2018-02-09 / Front Page

Wiggins Pond dredge opposition surfaces

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — A plan to dredge Wiggins Pond in Kennebunk is getting a thumbs down from local and state officials alike.

The concept of the dig was first proposed to selectmen at a meeting back on Sept. 26. At that session, Tom Wellman, president of Kennebunk Land Trust, pitched a partnership with the town to help save Hope Cemetery, a 25-acre burial ground located at the intersection of Route 1 and Summer Street.

The Hope Cemetery Corporation is in need of cash for continued operations and one way to raise money, Wellman said, would be for the land trust to purchase a conservation easement on an adjoining 75-acre forest owned by the cemetery.

According to George Harrington, president of the Friends of Hope Cemetery and Woods, Maine has the highest rate of cremation in the country, with 70 percent of all Mainers choosing that method for dealing with their remains. And while some of those ashes are then buried, many end up on mantles or spread over favored locations from life.

“When you have that, you just don’t have the revenue you had before,” Harrington said. “Every year we lose money and that comes out of our endowment. By doing this [selling a conservation easement] we can raise a tremendous amount of money and that will go into our endowment to make us self-sustaining.”

The catch before selectmen was that if the cemetery association continues to lose revenue, responsibility for maintaining Hope Cemetery would fall to the town and thus taxpayers, as a matter of state law.

In order to boost its chance of success for a Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, Wellmen said the plan was to pursue improvement of Wiggins Pond and its associated trail network.

The Wiggins Pond Preserve, which abuts the Hope Cemetery forest is owned by the town. Calling the pond a “hidden gem” in town — it was created long ago by damming a small creek near Fletcher Street as a place to harvest ice for refrigeration in the days before the advent of electricity — Wellman said dredging the pond would put a shine back on the amenity, while also helping the separate but equal task of buying the nearby woods by linking trails the trail network on the two properties.

In late November, the Hope Woods half of the project was awarded $250,000 as part of $2.8 million in total grants for conservation and recreation easements given by the Maine Farmland Trust.

“The Friends of Hope Cemetery and Woods committed to conserving this historic community treasure in the center of town,” Harrington said at the time. “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.”

Wellman, meanwhile, said he hoped to hear by mid-December on the outstanding grant application to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, filed through the state department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, to help fund the Wiggins Pond portion of the project.

Last week, Wellmen said that grant was still outstanding. However, in the meantime, some opposition to the dredge and become apparent.

On Jan. 8, the town’s conservation commission issued a letter opposing any dredging of the pond.

“The high cost of dredging/dam construction and future costs to continually manage sediment and vegetation are the concerns that support our decision,” commission chairman Ellen Wolf wrote in the letter to selectmen.

Wolf wrote that the commission supports creating a linked trail network to the Hope Woods “at minimal expense,” but otherwise said the area should be left alone to, “allow the entire Wiggins Pond acreage to restore itself.”

Instead, the commission called on the town to hire a “licensed professional” to conduct a survey of the wetlands area, as it now stands.

Although initiated by the land trust, the Wiggins Pond portion of the project would have been overseen, if not actually conducted, by the town. In a response to an enquiry from the Post sent following the conservation commission vote, both Town Manager Mike Pardue and selectboard chairman Dick Morin said no action is warranted, as the town awaits Wellmen’s next move.

“The matter is not on a board of selectmen agenda at this time,” Pardue said. “I envision the topic will present again in the future, allowing for public comment by conservation commission members. I am confident that this proposed project, and any future funding requests, will be thoughtfully considered going forward.”

Last week, Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder said officials from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection toured the Wiggins Pond site in December, and similar turned up their collective noses at the concept.

“They indicated they would not be supportive of amy dredging,” Osterrieder said.

In rough estimates Osterrieder had said it would cost about $80,000 to build a new parking area and trailhead at the end of Wood Pond Lane on land that would have been used as a staging area for the dredge, digging the pond to a depth of 6 feet and replacing the old wooden dam that now holds back water to form the pond with an earthen berm.

“Once it gets above a certain level, water would just spill out and go past the area and not actually use a dam system,” Wellman explained to selectmen in his initial proposal.

According to an Oct. 18 memo submitted to selectmen by Wellman and Harrington, as part of the project, the land trust would kick in $37,500 to buy a town easement to hiking trails in Hope Woods, along with another $20,000 to link those to the Wiggins Pond Preserve trails.

According to Wellman, once the Wiggins Pond overhaul is complete, the land trust will seek to buy a conservation easement on Hope Woods, adding it to the portfolio of more than 3,500 acres in town it now either maintains via easements, or owns outright.

“This is still a good step for the town no matter what we do in the future,” Wellman added. “This will sort of bring that pond back to being a vibrant use for the townspeople.”

For their part, selectmen had agreed to fund the Wiggins Pond dredge and trail project using funds set aside by voters in 2007 to fund grant applications that require a local match. According to town Finance Director Joel Downs, that $50,000 fund was only ever dipped into once, and still has $41,200 available. Selectmen agreed to draw “up to $40,000.”

Last week, Wellmen said that if the dredge does not happen, it does not impact the previously associated Hope Woods project.

“That conservation easement is entirely separate,” he said. “The only reason we got involved in the Wiggins Pond thing at all was that it’s right next door, and it would be great to link the trails. We were just looking to add a little interest and length to the trials by going into the Wiggens Pond section.

“I’m sure we’ll have to re-look at it if in fact we cannot dredge that pond,” Wellman said. “We just want to do the best thing for the pond. While we certainly presented our ideas to the state and the board of selectmen as to what could be done, things have definitely not been finalized.”

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

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