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by Jonathan Thomas
The next scene in the nearly 20-year-long saga to provide public access to Walker Pond is now being written at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. According to DEP project manager Maria Lentine-Eggett, the department’s engineer is reviewing the project storm water management plan.
If it does meet the department’s general and basic standards, “a license is likely to be issued soon thereafter,” she said.
In late November, Andrew McCullough, the engineer working for Sedgwick and Brooksville, filed a stormwater permit application for the nearly mile-long road running along the shore of Walker Pond near the base of Caterpillar Hill. This application replaces a permit-by-rule application filed in September. The DEP rejected that application, saying the project size exceeded what could be approved by the expedited permit-by-rule process. (See October 14 issue of The Weekly Packet.) The new stormwater permit application contains several changes and improvements requested by the DEP when it reviewed the first application.
McCullough also filed a new permit-by-rule application for four items not included in previous applications: the construction of the boat launch; the replacement of culverts at two existing stream crossings; impacts adjacent to a stream channel; and impacts within the 250-foot radius of a significant vernal pool. Lentine-Eggett said this application “was technically approved, but the entire project needs department approval in order to be constructed.”
The stormwater application says the project will start with “[r]e-grading and stabilizing ditches on the Cooper Farm Road (off Route 15) to the point of beginning of the new access road.”
The new road would be approximately 5,200 feet long with a 22-foot wide gravel surface. Running from the Cooper Farm Road the road would cross a strip of land acquired by eminent domain from the Blue Hill Heritage Trust and the upper portion of the town-owned lot, and come onto property owned by the Condon Trust.
As provided for under an agreement with Condon trustee Basil Ladd, the section over the Condon Trust property “will closely follow an existing 10’ wide gravel road” before entering the town-owned waterfront parcel, which will include a picnic area, beach, parking area, and public boat launch.
The section of the road on the Condon Trust lot would bypass a section of old road that had become a deep gully because of severe erosion. The project includes reclamation of the eroded area, which has to some public controversy regarding the cost.
The proposed boat ramp will be constructed with pre-cast concrete planks. The improved stream crossings include an 18-inch culvert and a bridge with an eight-foot-wide inside opening.
In order to protect two stream channels, a section of the road will be narrowed to 14 feet “to permit maintenance of a 25-foot forested buffer adjacent to each stream channel.”
During joint meetings of the Sedgwick and Brooksville selectmen, members of the two boards frequently refer back to the long and unsuccessful attempts by both towns, acting separately, to establish public access to Walker Pond, which lies between the two towns.
On May 7, 1994, Sedgwick purchased the 31-acre Gifford Foster land below Caterpillar Hill, which has frontage on the pond, but no road access up to Route 15. According to reporting in the May 12 Packet of that year, the purchase price was $50,000, with $10,000 down and the remaining $40,000 owner-financed over the next four years at 5 percent.
Nearly 15 years later, in January 2009, Sedgwick and Brooksville held special town meetings to approve a Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement for the purpose of providing a boat landing and beach on Walker Pond, and building an access road.
During 2008 the two towns had the property appraised to establish the current value, and therefore the cost of Brooksville’s half-share, determined to be $107,500. Since then there have been substantial expenditures for engineering plans, surveying, legal expenses, and the land for the road, acquired by eminent domain from Blue Hill Heritage Trust. Kathy Flood, president of Friends of Walker Pond, wrote a letter in early December asking for greater disclosure of the project costs to date. (See ‘Letters’ in the December 9 issue of The Packet and page 10 in this issue.)
The Brooksville selectmen responded with a brief statement showing that $120,000 had been paid to Sedgwick—the $107,500 half-share and $12,500 toward legal fees. Brooksville shows additional expenditures of $19,695.56. Of the additional amount, $15,758.06 was spent on legal fees in preparation for buying into the property, $3,750.00 was for half of an appraisal bill from Norman Gosline, and the remaining $187.50 was for miscellaneous expenses.
Sedgwick has posted a list of expenditures and revenues on its Web site, showing a tentative additional balance owed by Brooksville to Sedgwick. The amount owed by Brooksville represents half of what Sedgwick has paid for engineering and surveying and for acquisition of a strip of land from Blue Hill Heritage Trust. The amount owed also includes half of the legal fees above $25,000 (Brooksville already paid 12,500—see above), and half of some miscellaneous expenses.
Four residents from the two towns were present during the joint board meeting in December. Sedgwick Selectman Nelson Grindal responded to questions about the engineer’s cost estimates in Flood’s letter. He said they did not take into account the in-kind contributions of labor and equipment, as well as the offsetting value of the wood that would be cleared when the road would be built.
Sedgwick Selectman Colby Pert said meaningful cost estimates couldn’t be prepared until the towns learn whether the DEP will require any additional changes.
Grindal and Pert also referred to the possibility of state grant funds. A letter from a Department of Conservation official says his department intends to provide funds to the towns if they are available, and the project meets standards.
There was also extended discussion regarding environmental issues, including invasive plants and erosion control.