Belgrade Enacts Mooring Ordinance
by Gregor Smith
Of the 27 articles on Belgrade's town meeting ballot in March, the vote for the mooring ordinance, the first of its kind in the Belgrade Lakes, was by far the closest, 237-197. This closeness suggests that voters may have been uncertain as to what the ordinance would do or whether it was needed. In this article, we will try to clear up any confusion.
Under the ordinance, "mooring" means that a boat is tied to a buoy, which in turn is attached to a weight on the bottom of the lake. Boats that rest in boat lifts or are tied to docks are not affected.
The ordinance has four key restrictions on moorings:
- Before mooring a craft, one needs to get written permission from the owner of the adjacent shorefront.
- Each property can have only one mooring for every 50 feet of frontage.
- Moorings must be within 200 feet from shore or within one third of the distance to the opposite shore, whichever is less. (The State of Maine already imposes those requirements.)
- Pre-existing moorings in Mill Stream, a.k.a. the Channel, which flows from Great Pond to Belgrade Lakes Village, are exempt.
Besides regulating moorings, the ordinance forbids houseboats from staying on Belgrade waters overnight. The ordinance defines a "houseboat" as a vessel that is at least seven feet across at its widest point and has at least one of the following amenities a toilet, a kitchen, or sleeping quarters above its main deck.
Finally, the ordinance requires the Board of Selectpersons to appoint a harbormaster to investigate any complaints about possible violations. The selectboard has asked Belgrade's longtime code enforcement officer Gary Fuller* to add harbormastering to his duties, but so far, there haven't been any complaints for him to investigate.
The ordinance is meant to prevent problems that have occurred on other other lakes. According to Belgrade town manager Anthony Wilson, the impetus for its drafting was a call to his predecessor from a person who was thinking of buying some houseboats, anchoring them on the Belgrade Lakes, and renting them out through Airbnb.
Although this plan did not come to fruition, it "raised a few concerns," Wilson stated.
- It "would be an unregulated commercial venture that, unlike shoreland rentals, could avoid paying property taxes that support local government operations."
- "[H]ouseboats could infringe upon shoreland owners who make significant financial investments in their properties and pay 60% of the taxes levied in Belgrade.… In a worst-case scenario, a houseboat could 'park' a few feet off a camp's dock for the entire summer."
- Sewage from houseboats' holding tanks could foul our lakes, as the Belgrades do not have "a marina with pump-out capabilities."
- Having a "rash of houseboats would detract from the character, integrity and aesthetics of our lakes, which make Belgrade unique and are the engine of our local economy."
To illustrate some of the potential problems, he cited the ongoing controversy over a "house float" on Green Lake in Ellsworth. This small, homemade houseboat consists of a small wooden cabin and deck on top of two metal pontoons. Its builders contend that they may anchor the float anywhere they like, as the lake is public property; but for all of last summer and a few weeks this year, they moored it in the same spot, irking the owners of the shorefront. Other lake dwellers have objected to noise created by the float's owners, their families, and their guests. (If you would like to learn more about this controversy, read this article from the Ellsworth American or watch this story on News Center Maine.)
As for restrictions on where moorings may be placed, Wilson said that it is simply "an effort to ensure there is not an uncontrolled mushrooming of moorings on our lakes and that safe navigation is not impeded. The standard within the ordinance is the same that has long been in effect on Maine's coast."
By enacting an ordinance now, Belgrade may be starting a trend. While mooring ordinances are common along the coast, they are rarer among Maine's inland towns and the State itself imposes few restrictions. Besides the distance-from-shore limitations described above, the only other State requirement for inland moorings is that the mooring buoy be a white ball with a horizontal blue stripe around its middle.
Thus, it is up to each lake town to decide whether and how to regulate moorings. As more people seek recreation and respite on our state's lakes, conflicts are bound to arise among different types of lakes users (e.g. shorefront property owners, short-term renters, and day trippers) and more towns will enact mooring ordinances.
To aid in those efforts, a bill now before the Maine Legislature would require the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to draft and periodically update a model mooring ordinance. "An Act To Clarify Temporary Mooring Privileges for Moorings on Inland Waters" would also require lake towns to appoint a harbormaster or other "individual or entity who is responsible for dealing with inquiries related to mooring privileges." That bill, LD 626, has been carried over to the 2022 legislative session for consideration.
Belgrade's ordinance does have one serious limitation: it applies only to the parts of the shorelines of Great Pond, Long Pond, Snow Pond (a.k.a. Messalonskee Lake), McGrath Pond, and Salmon Lake that lie within the town's boundaries. Currently, no other town in the Belgrade Lakes has a similar ordinance, but the committee that drafted Belgrade's ordinance has opened discussions with other area towns to encourage them to enact such ordinances.
To read the full text of Belgrade's ordinance, go to www.townofbelgrade.com/lakescommittee and click the "Mooring Ordinance" link in the upper left.
*Update (10/17/2021): Gary Fuller passed away suddenly on September 18. The town is advertising for new code enforcement officer, whose duties will include enforcing the shoreland zoning ordinance.