Windham, Falmouth OK Highland Lake joint effort

A view of Highland Lake from the boat launch in Falmouth.

WINDHAM — Windham and Falmouth have signed off on the creation of a leadership team to help address concerns about the health of Highland Lake. 

The Windham Town Council voted Nov. 14 to approve the formation of the Highland Lake Leadership Team, which will be made up of representatives from the two towns and the Highland Lake Association.

The Falmouth Town Council signed off on the group the night before at its Nov. 13 meeting. 

The leadership team is part of an ongoing effort to understand and address a mysterious cyanobacteria bloom at the lake, which has temporarily impacted the lake’s clarity for the last several summers. The group also will work with other stakeholders and experts, including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District. 

The Nov. 14 Windham council meeting, which was not without a few technical difficulties and procedural questions as new council leadership and members settle into their roles, also saw the council delay a vote on proposed surface water protection ordinance changes for the Highland Lake Watershed. 

In September, the council voted 6-0 to approve a six-month moratorium on certain development activities in the Highland Lake watershed. The temporary ban has drawn complaints from some people looking to build or make changes to their single-unit properties. 

Town Manager Tony Plante said that the proposed ordinance changes, which will now come up again at the council’s Dec. 12 meeting, were drafted by town staff based on council direction with the aim to “provide some relief for some owners from the moratorium.” 

Plante stressed that the proposed surface water ordinance changes for the Highland Lake Watershed are separate from the charge of the Highland Lake Leadership Team and were “not intended to be the last word” in the ongoing conversation about surface water protection for the lake. 

“I don’t want the two issues to get mixed up,” Plante said. 

The Council agreed to delay the vote on the proposed surface water changes for several reasons. One of those reasons was to insure that council members, particularly the two newcomers elected earlier this month, could get up to speed on the complex issue. The council also indicated the delay would give the Highland Lake Association more time to work with town staff on the proposal and come up with their own suggestions on how to move forward. 

Plante also recommended Dec. 12 as the new date based on a suggestion from Councilor Timothy Nangle to send out mailers notifying residents of the Highland Lake watershed about the proposed ordinance changes. 

“Let’s get everybody involved,” Nangle said. 

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield acknowledged the impact that the moratorium has had on some people in the watershed. 

“This is the only thing that I’ve dealt with as a town councilor where I have had somebody standing in here crying,” Maxfield said about the impact of the moratorium. “You’ve got people whose lives are on hold. They cannot build. They have to rent when they should be moving into a home.”

“And it’s our responsibility to balance the lake – and your requests – but also with them,” said Maxfield in remarks seemingly addressed to lake association members at the meeting. 

The lake association has also launched a citizen’s petition effort that would “eliminate all future high density housing” in the Highland Lake watershed, according to a copy of the petition.

Highland Lake board member Dennis Brown, who is a Falmouth resident but pays taxes in both Falmouth and Windham because his property straddles the town line, said that association members and other volunteers have been collecting signatures for the effort. 

Highland Lake Association President Rosie Hartzler said that the group will be hosting a science forum concerning the lake’s health on Dec. 1, but that the forum will be closed to the public.

“It’s not that we want to keep anything secret,” she said about the forum. “I’m not even invited.” 

Hartzler said in an interview that having a closed forum will allow the group of 16 forum participants – including scientists, water quality experts and others – to focus on the scientific process. She emphasized that the results will be outlined at a subsequent public forum planned for early February. 

“Don’t we all want policy as determined by science, instead of by emotion?” asked Hartzler at the Nov. council meeting.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

A view of Highland Lake from the boat launch in Falmouth.