ELLSWORTH, Maine — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has honored the city of Ellsworth and its water department for their efforts to protect the city’s drinking water supply.
The agency gave the city its annual Sustainable Public Health Award. The award was announced in Kansas City earlier this month and presented last week to City Manager Michelle Beal and Council Chairman Gary Fortier at a meeting of the Maine Rural Water Association in Freeport.
According to Beal, the award honors the city’s efforts to protect Branch Lake, which is the city’s drinking water supply, and particularly recognizes the city purchase and conservation earlier this year of almost 1,200 acres surrounding the lake. The city had worked on the land purchase for more than two years before the deal was completed.
The plaque cites the city’s “exceptional creativity and dedication to public health.”
Beal noted that over the years the city has worked to protect Branch Lake in different ways, including improving ordinances and appointing a water steward who regularly monitors the lake. But the land conservation effort was by far the biggest step the city has taken, she said.
“Ellsworth has never done anything like this before,” she said. “It was a difficult decision, and the council struggled with it. So to have someone come back and say, ‘You did a good thing,’ was very nice.”
The conservation initiative involved the city’s purchase of 451 acres. The Frenchman Bay Conservancy will hold an easement on that land and work with the city to protect the water quality of the lake while developing low-impact, nonmotorized public recreation. The city also obtained easements on an additional 745 acres that the Forest Society of Maine will manage as a working forest.
The cost of the effort was $2.45 million. The city borrowed $1.5 million and the Land For Maine’s Future program added $900,000. Private donations accounted for the balance of the funding package.
Beal said the city hopes to begin work this spring on designing and building trails on a portion of the property.