NEWCASTLE, Maine — The Maine Department of Transportation has decided not to move forward with its Sherman Marsh Wetland Bank project, which would have placed conservation easements on properties around the marsh in Newcastle and Edgecomb.
In a letter to Newcastle Town Administrator Jon Duke, Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt said the department would not move forward with the acquisitions.
“Upon hearing the concerns of Newcastle property owners and after careful consideration, I have decided to [forgo] the acquisition of conservation easements by eminent domain,” Bernhardt wrote in a Jan. 27 letter. “Each abutting property owner will be receiving a letter from the department notifying them that we will not be moving forward with the acquisition.”
Bernhardt’s letter was a response to a Dec. 12 meeting he attended at the Newcastle fire station. During the meeting, Bernhardt answered questions from Newcastle town officials and local property owners regarding the project.
The DOT planned use eminent domain, if necessary, to purchase conservation easements on approximately 130 acres. By placing the easements, the DOT would create a wetland bank to offset the wetland impacts of transportation projects elsewhere in the state.
In his letter, Bernhardt said he found the meeting to be “very insightful” and appreciated the opportunity to hear from affected property owners.
“Much of what we do here at the Maine DOT has some effect in one way or another on Maine residents throughout the state. The department prides itself on working closely with these residents, hearing their concerns, and working through any problems that might arise,” Bernhardt wrote.
Bernhardt added that he understands that “eminent domain is something to be used sparingly and never taken for granted.”
Project Manager Deane Van Dusen confirmed the acquisition of easements on the Sherman Marsh Wetland Bank project had been “discontinued.”
“The decision was made among the commissioner, the chief engineer, the legal office, and myself that we really should discontinue the project, mainly due to the public opposition to acquiring the properties through eminent domain,” Van Dusen said.
While some property owners were willing to negotiate with the DOT, a number of property owners were not, Van Dusen said. Because a consensus could not be reached, the project was scrapped.
Letters have been sent to the town of Newcastle, Newcastle Board of Selectmen Chairman Brian Foote, state Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, state Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, and the property owners explaining the department’s decision, Van Dusen said.
Duke said it was a pleasant surprise to learn the DOT had decided to not to acquire the conservation easements.
“I was happy to see the commissioner came down and met not just with the selectmen, but also the residents who live around the marsh, and heard their concerns firsthand,” Duke said. “It’s a credit to the DOT and Commissioner Bernhardt, because they absolutely heard what our residents were saying and responded appropriately.”
The DOT’s decision also reinforced the importance of residents coming together and voicing their opposition.
“It speaks well to the citizens speaking their minds and letting the powers that be, whether they be at the local, state, or federal level, know when things are not OK, and fighting when something objectionable is on the table,” Duke said. “It speaks very well of the people of Newcastle.”