July 10, 2008

$18M Awarded for Conservation

By Kevin Miller, Bangor Daily News, Maine

Jul. 10--Roughly 50 projects have been awarded $18 million in funding from the Land for Maine's Future program to conserve forests, farms and working waterfronts throughout the state.

The Land for Maine's Future program, or LMF, uses voter-approved bonds to help groups or individuals protect land from development while ensuring public access to the property. Recipients of LMF money are required to match the funding.

On Tuesday, LMF's board allocated $15 million for conservation and recreation projects, $2 million for farmland preservation and $785,000 to keep coastal properties used by commercial fishermen from falling into the hands of developers.

The long list of projects includes:

- $968,000 to the Maine Department of Conservation to purchase land or conservation easements on roughly 11,600 acres in the Millinocket area.

- $640,000 to the city of Ellsworth to purchase easements on nearly 1,200 acres on the southern end of Branch Lake.

- $850,000 to the Downeast Lakes Land Trust to purchase 6,600 acres near Wabassus Lake in the Grand Lake Stream area.

- $265,000 to protect what is known as Davis Wharf, a commercial fishing wharf in Tremont on Mount Desert Island.

Voters approved $17 million in bonds last November by roughly 2-to-1. While that replenished LMF's coffers, it covered less than half of the amount requested in applications, according to program director Tim Glidden.

As a result, few, if any, of the projects received the full amount requested. Additionally, two of the three LMF programs are now out of money until the next voter referendum, which must be approved by the Legislature. Only the working waterfront program still has significant amounts left to dole out.

"The board understands that it is taking a calculated risk," Glidden said in a statement. "It is possible that some of these projects may struggle due to reduced funding but we hope that the strong partnerships supporting these projects will prevail."

Department of Conservation projects received a chunk of the total pie. In addition to the land around Millinocket, the department received LMF funding to purchase 2,256 acres around Seboeis Lake and to permanently protect 13 miles of multiuse trails in Katahdin Iron Works and LaGrange.

The so-called "Millinocket Forest" project is part of a complex agreement negotiated last year among the state, Millinocket-area leaders, the nonprofit The Trust for Public Land and conservationist Roxanne Quimby.

The Trust for Public Land acquired an option from Quimby to buy roughly 5,000 acres and conservation easements on an additional 6,600 acres. The trust is leading the fundraising push and plans to transfer the land to the Department of Conservation when the project is completed.

The deal means the state can protect an important snowmobile corridor while ensuring the land will stay in commercial forestry. Quimby, in return, is buying a more remote and inaccessible 8,900-acre tract just east of Baxter State Park that the state had originally planned to purchase.

Alan Stearns, deputy director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, said the LMF funding gets the state about one-third of the way toward the original estimate of $3 million. The state, in conjunction with The Trust for Public Land, is also seeking federal funding for the Millinocket Forest and the Seboeis Lake projects.

"I think the strength of the Millinocket project was entirely the result of local leadership," Stearns said.

The Branch Lake project in Ellsworth, meanwhile, will protect 1,164 acres along the lake's southern shores that are ripe for development. Under the terms of the easement, the acreage will also be opened up to the public for recreation.

"It's very valuable land," said Ellsworth City Manager Michelle Beal. "That section of the lake is where our water supply intake is, so that's why it is very important to the city."

Other projects that received LMF funding are:

- $1.1 million to Maine Coast Heritage Trust to protect 819 acres on Bog Brook Cove and Moose Cove in Cutler and Trescott Township.

- $72,000 to the Coastal Mountains Land Trust for the second phase of preservation efforts on Bald and Ragged mountains in Camden and Rockport.

- $313,000 to Orono Land Trust and Bangor Land Trust for acquisition of nearly 1,200 acres in the Caribou Bog-Penjajawoc Marsh area.


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