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Brunswick council adopts new zoning districts for BNAS

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Brunswick council adopts new zoning districts for BNAS

BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved three new zoning districts that will help govern the reuse of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The council's 7-0 vote came despite a lingering disagreement between a citizen group pushing for land use controls on contaminated groundwater sites and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the organization implementing and marketing the base reuse plan.

Councilors Joanne King and Karen Klatt were absent.

The citizen group, Brunswick Area Citizens for a Safe Environment, had hoped to add overlay districts to certain areas of the base that would limit future use or contributions to contaminated groundwater, such as additional septic systems. While MRRA said it agrees that such restrictions are appropriate, the two groups differ on when the controls should be instituted. 

BACSE representatives have said they were willing to wait to add the controls to the zoning districts, although not as long as MRRA is proposing. MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said implementing the controls too soon could jeopardize its land transfer negotiations with U.S. Navy, its ability to impose a higher standard of clean-up and possibly the marketing of the base because they would reduce land values. 

Both groups made their cases to the council during Monday's public hearing. The council ultimately approved the three zoning districts, which contained language reinforcing land use controls already in place under state and federal law.

"In some cases there's already a base-wide ban on groundwater extraction," Levesque said. 

While the citizen group members didn't appear to oppose the language, several reiterated their concerns about the impacts of additional discharge into the Eastern Plume, the oft-mentioned contaminated groundwater site that the Navy has been attempting to mitigate for more than a decade.

Carolyn LePage, BACSE's environmental consultant, specifically warned about the effects of building a golf course at the base, a development she said could worsen the Eastern Plume, which currently discharges into Harpswell Cove. 

While the reuse plan makes no specific mention of a golf course, reuse planners have discussed plans to build one on the eastern side of the base to go along with an existing hotel. 

Councilors, however, appeared to side with MRRA's argument that imposing restrictions too soon would compromise the authority's clean-up and property transfer negotiations with the Navy. In a memo to the council, Levesque said that added restrictions would also label some properties as "dirty," thereby decreasing their value and marketability. He added that such limitations could also hurt MRRA's pursuit for no-cost economic development conveyances of base property.

Those no-cost transfers are currently the subject of a bill being considered by the U.S. Senate. The legislation would encourage the military to surrender base closure property to redevelopment authorities instead of seeking fair market value. Currently the military is statutorily obligated to seek fair market value for base closures under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act.

In his memo to the council, Levesque said MRRA is committed to ensuring that base property is cleaned up to the "greatest extent possible." 

"To accomplish this goal," he wrote, "we intend to push hard for the Navy to clean up the property to the highest reuse standards possible and only after those negotiations are completed, consider and evaluate any necessary institutional controls."

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net