Beach ready – for next year

Members of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps put the finishing touches on the boardwalk to Sandbar Beach on Sebago Lake on Aug. 5. Public access to the beach will open in the spring of 2017.

While the long-awaited Standish road that accesses Sebago Lake is finally done, the swimming area won’t be opened until summer 2017.

After decades of negotiations and months of labor, the Standish town beach is outfitted for public use next summer.

The half-mile road to the beach represents more than two decades of negotiations between the town and the Portland Water District to open public beach access to Standish residents.

Much of the groundwork for the project was laid last summer, when the Standish Town Council approved the beach agreement with the Portland Water District and Standish voters approved roughly $365,000 for the project.

The construction off Harmon’s Beach Road to access the sandbar on the western shore of Sebago Lake began in June. Nearly 50 members of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps worked on the project this summer. They built a road and a parking lot for 100 cars. They constructed two outhouses, and last week, they  put the finishing touches on a boardwalk that connects the parking lot with the beach.

This week, the town held a private dedication ceremony to honor Marines’ work, featuring speeches from Portland Water District representatives and state Sen. Bill Diamond.

The Marines are on the job as part of the Innovative Readiness Training Program through the Department of Defense. Capt. Brandon Bolhous said the collaboration between the Marines and the town has given the Marines “a lot of great training” and provided a valuable community service, which are the two goals of the program.

Next spring, the Standish Public Works Department will finish the project by adding signs and paving the parking lot.

Town Manager Gordy Billington said the project was “certainly the combination of wishes and desires of Standish for several decades.”

Public beach access on Sebago was the town’s No. 1 priority in its 2006 comprehensive plan.

“I’m thrilled they will get it, and so glad I was part of the process,” he said.

The half-mile stretch of sand beach has been used by boaters for decades, but is inaccessible by land. It lies just outside the water district’s 2-mile limit, which prohibits bodily contact near the district’s intake pipes that pump water from Lower Bay into a water treatment facility on Route 237 for distribution to Greater Portland.

Officially called John H. Rich and Doris Lee Rich Memorial Beach, but more commonly known as Rich Beach or Sandbar Beach, the waterfront is named for the Standish couple who died within two months of each other in the spring of 2014.

For the past three decades, the town and the Sebago Boating Club have had a three-way lease with the Portland Water District, according to Joel Campbell, commodore of the Sebago Boating Club. The town leases the property from the water district for $100 each year, according to Billington.

This year and going forward, the boating club will sublease from the town. The town and the club will share responsibilities for maintaining the property, but the water quality will be monitored by the town.

The beach can accommodate up to 400 people at a time, according to rules negotiated by the town and the water district. When the beach road is open for public access in spring 2017, the boating club and the town will split the use of the beach, with 200 boating club members and 200 residents on foot allowed on the beach at any time.

Boating club members pay a $100 membership fee, a portion of which goes to the town, said Town Councilor Steve Nesbitt, who headed the town’s beach committee. The boating club will also provide a beach monitor, who will track the number of people on the beach and make sure beachgoers abide by the rules.

Standish residents will purchase a pass to access the beach. A price for the pass has not been decided, according to Billington.

Members of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps put the finishing touches on the boardwalk to Sandbar Beach on Sebago Lake on Aug. 5. Public access to the beach will open in the spring of 2017.

Boaters enjoy the sunshine at Sandbar beach on Sebago Lake last week. Until recently, the only way to access the beach was by boat.