September 21, 2018
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Maine campground dodges eminent domain with deal to cut trees near airport

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Pam Brackett stands in a grove of pine trees planted by her father at Chewonki Campground in Wiscassett in this Aug. 20, 2014, file photo.
By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff

WISCASSET, Maine — The owners of Chewonki Campground and town of Wiscasset have tentatively agreed to terms of an easement to remove dozens of tall trees at the shady campground in order to make the flight path of the adjacent Wiscasset Airport compliant with federal safety standards.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen will consider delegating to Town Manager Marian Anderson the authority to execute the agreement, which would put to rest any thought of taking the easement by eminent domain.

Pam Brackett and her sister, Ann Beck, own the 47-site campground, which they inherited from their father. Four years ago, they first learned that the tall pines and other trees on the campground were creating a potential safety hazard at the adjacent airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration has said for years that failure to cut trees on about 3 acres at the campground — Brackett already granted an easement on an acre years ago — and install navigation lights on the 47-site campground would jeopardize future federal funding not only to address safety concerns at the airport, but also for other Maine Department of Transportation projects.

Following a meeting in July at which Brackett and town officials — with their respective lawyers — met to discuss proposed terms of the easement, the two parties appeared at a standoff.

“The town made us an offer, but it’s not even close” to acceptable, Brackett said at the time.

Brackett said the town’s proposed easement would take many 25- to 70-foot conifers and deciduous trees as well as 20 towering white pines that cover half the campground’s sites, many of which are prime tenting sites because the trees offer shade.

Brackett’s attorney, Jim Hopkinson, wrote to the town in May that his client would consider an easement for the price of $320,000, plus a number of conditions including a “No Fly Zone” and a new septic system to accommodate more RVs, because the campground would no longer be as attractive to tenters.

But the FAA informed the town in June that many of the conditions were “impracticable,” and that $320,000 is “significantly above” fair market value, to which the FAA is required to adhere.

Had no agreement been reached by Aug. 21, the town would likely have begun discussing taking the trees by eminent domain, which would also require a vote by selectmen and then residents.

The proposed easement agreement — provided to the Bangor Daily News by town staff — would pay the campground $280,000. Of that, town officials expect the FAA to pay 90 percent and the Maine Department of Transportation to pay 5 percent. The remaining 5 percent — $14,000 — would be paid by the town of Wiscasset.

The town has received verbal confirmation that the FAA has approved the proposed agreement, Anderson said.

The town and the campground owners will work cooperatively with a third party contractor selected by the town to schedule and cut the trees outside the campground season and with a minimum of interference at the campground.

The trees to be cut would be marked, then reviewed during a construction meeting with Anderson and representatives of the campground and the contractor.

If the campground owners decide within 18 months that its septic system must be expanded because they have converted some tent sites to accommodate RVs, the town would present the question at a town meeting for a vote, and the campground would pay for the expansion.

In addition, Anderson would recommend that the airport adopt a voluntary noise abatement procedure and send letters to known frequent pilots using the airport to notify them of the procedure.

Should the agreement be signed, the $14,000 town expenditure would go before voters at a November referendum.

On Tuesday, Brackett referred questions to Hopkinson, who did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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