Residents who own property on Mason Pond asked the city to adopt a water-level ordinance at the City Council’s April 20 meeting to prevent dam owners from lowering the facility's water level. Councilors declined to take a vote on the ordinance at the meeting.

Jenny and Lee Duffy bought what they called their “dream home” on lower Mason Pond and were approached by Goose River Properties about buying the nearby dam soon after. The company has owned and run several dams that produced hydropower along the Goose River for over 40 years. Its contract with the regulating body for hydropower will not be renewed, so the company is selling its dams.

The Duffys are trying to broker a deal between Goose River Properties and Downeast Salmon Federation so the organization will have control of dams along the waterway for a watershed maintenance plan, according to Lee. They asked the city to pass this ordinance as a safeguard until that happens so water levels can be maintained.

Goose River Vice President Kyle Skinner said the Duffys’ attempt to get the ordinance passed was just a way to avoid buying the property, which it offered to sell to the couple for $125,000, and a way to get the city to protect their property for free. He said the city had not needed a water-level ordinance historically.

The company previously sold one of its dams to another resident along the river for $125,000 so it could be maintained and the water level could be protected, he said. It also sold a dam to Swanville for $150,000 so the town could protect water levels on Swan Lake.

Planning and Codes Director Bub Fournier said the state already has some regulations regarding maintaining water levels. Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stocks parts of the Goose River with fish each year and the whole upper pond has been designated an important bird habitat, so there could be repercussions for a dam owner that allowed water levels to drop drastically.

If the city created a water-level ordinance, it would be relying heavily on existing regulations from the state that its researchers helped develop, he said. The proposed ordinance is similar to an existing state law. He was also concerned that if the city applied an ordinance to this waterway it might open a “Pandora’s box” of river regulation.

The Duffys were surprised to learn that if there is no regulating ordinance a dam owner has a lot of leeway to raise and lower water levels at will or remove a dam altogether, they said.

Councilor Neal Harkness said he brought the issue up last year after hearing similar concerns from residents. The city itself is a stakeholder, because it owns waterfront property that is impacted by the dam's being there. He thinks it is an important asset to the city and is concerned that the state’s stance is restoring rivers to their original condition, which could mean removing dams.

Councilor Mike Hurley said his brother Patrick, who spoke in favor of the ordinance at the meeting, owns property on Mason Pond. He said he did not feel comfortable moving forward with a vote on the ordinance at the meeting, a sentiment echoed by other councilors. He added that he did not have enough information at the time to decide on the ordinance.

There are 18 properties on the pond in Belfast, and Hurley thinks there should be an established association of area property owners who can maintain the area, similar to what Swan Lake has, he said. It seemed unfair to him that one property owner should take on all the financial obligations of maintaining a dam from which many property owners benefit.

Councilor Paul Dean also wanted to see residents on the Goose River and Mason Pond band together to maintain the dams and water levels. He has lived in the area for over six decades, he said, and knows the pond’s importance to wildlife. “Living on these for six decades, ice skating in the winter, the kayakers, and fishing for chain pickerel,” he said, "it’s just amazing the uses that can happen on these ponds, and I'd like to see it stay in place.”