Cumberland council OKs $300K for land acquisition, preservation

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved contributing $300,000 for the $1.13 million acquisition of a 215-acre parcel of undeveloped land in Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

The panel also heard a report from engineering firm Gorrill-Palmer of Gray about the planned reconstruction of Blackstrap Road this year.

The Trust for Public Land, the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, and the Royal River Conservation Trust have been working with the two towns to buy and preserve Knight’s Pond and Blueberry Hill, a mostly forested tract off Greely Road Extension owned by Rebecca Leland Swigget.

Swigget inherited the property from her parents, Richard and Helen Knight, according to Gregg Caporossi, project manager with the Trust for Public Land.

The Trust for Public Land has until the end of May to exercise its option on the property, and will at that point be obligated to close by June 30. The two towns will then acquire their portions of the property from TPL, and will convey easements to their respective land trusts, Caporossi said.

The property is mostly in Cumberland, with 50 acres in North Yarmouth. The land has a network of recreational trails and is near both town centers, according to CCLT President Penny Asherman, who presented the proposal to the Cumberland Town Council last March.

The parcel also offers hiking and skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, and mountain biking, picnicking and kayaking in warmer months.

Cumberland’s approval is contingent upon all the money being raised for the purchase, according to Town Manager Bill Shane. The campaign to fund the acquisition is $64,000 from completion, Caporossi said Monday.

Cumberland last year set aside up to $300,000 in Open Space Acquisition reserves to buy the property. The North Yarmouth Board of Selectmen approved spending up to $100,000 from the town’s Future Lands fund, which will go to a final vote at Town Meeting in April.

Also in hand are $415,000 from foundations and private individuals, and a $225,000 Land for Maine’s Future grant.

The two towns will jointly own and manage the property, and the two trusts will hold conservation easements on the land.

Resident response to the acquisition at Monday’s meeting was overwhelmingly positive.

Steve Moriarty praised the generosity of the Knights and their daughter, “who for decades made their property available to the public on a permissive basis. You can’t begin to place a value on that – the enjoyment that generations of Cumberland residents have received over the years.”

Jenn McAdoo recalled picking blueberries with her son on the parcel, while the Knights still owned it.

“Although my interactions with Mr. Knight were few, it was abundantly clear to me how much he loved the property that he owned, and how much he wanted others to enjoy it, too,” she said.

“This is one of the strongest projects that I have ever worked on,” Alan Stearns, executive director of the Royal River Conservation Trust, told the council, noting not just the property’s natural and recreational assets, but also the tremendous campaign to acquire and preserve the parcel.

“It will be loved forever,” he said. “You can’t underestimate the value of that, knowing that a conservation parcel is coming to your community with so many volunteers having pitched in.”

Blackstrap Road

The council also heard a report from Gorrill-Palmer about the reconstruction of Blackstrap Road this year.

The approximately 6,500-foot project will run from Route 100 to the Falmouth town line.

The total project is estimated to cost $1.23 million, which includes contigency funding, and of which nearly $1 million would be funded this year. Half of this year’s cost will be paid by the Maine Department of Transportation, with the town funding the remaining $500,000.

The town has been budgeting capital funds towards the project in recent years, and has planned to allocate $175,000 in the fiscal 2016 spending plan to fully fund this year’s project. If next year’s portion goes over budget, the town would raise that piece in fiscal 2017.

The project includes shoulder widening and paving, along with the installation of drainage and improvement of sight distances along the road.

The work is expected to go out to bid next month, with construction to start in the spring. A base course layer is to be applied this year, with final paving next year.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.