying another piece of property on the pond and create a public beach there. Another worried that the volume of people made the area unsafe. David Hall, president of the Hobbs & Fish Ponds Association, asked selectmen to pay attention to the recommendation of the Recreation Committee.
Selectman Wendy Pelletier recapped the history of the float, reminding those in the room the Recreation Committee had raised the money for it from private contributions and donated it to the town a few years ago. Board Chairman Brian Powers added the town had received some complaints about the float, and therefore wanted to hear the views of people in town before launching it again.
The first resident to speak was Eliza Massey, who said she has owned a camp on the pond for many years, and lived there full-time for three years. Massey said she did not mind people who live in the area coming to swim there, but she did object to the large number of children who seemed to spend the day at the pond, hanging out on the float, screaming and yelling, and to the number of vehicles parked on Pond Road, the access road to the pond.
She said after the float went in, “immediately it was chaotic,” with more people spending more time there, disturbing her home business, blocking the boat ramp and creating a safety hazard on both land and water. She said she felt it was risky to have swimmers and boaters so close together.
Several times Massey said, “I pay for waterfront,” that is, that her property taxes were higher than others' because of her location on the pond.
Also opposed to the float was Arty Sprowl, another pond resident and a member of the pond association. He said he had initially been in favor of the float, but had since been bothered by noise from young people going out on it in the middle of the night. He said he believed his property had lost value because of the float and the disturbance it fostered. He and Massey both complained that people tie up boats on their property; Sprowl noted that on a great pond like Hobbs, property owners own down to the water. Therefore, it is not legal for the boats to be anywhere but on the boat ramp or the pond.
Sprowl asked that the town sell the float, and said he would buy it himself. “I'll offer you $1,000 right now to burn it,” he said.
Most other speakers favored launching the float. A few others were not opposed, but were concerned about issues connected with the float, primarily safety.
There were several safety issues brought up: first, the number of people on the float at one time, which results in crowding and pushing. The second issue was the proximity of boats and swimmers. Third, several people brought up the rock pile in the middle of the pond made by kids over the years, which is a hazard for boats. Some people also thought it was too unstable for kids to climb on, which they did when they did not have the float to swim out to. The pile has now been marked by the pond association with a buoy. Massey also said she was concerned that with all the people and cars on Pond Road there would not be room for an ambulance if someone had a medical emergency.
A couple of people suggested the town post signs at the site with rules for using the boat launch, the float and the pond in general. In response, Duke held up a sign that had been posted there last year and was torn down within a week of being put up, he said.
Others suggested ordinances to prohibit use of the float at night. Selectman Jason Hall responded by pointing out that the town does not have a police department, and in order for the Knox County Sheriff's Office or the Maine State Police to enforce town ordinances, the town would have to pay for that service.
A number of float proponents said they did not think not having the float in the water would reduce the number of people using the pond. Christian Andrus summed up this argument when he said, “It doesn't seem like the volumes of people are going to change, because they're already here.”
Several also expressed a wish for compromise, so everyone could enjoy using the pond. “There's got to be a way of somehow coming together and finding something that's appeasing to everyone,” said Mary Waltz.
Duke told the assembled residents, “You're a victim of your own success,” that is, the town is such an attractive place to live that the population has grown, creating a problem with conflicting uses in public areas.
Selectman Chris Pinchbeck suggested the town might try to work out an arrangement with the Knox County Fish & Game Association to allow Hope residents to swim there to reduce the number of people at the Pond Road location. Such an arrangement could also, he suggested, lessen the impact of taking to town float out of the pond, if the Board decides to do that.
When Powers called on Recreation Committee Chairman Andrew Stewart for his committee's recommendation, Stewart replied, “We are a committee of three people. It's not for us to decide what should happen with the float.”
Finally, Selectman Jim Annis asked whether, by launching a town-owned float, the town was promoting the Pond Road site as a swimming area, and if so, did the town have a responsibility to property owners on the pond, such as Massey and Sprowl.
The Board decided to table the matter until it could consult with the town attorney about these questions.
In other business, the Board awarded the winter maintenance bid for town facilities to Todd's Lawn Care and Landscape, owned by Todd Snyder.
An executive session to conduct Duke's annual performance review was postponed to a later date.