EASTPORT, Maine — Concerned that conserving 51 acres of coastal land for recreation and public access will stymie local economic development, Eastport city councilors carefully quizzed Tom Boutureira, executive director of The Downeast Coastal Conservancy, Wednesday night.
Boutureira told the council that DCC, based in Machias, is working with a private seller to buy the tract of land on Kendall Head, a stunningly beautiful property with 360 degree views of Passamaquoddy Bay and Eastport. He stressed that DCC was not asking Eastport for any funding but that it needed a letter of support to seek funding for the purchase from the state’s Land For Maine’s Future program.
He said hiking trails and two small parking areas would be developed, and DCC would work closely with the city on a plan for the property.
“We would create a scenic resource, public access, shore access, protection, management and promotion,” he said. Currently, DCC is responsible for the stewardship of 4000 acres and more than 40 miles of shoreline Down East.
Although the councilors agreed with protecting the property and agreed it would be an amazing resource for the city, they were concerned that Eastport would be losing tax revenue. They were also concerned that DCC would object to aquaculture operations, seaweed harvesting, and the possible passage of liquefied natural gas tankers off the property.
Boutureira said that hunting, fishing, aquaculture and soft recreation, such as hiking or snowshoeing, would be allowed but that DCC would object to seaweed harvesting.
Boutureira said he was aware that some of DCC’s board members had publicly voiced their objections to LNG projects but that the board as a whole had never taken a formal stand on the issue.
Council president Bob Peacock told Boutureira that DCC needed to formalize its opinion before the council could agree to support the proposal. The Eastport City Council supports LNG development because of the jobs it would provide. Peacock said the council could not support a plan that would interfere with job creation.
“There are ramifications to the area and the city,” he said.
An additional concern for councilors was the loss of revenue if the land is owned by a non-profit entity.
Treat Island was used as an example. Eastport received $3,200 annually in taxes from a private owner, but when the island was purchased for conservation by a non-profit, that dropped to $800.
Boutureira said the property is currently in tree growth status, and the city receives only $131.19 a year in taxes. He said DCC would make a donation to the city at that level or greater to offset the loss.
City officials, however, said the loss goes beyond that because a state reimbursement for tree growth property also would be lost.
The council asked Boutureira to come back to its March 15 special council meeting with a definitive answer regarding DCC’s status on taxation and LNG development.
In other business, the council watched a presentation by Jude Valentine of the Tides Institute on the Schoodic Symposium’s selection of five artists as finalists for this year’s granite sculpture projects. Eastport is one of the places Down East that has been selected to receive one of the sculptures. Valentine said no decision has been made about a design, but the sculpture will be placed in Overlook Park and will be part of a sculpture trail along Maine’s Down East coast that is well-traveled by tourists and artists.
The council also heard that the budget process was nearly complete and a draft will be ready soon; Eastport will receive $60,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for storm damage last December; and an annual audit of the city’s finances is complete and the city is in full compliance with state and federal regulations.
The council also appointed a deputy city clerk and election warden and scheduled public hearings for a zoning ordinance amendment, victualer’s licenses and a liquor license renewal at 6 p.m. April 13.