29 December 2013: Reflecting on the past and looking to the future

hard_work_aheadLong about this time of year it is customary to reflect on the past and consider what the future holds so I thought I would do just that. It makes even more sense now considering we’ve reached not just the end of another year but for all intents and purposes, the end of the Clary Lake water level petition initiative as well. This is a huge milestone that seemed almost unattainable just a few short weeks ago. It’s amazing how one’s outlook can change so quickly.

The water level petition was filed back on January 3rd, 2012.  At that time we’d already been working over 2 months collecting signatures, drumming up support, making plans, and preparing the actual petition application. I knew at the time that it wasn’t going to be an easy process but I had no idea how much of an ordeal it would turn into nor did I think for a minute that it would be every bit of 2 years before our efforts finally came to fruition. While I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, I have no regrets and would do it over again in a heartbeat.

hearing02Fortunately, that won’t be necessary. Our DEP water level order is just a couple of weeks away from being issued and it is a water level order we can live with. I never doubted that we’d get one, not even for a minute, though there were times when months had gone by with no word from the Department that I felt pretty depressed about the whole mess. But I knew  eventually we’d prevail, just like I knew it would be a water level order that was good for the lake, good for the environment, and good for us. It was unthinkable to me to believe that someone could come to town and out of pure spite try to destroy a Great Pond held in trust for the people of the State of Maine simply because it did not fit in with their development plans. And I was right. I do regret that things got so adversarial and the rhetoric so heated but given the personalities of the people involved and the nature of the proceedings, that was likely inevitable. This has been a very contentious issue and it has been difficult not to take everything personally, and to lash out in retaliation- a tactic regrettably employed by both sides. I have tried to keep the rhetoric toned down this past fall; going forward there is certainly nothing to be gained from maintaining an adversarial stance.

img_2254__medium_This is a good time to reflect (briefly!) on what we’ve been through and consider what lies ahead for us. About all I’m going to say about the last 2 years is I’m glad they’re behind us and not still ahead of us. Driving this petition forward has literally been a full time job for me, a labor of my love of Clary Lake. However, I couldn’t have done it without a lot of help and I am grateful to everyone for their assistance and support throughout. I’d like to thank the 56 people who signed the petition. In particular I’d like to thank the Board of the Clary Lake Association for their wholehearted endorsement and continued support of the petition initiative from the very start. I’d also like to thank the membership of the Association for standing behind us and Bob Rubin for agreeing to represent the Association and especially for his excellent advice and criticism as I bumbled my way through motion after motion and response after response, and of course my wife Margaret for, well, everything. I’d also like to acknowledge Senator Chris Johnson and Representative Deb Sanderson for the genuine interest they have shown since the start and for the instrumental role they played in helping move this petition forward when it appeared to be all but dead in the water. David Hodsdon and Thomas Gillette both deserve mention for the vital roles they have played. There are many other people who helped out or who helped me personally. You know who you are. Thank you.

img_1659__medium_This may sound like I’m sucking up but I also want to thank the Department of Environmental Protection as I am truly grateful for the work they have done to produce our water level order and the professional manner in which they have handled this petition process. Keep in mind that after Dana Murch left the department in the fall of 2011, there was nobody left at the Department who had ever done a water level petition.  Yes they were a little unsteady out of the gate but that is understandable, and they came through in the end. What they lacked in experience they more than made up for with hard work and no doubt, long hours. Granted, there were times when I had less than pleasant thoughts about the Department, but I mostly kept them to myself and more often than not found myself defending the Department against the complaints of understandably upset and restless natives. I always knew the Department would come through for us. I just didn’t know when.

img_1585__medium_So for us Clary Lake shore owners and friends of Clary Lake, the petition initiative is pretty much over and we have a lot to be happy about. I only have my final submission of comments on the DRAFT water level order to complete, due on Monday, January 6th and I expect the order will be issued shortly thereafter. For Mr. Kelley however, it’s anything but over. He is just now finding out what it’s like to be looking down the barrel of a Department of Environmental Protection water level order and from his perspective, I imagine the road ahead must be looking very rough indeed. As dam owner, he has a lot to do between now and next fall to comply with the terms of the order or suffer the consequences for failure to comply. For some reason however, I get the feeling that his heart just isn’t in it, perhaps because he has been fighting us and this petition tooth-and-nail from the very start and hasn’t given any indication that he’s going to change his approach any time soon. Will he? Clearly, from the tone of their last communication (Procedural Order #9) it doesn’t sound like the Department has much of a sense of humor anymore.  They mean business.  Is Mr. Kelley about to have a change of heart and embrace the water level order and all the costs that will entail? Time will tell. He has suggested numerous times in the past that he intends to appeal the Department decision regardless of what it is; this will take time and cost money. Meanwhile, the order goes into effect, and requires compliance.

15_october_2013_public_meetingMr. Kelley need not face the daunting task of complying with the water level order either alone, or at all for that matter. He can accept help from the Clary Lake Association in complying with the requirements of the water level order or he can up and sell the dam to us and and get out from under it, and the water level order, once and for all. He knows this, he has our offer. That he wants out from under the dam is clear: he has filed a petition for release from dam ownership or water level maintenance with the Department of Environmental Protection which is as public a statement as he can make that he wants to get rid of the dam. So what’s stopping him? It appears he is holding out for a breach order, but the statute governing his petition clearly states that he can only have a breach order if there are no willing buyers for the dam. And there are willing buyers, he knows it, and the Department knows it. Consequently, a breach order is not in Mr. Kelley’s future. Still, he has until the end of March 2014 to try and convince the Department otherwise by which time he will be only a month from having to complete a normal high water mark survey and Water Level Management Plan, both required by the water level order, both due on May 1st. And the deadlines continue. All these various activities including repairing the dam are going to cost Mr. Kelley money. A lot of money. At some point, will he decide it no longer makes sense to throw good money after bad?

4_30_08It makes sense under these circumstances for the Clary Lake Association to get busy and start acting like future dam owners since in all likelihood, we will end up owning the dam, sooner or later, preferably sooner. To this end I will be meeting with the Clary Lake Association Board sometime after the 1st of the year to discuss jump starting dam negotiations again, developing a Water Level Management Plan as described in the DRAFT water level order, and of course, soliciting volunteers and raising money. Those of you who have been actively engaged in the Petition Initiative or who have been looking for a way to get involved need not worry about finding something to do once we have a water level order: there is plenty of work to go around. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to get involved. This coming year is going to be really exciting and I for one can’t wait.


George Fergusson