Bodies of water are precious resources to all humans. Not only do they provide crucial fresh water, they also provide beauty, recreation, and community pride. In fact, 95% of all people living in America make their home within an hour’s drive of water that is navigable by boats and small vessels.
What happens when these community-shaping bodies of water suddenly disappear?
Lincoln County, ME is a tiny coastal population of around 35,000. It’s a little ways up the coast from Portland and just south of August. Clary Lake is a proportionally small body of water in Lincoln Co., about three miles long and just shy of a mile wide. The lake isn’t very developed, but it’s beloved by Whitefield locals for the time they spend on it fishing, swimming, and connecting with nature.
Clary Lake’s water level has been supported by a privately owned dam. In 2011, Hurricane Irene caused a bit of damage to the dam, leading to disaster for the lake. The water level dropped by four feet, severely altering the shoreline and heavily affecting the lake’s flora and fauna. In particular, locals have pointed out overgrown water weeds choking out the shoreline’s other plants and creating dangerous swimming conditions.
Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, the company that owned the Clary Lake dam, promised repairs in due time. Unfortunately, a myriad of reasons ranging from lack of funds to strict environmental and construction laws prevented the repairs from happening. Clary Lake languished in disrepair, despite the efforts of locals to preserve and advocate for their beloved lake.
Then in spring of 2017, a light appeared for the Clary Lake locals. Pleasant Pond Mill, LLC filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Often called liquidation bankruptcy, Chapter 7 bankruptcy means the bankrupt party’s assets will be liquidated by the court handling the case — this would include Clary Lake dam.
In fall of 2017, Paul A. Kelley Jr., principal of Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, also filed for personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It was decided: ownership of the dam would be auctioned off. Locals had a chance at officially owning the neglected dam that keeps their lake in top shape.
Of course, these are residents of a tiny town in rural Maine. Some fundraising needed to happen to pull off buying the dam and get the deed in the hands of the Clary Lake Association. The public rallied, the funds were raised. On September 28, a judge approved the sale of the dam to the Association for about $80,000. The payment will cover debts, legal fees, and the dam’s mortgage.
Whitefield locals rejoiced — their lake will soon begin to be restored to its former glory.
The whole story is being praised as a victory for rural communities. When rural resources are owned by private entities, situations like a half-drained lake can arise. Will Whitefield’s story inspire more small towns to take ownership of crucial local landmarks?
As for the dam, a contractor and projected cost for repairs have been settled on. The Clary Lake Association predicts that repairs will be finished in the next year or two.