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CUMBERLAND — With concern that Gov. Paul LePage’s withholding of conservation bonds could jeopardize the local purchase and preservation of Knight’s Pond, residents, officials, and a famed hockey player gathered Monday to show their support for the project.
North Yarmouth voters on April 11 approved spending up to $100,000 from the town’s Future Lands fund for the $1.13 million acquisition and preservation of the mostly forested Knight’s Pond/Blueberry Hill tract. The 215-acre undeveloped parcel, off Greely Road Extension, is mostly in Cumberland, with 50 acres in North Yarmouth.
The Cumberland Town Council in February approved contributing $300,000 from its Open Space Acquisition reserves. Also in hand are more than $460,000 from foundations and private individuals, as well as a $225,000 Land for Maine’s Future grant.
But LePage’s decision to withhold voter-approved bonds earmarked for LMF conservation projects would mean the Knight’s Pond project, and others, would not receive funds for completion.
That concern triggered a press conference Monday on the shore of the pond, where geese flocked as state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and others expressed support for the acquisition, and their hope that the funding will come through.
Should that not happen, there is a chance the property could be sold for development, officials said.
“We stepped in just in time,” Penny Asherman, president of the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, said.
“It’s now time for Gov. LePage to follow through on Maine voters’ commitment to conservation, and to issue the Land for Maine’s Future bonds, securing the state’s commitment, and preserving this site forever,” Breen said.
“We all agree that this parcel has scenic, recreational and wildlife values worth protecting,” Asherman said. “Projects like this one bring us together. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often. … Now is the time to act, and protect (the property) forever, for all to enjoy.”
“We’re so close to our goal, with only the receipt of the Land for Maine’s Future funds remaining to close the deal,” Asherman added.
The Trust for Public Land, the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, and the Royal River Conservation Trust have worked with the two towns to buy and preserve the parcel. It is owned by Rebecca Leland Swigget, who inherited the property from her parents, Richard and Helen Knight.
Steve Moriarty, a former state legislator and Cumberland councilor, recalled his friendship with Richard Knight.
“He was very protective of the property,” Moriarty said. “But also very, very welcoming. He wanted people to know, and use it, and enjoy it, and it was a source of enormous pride to him and the other members of his family.”
Eric Weinrich, a former professional hockey player who attended North Yarmouth Academy and the University of Maine, called the opportunity “incredible,” adding, “you can skate here, you can mountain bike, walk, hike, and just enjoy the beauty of it.”
“We are fortunate to have a patient and willing landowner, who has given us the opportunity for two years to raise the funds to acquire the land,” Asherman said.
The Trust for Public Land has until the end of May to exercise its option on the property, and will then be obligated to close by June 30. The two towns would then acquire their portions of the property from TPL, and will convey easements to their respective land trusts, according to Gregg Caporossi, project manager with the Trust for Public Land.
LMF has approximately $2.2 million on hand, an insufficient amount to fund 36 active projects the program is working to complete, the Bangor Daily News has reported. The projects’ total estimated cost is $11.35 million.
“Our hope is that Knight’s Pond and Blueberry Hill will be in a position to close by the end of June, and we will have been through the entire LMF review process, to make sure that if the governor releases the $2.2 million, that Knight’s Pond is a likely candidate to receive those funds,” