2 Eastport councilors against proposed conservation easement

Posted Nov. 11, 2013, at 4:24 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — At least two members of the Eastport City Council are lining up against a conservation easement the Maine Coast Heritage Trust has proposed on a 4-acre parcel owned by the city.

The parcel, undeveloped and with open and forested land, is located on Drummond Road. It has about 900 feet of shorefront on Carrying Place Cove of Cobscook Bay and about 650 feet of frontage on Drummond Road.

The trust, which seeks to conserve coastal lands and islands, has requested the City Council designate the parcel as a multiuse city park and to convey a conservation easement on it that would be held by the trust. The city would continue to own the parcel, but the easement would permanently conserve the site for public use.

The proposed park would provide a place for low-impact outdoor recreation, observing nature, access for clamming and worming, and conserve ecologically important habitat for some plants and animals, according to documents of the trust, whose officials could not be reached for comment because of the Veterans Day holiday.

The proposed conservation easement is on the agenda for the City Council meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening.

“The reason I’m against it is we have enough property that is tax-exempt already,” Councilor Colleen Dana-Cummings said Monday. Most of the land that is exempt from taxes is owned by the city, she noted. The city should be selling land it owns in order to put it back on the tax rolls and collect more revenue, suggested Dana-Cummings. Residents are struggling to pay their tax bills and other living expenses, she said.

She also questioned the need for the proposed park, pointing out that the 90-acre Shackford Head State Park is located in Eastport.

“I just don’t want to lock it into a trust,” Dana-Cummings, who just learned of the proposed conservation easement when she received the meeting agenda and supporting documents last Friday.

Eastport owns another parcel near the state park that would be more appropriate to designate as a multiuse park, added Dana-Cummings, who hopes the proposal will be the subject of a council work session before any action is taken.

Councilor Michael Cummings, who did not stand for re-election and whose term will expire at year’s end, also is against the proposed easement. “I would just as soon market it and try to [sell] it for a nice big house to be built,” said Cummings, or for some other purpose that would enable the city to collect real estate taxes on the parcel.

The city’s homeowners bear a stiff real estate tax burden, suggested Cummings, who noted that Eastport’s mill rate is $23 per $1,000 valuation.

“If we keep this property, it’s not taxable,” added Cummings. A portion of the parcel has been fenced off and designated by the city for about a year as a place where residents may walk and exercise dogs, he noted.

Two other councilors declined to discuss the proposed easement.

“I don’t discuss council meetings with the press,” said Councilor Gilbert Murphy, who referred questions to City Manager Larry Post.

“I’d rather not say anything right now until we have the meeting,” said Councilor Scott Emery.

Mary Repole, City Council chair, did not immediately respond to a call asking for comment about the proposed easement.

“The current growth indicators for the city and the port make it urgent that the last known piece of available property to support multiple uses be set aside for the long term use of Eastport citizens,” says the trust’s proposal. “As a memorial it will be a unique place dedicated to individual or group remembrance.”

Proposed daytime uses would be limited to picnicking, walking, hiking, access to beach and clam flats, dog exercising, nature observation, boat launching and other low-impact outdoor recreation and marine uses.

The trust envisions such facilities as picnic tables and fire rings, a play area for small children, clamming access, dog run, rest rooms, a small group pavilion and parking. The facilities would be paid for by voluntary donations and labor.

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