2017-12-01 / Community

Grants given for local open spaces

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Directors of the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program voted Nov. 9 to fi- nalize $3.2 million in project funding in its latest round of grant awards, with two local sites on the recipient list.

Hope Woods in Kennebunk was given $250,000 as part of $2.8 million in total grants for conservation and recreation easements, while the Old Talbot Farm on Mountain Road in Arundel got $125,000 as one of two projects on the docket at the Maine Farmland Trust.

The Hope Woods project involves 75 acres behind Hope Cemetery, located at the intersection of Route 1 and Summer Street in Kennebunk. In order to sustain operations into the future, the cemetery’s board of directors is working with an associated friends group to sell a conservation easement to the Kennebunk Land Trust.

Once created, that easement will go hand-in-hand with another land trust project, to restore the abutting Wiggins Pond Preserve, with the friends group agreeing to help build and maintain hiking trails across both parcels.

“The Friends of Hope Cemetery and Woods committed to conserving this historic community treasure in the center of town,” group chairman George Harrington said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “This $250,000 LMF grant is the beginning of developing a comprehensive vision for the preservation the woods. We look forward to engaging the community in the coming months.”

Tom Wellman, chairman of the land trust board of directors, said he hopes to hear by mid-December on an outstanding grant application to the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund, filed through the state department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, to help fund the Wiggins Pond portion of the project.

At an Oct. 24 meeting, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen voted 5-1 to commit up to $40,000 as the local match toward that work, which will dredge Wiggins Pond to a depth of 6 feet and replace the current wooden dam there with an earthen berm.

Wellman declined to say Tuesday how much of the Kennebunk Land Trust is paying for the conservation easement on Hope Woods.

“This grant was a great kickoff for us,” he said. “We are at the very beginning of the effort to raise the money for this. This [grant] was just the very first step and we are going to have to do a public campaign.”

LMF Director Sarah Demers said the $125,000 amounts to 27 percent of the total project budget presented by the land trust. That percentage may include surveying and other costs, and not the actual sale price of the easement, she said. It also does not mean the land trust will necessarily get $125,000.

Although the LMF board has voted to fund 15 of the 25 applications it received in September in its latest round of grant funding from bonds approved by Maine voters, each of those projects still needs to go through a more thorough vetting process, to include obtaining an appraisal of the market value for each site, she said.

Depending on how that appraisal comes back, the LMF board may vote at a future meeting to lower the initial grant award, Demers said. Anyone interested in the process should keep an eye on the LMF website (maine.gov/dacf/lmf) for announcements of future board meetings on the topic, she said.

The timeline to determining the final grant amount and handing over a check can take “anywhere from six months to several years,” depending on the property in question, Demers said.

The project in Arundel will place 129 acres in a farmland conservation trust.

According to Charlie Baldwin, a project manager with the Maine Farmland Trust, an independent nonprofit funded almost entirely by private donations, the Old Talbot Farm is owned by Mark Pinette, who last year inked a separate conservation deal on his 189 acre Hardscrabble Farm,

“Mark has a vision of restoring the farmland along Mountain Road,” Baldwin said. “Starting with about 40 or 50 acres, he bought the old Oliver farm at the end of Mountain Road. He then used the funding we paid for the Hardscrabble Farm easement to help finance his purchase of the abutting Old Talbot Farm, which goes from there to the Kennebunk River. Together with the land on the other side of the river owned by the Kennebunk Land Trust, that now makes for a corridor of 400 acres that is now protected from development.”

Attempts to reach Pinette for comment Tuesday before the Post’s weekly deadline were unsuccessful.

Baldwin said the Maine Farmland Trust will pay about 50 percent of the easement value on the Old Talbot Farm — a price he said is the difference between the market value of the property as a single lot, and its so-called “highest and best use” in development terms, if subdivided into individual house lots. That easement value works out to roughly $500,000, he said, although a final number has yet to be determined, as has a final percentage of value the farmland trust will pay for the easement.

“Whatever the final easement price works out to be, the farmland trust will make up the difference between that and the $125,000 LMF contribution, Baldwin said.

Unlike traditional conservation easements, a farmland trust easement compels current and future owners to keep fields open. The trust cannot force an owner to actually farm the land, or use it to maintain livestock, but it has to remain open, even if just as hay fields, so that the possibility is always an option, Baldwin said.

“One of the reasons we lose so much farmland is because a cleared piece of land is the easiest for a developer to develop,” Baldwin said. “This kind of easement allows land to remain open so it can be farmed, but keeps it forever free from development.”

Pinette keeps Highland beef cattle on his Hardscrabble Farm and reportedly has plans to lease out the Old Talbot Farm for goats.

“It’s a real stunning thing for an individual landowner in southern Maine these days to take that steps that Mark [Pinette] has to not only protect and preserve, but to actually expand the land used for active agricultural purposes,” Baldwin said.

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

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