Brunswick compromises with landowners, but debate lingers over coastal project

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BRUNSWICK — Two weeks after neighbors complained to the Town Council about allowing a major coastal stabilization project on Miller Point, the town has agreed with the landowners to move forward without a review by the Planning Department.

The neighbors continue to criticize the process.

At issue is a 625-foot swath of eroding coastline on Miller Point, in Middle Bay. The property owners, Robert and Nancy King of Short Hills, New Jersey, hope to stabilize the slope by removing as much as 60,000 cubic feet of earth and installing large boulders, or “rip rap,” underneath.

But the clearing of trees and vegetation along the shoreline prompted scrutiny from nearby residents, who argued that the Kings should have gone through local review for the project.

The Kings have Maine Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits for the work, but were never directed by town staff to have their plans reviewed by the Planning Department.

After several exchanges between attorneys for the landowners and counsel representing a neighbor, Richard Knox, of Simpson’s Point Road, the town had its own attorney, Stephen Langsdorf, weigh in.

Langsdorf found that under state law, the town should have required a review of the project. However, the local ordinance that directs such work was out of compliance, a fact that was not discovered through five separate reviews by DEP.

He said the town should enact a moratorium on future earth-moving projects until the local law can be updated. As for the Kings’ project, however, “the owners of the property did what they were expected to do,” Langsdorf said.

At least one town councilor was not satisfied with Langsdorf’s interpretation.

Steve Walker, of District 2, supported a 90-day moratorium on future development with other councilors, but indicated at the end of a March 7 council meeting that he wanted the project to be stopped and reviewed by the Planning Board.

Before the March 21 meeting, Walker added an agenda item to ask Town Manager John Eldridge to direct the Planning Department to require a special use permit review for the project, which would require local oversight.

His opinion, he told councilors, is that even though Brunswick’s ordinance didn’t correctly reflect state law, it was still the law.

“I think we have one opportunity to get this right before tons of rocks” are put in place, he said.

But after his agenda item was scheduled, Walker said, and before an executive session was held, attorneys for the Kings and the town sat down to discuss a “collaborative approach.”

In a 6 p.m. executive session before the meeting, Walker reported that councilors were told the outcome of the talks: the Kings would allow the town to choose an independent engineer to review the plans, and would agree to a legally binding re-vegetation plan.

Walker then tabled his agenda item until April 4.

After the meeting, he said he was happy an engineer would be looking at the project plans. The current plans, he said, look like they could’ve been “drawn on the back of an envelope … my 6-year-old could have drawn them.”

He added that if the council doesn’t like the direction that the engineer review and re-vegetation plan is going, “(we) could take the agenda item up again,” and make it go to Planning Department review.

Neighbors, however, remain frustrated.

“The fact that attorneys are negotiating for review,” Richard Knox said, “is a pretty clear sign that there should’ve been review.”

He said a “backroom deal” was struck, rather than sending the project to the Planning Department’s public scrutiny.

Pennellville Road resident Henry Heyburn agreed. “On its face, it stinks,” he said.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

A 625-foot clear cut of trees for a coastal stabilization project on Miller Point in Brunswick has prompted scrutiny by neighbors.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.
  • Aliyah33

    The pictures included with the articles in this issue speak volumes. IMO: What’s going on in this particular situation is nothing new in the Town of Brunswick; there’s precedence that’s already been set in other similar cases which Councilor Walker’s more than likely aware, and can be found if Richard Knox and Henry Heyburn request (and receive) records from the Town. Mr. Hayburn is right – it stinks.

  • Chew H Bird

    Rip Rap has been used for more than a century as a stable, cost effective, and environmentally clean way of stabilizing slopes. If anyone looks under a bridge on the waterfront they will most likely find rip rap…

    • Aliyah33

      Remediation with rip rap works, to be sure. In this particular situation it seems the landowners were going through the regulatory and ordinance processes, however here some things to consider.

      While most will abide by the regulations (IMO), there’s more than one case of purposeful disregard of those regulations (DEP included).

      One example, a land owner laughed and said he was well-aware of the requirements for leaving 50 feet along the river untouched, but he wanted to clear-cut the approximately 30 acres in order to see the river from his house, and he could afford to pay the minor penalty to get what he’d wanted.

