Residents criticize current South China boat landing

South China boat launch. (photo by Roland D. Hallee)

by Mary Grow

A long, well-attended, amicable and informative July 31 discussion of the boat landing in South China Village revealed a lot of overlapping issues and a variety of opinions.

Several of the almost two dozen residents who spoke criticized the present landing, at the foot of the dirt road named Town Landing Road that runs from Village Street to the lake. The area is full of mud and accumulated leaves; vehicles get stuck in the road, or damage nearby trees as they try to maneuver with limited room; there is inadequate space to park; and run-off down the road is polluting China Lake.

The last point was emphasized repeatedly, on environmental and economic grounds – China Lake is an asset to the town in both respects.

South China fire chief Richard Morse pointed out that the problem is not new. The landing has been full of mud and leaves the 50 years he’s been in town, he said. In 2007, he thought town officials had agreed to engineer the road to divert run-off.

Select board chairman Wayne Chadwick agreed there had been pollution-control measures, like plunge-pools, installed; but the town failed to maintain them “and they’re gone.”

Opinions on improving the situation varied widely. Three options are closing the landing completely; limiting use to carry-in canoes and kayaks (and swimming); or improving the area for use by all boaters, including owners of large party boats that one person said are already being launched there.

Speakers pointed out that China Lake has two other landings, in the west basin at East Vassalboro and off the causeway outside China Village at the head of the east basin. Completely closing the South China landing was not a popular idea, however – two speakers said it would be “a shame.”

The July 31 China public discussion was intended to inform select board members; no action was expected and none was taken. Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood welcomes additional comments, written or emailed, submitted by Friday, Aug. 11.

Several people, including some who now put their motorboats into the lake from the landing, recommended limiting access to hand-carried canoes and kayaks. The advantages they cited included fewer large vehicles both on Town Landing Road and in the village, less need for parking and more compatibility with swimming.

Morse was among those who considered it unfair to make residents of southern China drive to East Vassalboro or China Village to put their powerboats in the lake. He and others who agreed the landing should be open to all types of boats suggested ways to limit pollution from the access road; recommended continuing not to publicize the landing so it wouldn’t get as overbusy as the one at the north end of the lake; and talked about the driving distance from southern China to either other lake access point.

South China resident Robert Fischer’s emailed comments suggested doing something about the “prop-killing rock” not far off-shore.

If the landing is to remain open to all boaters, the next question was the road. People referred to an engineering study done this spring and to still-uncertain boundaries of the town-owned land as they discussed parking and especially whether to pave the road.

The majority said not to pave. Among them were China Region Lakes Alliance executive director Scott Pierz and Fire Road 54 resident Wayne Clark. Clark called a paved roadway “a runway for the water to go right into the lake.”

Alternatives like what Pierz called “crushed ledge,” used in camp road rehabilitation projects, or permeable pavers were recommended.

The lone proponent of paving was Chadwick, who argued that “Dirt needs constant maintenance” or pollution will not be abated. He recommended paving sloped toward the ditch on each side with a hump at the bottom to finish diverting water. A paved road, unlike a dirt one, won’t develop ruts channeling run-off into the lake, he added.

A related issue was access to the lake for the South China volunteer fire department. When select board member Janet Preston asked Morse, who is fire chief, how often the department used the landing, Morse replied, “Whenever there’s a fire down there.” So far, he said, he can remember only one instance.

Morse said the ideal situation for his department would be installation of a dry hydrant, a major undertaking because the hydrant would need access to water under the ice in winter and shallow water extends far from shore.

Two people asked about fire department access at Jones Brook (or Turtle Brook), which goes under Village Street a short distance west of the landing. Morse said his department would consider any options.

Three points garnered near-unanimous support:

  • Something effective needs to be done soon to improve the landing, in order to protect water quality and give boaters and nearby residents a more pleasant experience;
  • Whatever is done will need to be maintained; and
  • Improving the landing and maintaining the improvements will cost money.

Greene said the China Lake Association has applied for a state grant for work at the landing. He checked before the meeting and grant awards have not yet been announced.

Select board members will continue discussion of the issue at future meetings.


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