St. George voters to be asked to contribute to island purchase

Posted April 16, 2014, at 10:55 a.m.

ST. GEORGE, Maine — Residents will be asked next month whether they want the town to contribute $25,000 toward the purchase of a 20-acre island located off Tenants Harbor.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, at the St. George Town Office. The referendum will be held Monday, May 12, with polls open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Supporters say the purchase of High Island would preserve public access and create a town park.

However, the Select Board voted 4-1 last month against recommending that residents approve the expenditure.

The island is owned by High Island Trust, which consists of the Wentworth family that has owned it since the 1940s. The Wentworth sisters no longer feel they can afford to own the island, according to information provided by Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

The state’s largest land trust is offering to buy the island for $650,000 and has a purchase-and-sales agreement.

The Wentworths are committed to seeing it conserved and available to the public and youth, according to the land trust. The land trust states in its informational flyer that the purchase would ensure that the island is open to the public and that its ecological and scenic values are protected forever.

The land trust contends that the creation of an island park, easily accessible from the Tenants Harbor public landing, would provide a place for public hiking, camping and picnics.

The purchase of the island also would enhance St. George as a tourist destination, the land trust states.

The land trust is raising money for the purchase including seeking a matching grant from the state’s Land for Maine’s Future program. Those grants require a dollar for dollar match. The land trust has several years to raise the money.

The town’s contribution would go toward that match.

The St. George Conservation Commission voted unanimously at its Jan. 2 meeting for the town to contribute $50,000.

Select Board members expressed opposition to spending the money but voted 5-0 at its March 17 meeting to place the $25,000 request before voters at the May referendum.

Select Board member Richard Bates said the island project was an ideal one for people to step up and make contributions to something they believe is important. He said, however, that many people in town cannot reach the water and kayak to the island and it is important to look to the whole town, according to minutes of the Select Board’s March 17 meeting.

Bates also said there are better uses of town money for recreation purposes than chipping in for the High Island purchase.

The estimated loss of annual property taxes to the town if the land were to purchased by the nonprofit land trust would be $2,341.

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