Friday, November 1, 2019

Public comments highlight need to prioritize maintaining private roads in Highland Lake watershed

Heather True-Huntt speaking to members of Highland Lake
By Lorraine Glowczak

Approximately 15 Highland Lake residents, two Windham Town Council members, (Jarrod Maxfield and David Nadeau – also a Highland Lake resident) and a Planning Board member (Nick Kalogerakis) attended the Highland Lake Watershed Management Plan meeting and presentation that occurred last Wednesday, October 23 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Cornerstone Church, 48 Cottage Road.

Heather True-Huntt from the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) who is also member of the Highland Lake Leadership Team explained to all present, “The purpose of this public meeting is to gather feedback from residents regarding the proposed Action Items of a 10 year Watershed Based Management Plan for Highland Lake.”  

First, a brief reminder about the environmental concerns regarding the health of Highland Lake. In 2017 it was brought to the attention of the Towns of Windham and Falmouth as well as to the Highland Lake residents that Highland Lake was experiencing a sudden change in water clarity. The culprit had been identified as a form of algae. Although these algae are microscopic, they are growing in such large populations that they drastically reduce water clarity, thus not only causing detrimental environmental impacts and quality of the water, but a grave financial effect on both the town itself as well as to property owners.
It was from that point that immediate and sincere efforts have been made to safeguard the lake – and thus the financial investments of all who live in the greater Windham area. The concern was what Highland Lake was/is experiencing and its potential impacts on other lakes in the Sebago Lakes region including Sebago Lake - the source of drinking water for the Greater Portland area and beyond.

In order to safeguard the lake and the financial investments of property owners, the Highland Lake Leadership Team was developed, with support of the Windham and Falmouth Town Councils. Windham Town Councilor, Donna Chapman, along with other town officials and Highland Lake leaders, lead the charge to identify the reasons for the recurring algae bloom and to rectify potential hazards.  

In 2018, the HLA conducted a Watershed Survey, which documented sources of erosion in the water shed.  The Watershed Management Plan, once adopted, will serve as a road map for applying to the EPA for funding to remediate problematic erosion sites within the HL watershed. 

For the past 2 years, the Highland Lake Association in collaboration with  the Department of Environmental Protection, University of Southern Maine, University of New Hampshire, University of Maine – Orono and Bigelow Labs have gathered extensive data in the effort to discern the causes of the picocyanobacterial blooms – a phenomenon unique to lakes in  Maine. 

Huntt invited attendees to give feedback to the action items “We want to know thoughts: Do you think we’ve captured it all? Is there more we could do? What might we have missed? Where should we focus first?” Councilor, David Nadeau focused on the steps that the Town of Windham has taken in the effort to preserve Highland Lake including the institution of a point system for all development in the Highland Lake watershed.  He then engaged the group with the complex, and yet absolute prioritization of the need for private roads to be maintained – as private roads are a major contributor to erosion into Highland Lake. Councilor Nadeau has a proposal in front of the council, already accepted, that would require any public easement road plowed by the town to put the equivalent cost of plowing into road maintenance every year. The figures were presented to the council and these roads should be hearing from the town in the spring. The details are being worked out. The costs are defunded for each road in the proposal. If you have questions, contact councilor Nadeau at 892-7192.

The issue of septic systems and how they may impact Highland Lake is also of concern. Real Estate Broker, Nicole Foster stated that it is Maine law that all septic tanks be inspected during a real estate transaction. The bill (LD 216), entitled, “An Act to Protect Water Quality by Standardizing the Law Concerning Septic Inspection in the Shoreland Zone” will be enacted on January 1, 2020.

“An expansion of the already existing requirements has been extended to include inland shoreland areas as well,” stated Foster. “As of January 1, 2020, buyers for properties where septic systems are located within a shoreland area will be required to hold a septic inspection by completed by a person who is certified by the Department of Health and Human Services to do so. Exceptions will be available if there is evidence this inspection was done by the seller or the system was replaced within the previous 3 years. If the weather conditions do not allow for the inspection to be completed prior to purchasing, the buyers will be responsible for holding the inspection within 9 months of the transfer. If the inspection finds that the system is malfunctioning the system must be repaired or replaced within one year of transfer.” consideration was suggested that the HLA help raise funds for individuals who might need financial assistance in the case of septic tank repair or replacement.

Heather’s presentation included the fact that the total estimated cost for the implementation of the Watershed Management Plan over the next 10 years could reach $854,120.  Where is this money going to come from? Nick Kalogerakis, of the Windham Planning Board Member  suggested the following: “Of the 1500 residents who live on the lake watershed, a $50 a year in-kind donation by all the residents is all that is needed to help improve the quality of the lake and meet the financial needs in the next 10 years.” That would only be $10 per month for five months. This could be a simple solution to a complicated environmental issue.

A resident suggested that state representatives may be a potential resource in helping solve the water quality issues at Highland Lake. 

Several emphasized the importance of collaborating with local school districts in the effort to engage young people in ongoing environmental challenges of preserving natural resources. 

“There was an overall very positive response to the Action Items as presented,” commented Rosie Hartzler, President of the HLA.  Rosie is part of the Technical Assistance Committee (TAC) tasked with drafting the Watershed Management Plan, which will be reviewed by the DEP in early 2020.  Once accepted, there will be an application to the EPA for funding which is hoped to come online in 2021. 

“The protection of our natural resources is implicitly tied to the overall economic viability of this community; we all need to continue to participate in the ongoing effort to preserve and protect Highland Lake” said Rosie Hartzler.

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