2016-08-19 / Community

Town fines land trust

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — As part of a consent agreement adopted at their Aug. 9 meeting, Kennebunk selectmen have fined the Kennebunk Land Trust (KLT) $500 for illegally cutting rosa rugosa bushes at the access point to Strawberry Island, off Great Hill Road in late 2015.

The 12,000-square-foot parcel where the bushes sit, helping to hold sand dunes in place, lies in both the resource protection and shoreland overlay zoning districts.

According to Kennebunk Code Enforcement Officer Paul Demers, rules within those areas prohibit the cutting of existing vegetation within 75 feet of the high water line, except to remove safety hazards.

Brad Meserve, owner of Boiling Spring Landscaping, the company hired by KLT to prune the beach roses, wrote in an Aug. 5 letter to the town that KLT had asked him to trim the bushes to between 15 and 18 inches in height, but his crew cut them back to just six inches high.

“That was ultimately my mistake and I am very sorry,” he wrote.

However, selectmen did not exhibit much sympathy, given that the bushes should not have been cut below 36 inches in height without a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, according to Demers.

“If KLT wasn’t aware of the requirements, they should have been, given what they are about,” Selectman Shiloh Schulte said.

Selectmen also noted about half of the cutting actually took place on a strip of land belonging to the Kennebunk Beach Improvement Association Charitable Holdings (KBIA). The land trust drafted a land management plan on July 26 to clearly delineate the property line and prevent a repeat of the incident.

“We do want to apologize publicly for the transgressions,” said KLT vice chairman Tom Wellman. “We totally get that we did wrong in not contacting the other entities involved. But we do want to stress the pruning was done for the health of the plants, to stimulate root growth. The property is in pristine and excellent condition at this point and has not been harmed by any of the actions we took.”

“We are talking about something you probably wouldn’t kill with dynamite,” Selectman Ed Karytko agreed, “but we want to be fair to everybody.”

Although there had been concern over assessing a fine to KLT, given that it subsists on donations from local residents, selectmen said they felt they could not waive the penalty given the nature of the violation, and the fact the town has assessed fines in the recent past for illegal cuts done by private landowners. The town has also paid a $3,400 fine of its own to the state for disturbing sand dunes of Great Hill Road in late 2014.

The consent agreement calls on KLT to pay a $500 fine to the town, which will go into an existing open space reserve account, used to buy land for preservation purposes.

KLT also must pay the $957 bill submitted by town attorney William Dale for drafting the agreement, as well as all legal expenses incurred by KBIA, estimated to have run to $2,287 through July. Additionally, KLT must cover the full cost of a land survey.

Finally, KLT must give $10,554 — based on a July 21 estimate provided by Meserve — to replace the beach roses should they take a sudden turn for the worse and die off as a result of the pruning. The town will hold that money for two years and then return it to KLT if not spent.

Also, because setting fines such as the one imposed on KLT can be, in the words of Selectman Blake Baldwin, akin to “throwing darts at the wall,” the board agreed that, at some point in the future, it should formalize a fine schedule for environmental violations.

That chart, when finished, could include administrative costs spent on Demers and other town employees for tracking town and dealing with violations, they said.

A date for a workshop on the proposal was not set.

Only Karytko voted against the consent agreement. Although he did give a specific rea- son for the vote, Karytko had moved unsuccessfully to divide the $500 fine in half, directing $250 to the open space reserve and $250 to the town’s general fund balance.

The pruning occurred over the winter. Demers first became aware of the violation in February, when alerted by neighbors to the disappearance of the beach roses. In early June, about a month after Demers presented KLT with a formal notice of violation, the land trust’s executive director, Marie Louise St. Onge, submitted her resignation after nearly 17 years on the job.

Isabel Lescure, chairman of KLT’s board of directors, said July 25 the resignation is unrelated to the illegal pruning incident.

“That has been in the works for some time. So, one does not have anything to do with the other,” she said. “The timing is what it is, but they’re absolutely not related. It’s important to me that the people understand that.”

Lescure said KLT directors have already hired St. Onge’s replacement, but declined to name the new director until a formal transfer of power takes place Sept. 1.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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