AUGUSTA — The 131st Legislature might finally correct a longstanding boundary error that splits the Islesboro archipelago between Knox and Waldo counties. The discrepancy stems from a mapping mistake in 1941 that moved several islands from Waldo into Knox.

Sen. Glenn “Chip” Curry, D-Belfast, in this session has sponsored LD 119 to clarify the boundary line in Penobscot Bay, as agreed last June and July by Knox and Waldo county commissioners. Curry first brought the mapping problem to the attention of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government a year ago when he introduced an earlier bill to correct the boundary line.

He told the committee a U.S. Census team concluded, after reviewing tax, deed and legislative documents in preparation for the 2020 Census, that the boundary between Waldo and Knox counties in Penobscot Bay was not accurate by Lassell Island. Lassell Island appears in Knox County on maps, but is in Waldo County in tax and deed records.

Lasell Island Source: Maine Island Living

In testimony before the committee Jan. 12, 2022, Dale Rowley, Waldo County’s project engineer, explained that all the islands in the Islesboro archipelago historically had been part of Waldo County since the county was established in 1827.

When Knox County was created in 1860, none of the Islesboro archipelago islands were included among the towns transferred from Waldo County to the new county of Knox, he said. Maps in 1884 and 1893 likewise showed all of the Islesboro islands in Waldo County, as does a U.S. Geological Survey topographic map from 1904.

Rowley noted in his testimony that maps do not set boundaries; they merely reflect legislative determinations of boundaries. And, he said, he had found no evidence of any legislative act that ever moved any of the Islesboro archipelago into Knox County.

Yet, for “some unexplained reason,” Rowley testified, a USGS topographic map in 1941 showed the boundary line running between between Lime Island and Lasell Island in the archipelago, effectively moving Lassell and several other small islands into Knox County.

Topographic maps in 1944 and 1948 reestablished the boundary as a loop around the archipelago, but a 1956 topographic map again moved the latitudinal line to run between Lime and Lassell islands. Rowley said he found no legislative action supporting that change. But the erroneous boundary line has perpetuated ever since — including in 1970, when an Island Commission used the 1941 map as its reference, he told The Republican Journal in a phone interview Tuesday.

The joint committee decided to turn the boundary line issue over to the Knox and Waldo county commissioners, and asked them to resolve it.

Knox County commissioners initially contested moving the boundary, Rowley said, “but they had no evidence and we did.”

Ultimately, the two commissions approved a map that moves all but Robinson Rock back into Waldo County. Knox County commissioners approved the plan June 14, 2022, and Waldo County commissioners, while noting that Robinson Rock had always been part of their county, agreed to the adjusted boundary line on July 20, 2022.

The solid line is the proposed new county boundary and the dotted line is the current erroneous boundary.

If passed by the Legislature, LD 119 would return to Waldo County Lassell, Mouse, Goose, East Goose Rock, Saddle and Mark islands, along with another small island that has no name and is exposed only at low tide, Rowley told The Journal. The bill also provides that Robinson Rock would be annexed to Knox County. Robinson Rock lies at the southernmost tip of the archipelago.

Like Curry’s earlier proposed measure, LD 119 is cosponsored by Rep. Ann Matlack, D-St. George. Rep. S. Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, also has signed on as a cosponsor. Islesboro is part of Zeigler’s new legislative District 40.

In a telephone interview Jan. 20 with The Republican Journal, Curry said LD 119 would come up for a vote in this legislative session. “Being that both counties are in agreement, I would not anticipate a whole lot of debate,” he said.

Rowley said, “I never count my chickens.”

The senator noted that Rowley “was the point person for Waldo County” in negotiating the boundary issue. “He was significantly involved in the conversations between the counties between the two (legislative) sessions,” Curry said.

The small islands at issue lie on the southern end of the Islesboro archipelago and are considered to be unorganized territory. Only one of them, the 105-acre Lassell Island, has any buildings on it; the island is owned by five individuals or limited liability corporations.

Asked about the various spellings of that island (Lasell, Lassell, Lasselle), Rowley said, “We’re going with Lassell.”

The town of Islesboro, which comprises Islesboro Island and several smaller islands, is in Waldo County. Despite their appearing on the map in Knox County, the small islands at the southern end of the archipelago generate about $3,000 in property taxes that the state sends to Waldo County each year.