SANGERVILLE, Maine — The selectmen have decided to put all decisions regarding the town’s woodlots on hold until after the March 2013 town meeting.
The board instructed the Sangerville Community Forestry Committee to cease operation and declined to accept a state grant for reforesting the Bean Hill woodlot during its Nov. 13 board meeting.
The board’s decision to scale back woodlot activities was led by Selectmen Irving McNaughton and Melissa Randall. Both disagreed with current policies regarding the woodlots’ management.
There has been considerable debate within the town about whether woodlot revenues should be used for town projects or to maintain the forests.
The two selectmen believe the public should weigh in on the woodlots’ future before any further long-range plan is made. Randall and McNaughton want the residents to indicate their preference during the town meeting.
Earlier this year, the town’s tree board committee was resurrected as an advisory committee. In recent months, the committee developed plans for creating a recreational trail in the woodlot near the public works department. It has submitted a proposal to rename three of the lots. It also indicated a preference to use proceeds derived from the stumpage for maintaining the woodlots.
The group has also worked to develop a budget and long-range plan for the four woodlots this summer. The committee hoped this action would ease the selectmen’s concerns about the woodlots’ future.
The Sangerville Community Forestry Committee’s vision for the woodlots is not the same as other residents who want them sold. Former Selectman Brent Randall told the board that the town should sell the woodlots so it could derive tax revenues from the property. His wife, Melissa, now a selectman, agreed the matter should be settled at the next town meeting with a series of straw poll questions to determine how to proceed with the town-owned woodlots.
“Right now, we have no direction from the public on how to proceed with our woodlots. Once we put the question to the residents, this will give us a clear mandate,” said Melissa Randall.
Selectman Tom Carone opposed the decision to order the forestry committee to cease all activity. He said that since the committee served only in an advisory capacity and had no authority to spend money, it should remain active.
“I look favorably on any type of volunteering on town boards or committees. I’m also a strong advocate of the public becoming involved with town affairs,” Carone said. “I don’t see how their continuing operation presents a problem to the town. They are purely an advisory board with no powers.”
Carone was also in the minority in the board’s decision not to accept a tree canopy grant from the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The other selectmen voted against accepting the $9,925 grant to reforest the Bean Hill Woodlot with seedlings.
McNaughton and Randall believe the required $10,447 as a matching contribution would place too much responsibility on the town’s public works department over the required three-year period.
After consulting with Town Manager Dave Pearson and Carone earlier this month, Community
Development Director Dr. Kenneth Woodbury of the Piscataquis County Economic Council assisted the town in applying for the grant. Woodbury indicated the town wouldn’t need to expend funds as part of the grant’s match. He further explained the in-kind contribution could come from labor supplied by the public works department or volunteers.
But his explanation couldn’t persuade either Selectmen Randall or McNaughton to commit the town to the project.
“I see this being a $20,000, five-acre deer plot,” Randall said. “I can’t see where the town of Sangerville would see this as being acceptable. I don’t see any mandate from the public for the board to act in this manner.”
Forestry committee board member Toby Hall told the selectmen that their decisions concerning the town’s woodlots were shortsighted. As a tree farmer, Hall indicated that landowners use the resources cultivated by past generations and it was up to the current generation to do likewise.