      In other cases, we’ve heard DEP chooses not to enforce penalties because they prefer to “work with towns” now. On a bigger scale look at what happened to the Animas River in Colorado where the mine was breached spilling heavy metals, etc. ultimately into the Colorado River; that water flows all the way down into Mexico and through farmlands irrigating (100% with this water) approximately 80% of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. from November through March. No one’s been held accountable and gone to jail for this purposeful environmental disaster.

      Then there’s the networking connections and cronyism in place (in many towns across the country) resulting in capricious actions dependent upon who you are, who you know. It happens; it’s a fact.

      I suppose the key word is remediation. There are usually logical reasons for set-backs and regulations, and nature develops its own effective methods to control erosion through plants, trees species aimed at ensuring their own survival – a process which takes years. In looking at these photos what was naturally in place cannot be easily nor equally remedied.

      • Donna

        The landowner’s were losing significant amounts of their pristine coastline. The native trees and plants were being washed away as well. Isn’t it naive to suggest there is a plant or tree species capable of standing against the tremendous force of the ocean? Also, it seems you are saying the people involved in the permitting process (i.e the DEP, Army Corp of Engineers and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as well as numerous experts in their fields) are corrupt. While these terrible abuses which you outline happen everyday in our country and around the world, the people involved with permitting for this Brunswick native are doing their best to protect the environment. To throw these unfounded allegations at them is a terrible affront and shows a complete lack of understanding of the work that is being done here. This is not Mexico or Colorado nor is this landowner in anyway disregarding the environment or seeking to use their financial means to evade the laws. In fact, much of their land has been donated to conservation. I guess it seems to me this project is being used by some of the residents to further their own political agendas and does not infact represent a true understanding of the project or the environmental impacts of the possible solutions.

        • Aliyah33

          I’m not sure what you didn’t comprehend in my last paragraph, which is a recognition that landowners and many others have, indeed, lost significant amounts of pristine coastline which is not easily nor equally replaced by artificial means, including rip rap and re-planting. That said, I’m also, indeed, saying that some (key word is some) involved in permitting processes are corrupt, a fact, and it’s naive to believe we live in a perfect world simply because these agencies exist. No allegations were leveled against these particular people at all nor the landowners, but as a long-time resident it can be said Brunswick, in fact, hasn’t always done its best to protect the environment – not an unfounded allegation. Keeping in mind what happens oftentimes is a capricious process in protecting the environment, regardless of the agencies or regulations in place, for which we all are effected. I’d hazard a guess that it’s likely you are eating some of those leafy greens grown with the use of the Colorado river, therefore, you and the rest of us are paying the price for an environmental disaster. To me, it seems some of the residents on the other side of the issue have valid concerns, and if there are cases when protective agencies haven’t worked, it’d be difficult to trust them.

      • Chew H Bird

        I do not disagree. The article, (as I read it), implies these property owners attempted to do the right thing and go through proper channels. As for our town not being up to date on ordinance details, it happens… That said, with the effort made by these folks and their attempt to do the right thing, perhaps allowing them to continue is the fair and proper thing to do, along with prioritizing the ordinance wording and putting a short halt on future requests until the ordinance is updated. Taking a hard line when property owners have done their best to do things properly does not fulfill the hope of our local government working for its citizens who do things properly.

        • Aliyah33

          We appear to be in agreement on most of this; it’s actually not unusual to see the process continue, with changes to ordinance and/or ordinance wording. The difficulty for prospective buyers and the other existing property owners is a reasonable expectation the current ordinances and regulations are applicable and town administration begins a process in applying such within strict parameters of meaning. Perhaps this is the crux of the problem. I do not know if the town, in this particular case, notified abutting property owners of the changes. Again, it seems a reasonable expectation notification should’ve occurred because it sounds like there was a variance. There’s a process for this, and changes to ordinance wording, temporarily halting future requests, and updating the ordinances all equate to a variance. If a pattern exists whereby a town typically operates in a backwards process, then I can truly understand and empathize with the concerns of the other party and don’t consider this as taking a hard line.