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Acquisition should boost access to Higgins Beach in Scarborough

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Acquisition should boost access to Higgins Beach in Scarborough

SCARBOROUGH — The town and Land for Maine's Future closed a deal March 31 to purchase nearly 12 acres at Higgins Beach and along the Nonesuch River for $1.27 million.

The property along Higgins Beach is of particular significance, as it could lead to opportunities for public parking, something that has been an issue for the area for quite some time.

"We've been pursuing this property aggressively for more than a year," said Town Manager Thomas Hall during the Council meeting two weeks ago.

The Town Council voted unanimously to approve the acquisition from the Vasile Family Trust, and the project agreement, which included up to nearly $638,000 from general obligation bonds. The funds will come from $2 million in bonds that were approved by voters in 2003 for conservation land acquisition purchases.

"My father, James Vasile, was a first generation immigrant from Sicily who grew up poor in Portland," said Mike Vasile. "My dad worked hard his whole life selling pizzas and buckets of spaghetti to earn enough money to buy some land at Higgins Beach. He believed that everyone should have the ability to enjoy the ocean and he hoped that someday the lots he and his family acquired would go to that purpose. That dream is now realized."

The town's contribution toward the Higgins Beach lots was matched by more than $632,000 from Land for Maine's Future, a program of the State Planning Office that works to conserve land for public use. The Trust for Public Land and the Surfrider Foundation held a fundraising campaign to pay for the $7,270 in closing costs.

"Today marks an incredible milestone for beach access preservation in the state of Maine. Town ownership of the Higgins Beach parking lot assures all beach users easy and friendly access to this very precious beach forever," said Janice Parente of the Surfrider Foundation.

The two Higgins Beach lots, a total of 1.55 acres, are along Ocean Avenue and will guarantee public access to the beach, which is utilized by surfers during the off-season and many fisherman, residents and visitors in the summer months. The popular beach area has struggled with parking problems and often fills up before 11 a.m. on weekends in the summer.

The lots will provide additional parking for visitors and will be maintained by the town year-round. Because state funds were used to purchase the land, there are some restrictions that do not allow the town to sell the property, but that will allow the town to pave the gravel parking lot that is already there.

There is also a cottage on the lot that could be converted to a public building, restroom facilities, or an office for summer patrol officers.

"Some of these things cost money. We'll need to figure out what our pricing structure will be," Hall said. "The endeavor should be self-supporting."

The Higgins Beach Inn has a lease of the property that the town will uphold until it expires in April 2011. Hall said this will provide them some time to decide what to do with the property, and to hold public forums with stakeholders. The forums will likely be held in the summer to catch the seasonal residents who may want to participate.

"We've talked to surfers and they're very appreciative of this plan," said Terry Turner of the Trust for Public Land.

The land along the Nonesuch River includes three lots totalling 10.3 acres on Mussey Road. It was purchased entirely with the same town funds set aside for conservation land acquisition in the November 2003 vote.

Hall explained that these lots could aid in future efforts to realign Mussey Road. All three lots back up against the river, which makes them valuable for conservation purposes.

The Nonesuch River was targeted in the 2006 Comprehensive Plan as a wetland of special significance. Hall said he sees this as part of an effort to preserve and protect the town's special places for future generations to enjoy.

"This area has very little development potential," he said. "We're really doing it for conservation."

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

"My father, James Vasile, was a first generation immigrant from Sicily who grew up poor in Portland. My dad worked hard his whole life selling pizzas and buckets of spaghetti to earn enough money to buy some land at Higgins Beach. He believed that everyone should have the ability to enjoy the ocean and he hoped that someday the lots he and his family acquired would go that purpose. That dream is now realized," said Mike Vasile,