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.