2015-08-21 / Community

Land trust gets ‘rare opportunity’

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Selectmen in Kennebunk are poised to send voters a funding request that will help the local land trust take advantage of what it is touting as a “rare opportunity.”

According to Tom Wellman, a former town selectman who now serves as treasurer of the Kennebunk Land Trust (KLT), his group has a purchase and sale agreement with the Biddeford based Leander O. Crepeau Trust to buy three lots totaling 111 acres off Webber Hill Road. The vacant land features fields, forests and wetlands, as well as nearly 1 mile of frontage on the Mousam River.

“This will allow us to make available forever a piece of land that will allow our grandchildren to experience nature and the importance of the environment, long after all of us are gone,” Wellman told selectmen at their Aug. 11 meeting.

At that session, Wellman asked for a $100,000 donation from the town to help KLT meet the $600,000 asking price. According to Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, $30,000 of the town donation would come from an open space reserve fund set up to help fund acquisitions of land for public use.

The remaining $70,000 would come from the town’s undesignated surplus account. As such, that part of the fending mechanism would require vote approval at the polls in November.

Selectmen have set a public hearing and second reading on the proposal for their Sept. 8 meeting, which will allow enough time for the issue to make the November ballot, if decided that night.

KLT was formed in 1972 and now conserves more than 3,400 acres in Kennebunk, including 300 acres managed for private landowners as part of conservation easements.

According to Wellman, KLT has nev- er before gone to the town with its hand out. However, it only has until May to raise the dollars needed to complete the sale. The plan, he said, is for $500,000 to be raised through a capital campaign and private donations.

“There are not any grants available at this point,” he said. “The land trust money at the state level appears to be a little hung up.”

Selectman Richard Morin joked that it was good the question would be going to voters, as he supposed the $100,000 request would get equally hung up if requested as part of Kennebunk’s annual budget.

“I’d hate to see the sparks flying around here if we had this discussion on the budget board,” he said.

Wellman promised that the funding request would be a “one-time deal” and that KLT would not return to taxpayers in the future to secure money to maintain the property, which KLT hopes to lace with trails for hiking, bird-watching, cross-country skiing, fishing, and other “passive recreational pursuits.”

“If we don’t purchase this I assume it would go back on the market to be sold for whatever use is allowed in that area,” he said.

Combined, the three lots are assessed by the town at $418,400. Because KLT is a nonprofit, if it succeeds in buying the property, it would fall off the tax rolls. At the current mil rate of $15.30 per $1,000 of assessed value, that would mean Kennebunk taxpayers would have to make up the $6,402 the current landowner pays on the property.

Still Wellman pointed out that the lots are listed in Kennebunk’s comprehensive plan as part of the “highest environmental priority area,” for land conservation.

“This property is an exceptional and unique fit with the intentions and directives of that process,” he said. “It is what the taxpayers were thinking of when they voted and allocated funds for conservation.”

However, Selectman Ed Karytko addressed the 800-pound alewife in the room by asking just how valuable the land would be as a conservation easement if the three Mousam River dams owned and operated by the Kennebunk Light and Power District come down after 2022, if trustees there choose not to pursue federal relicensing.

“This piece of property is still a very valuable piece of property even if the dams were removed,” Wellman said.

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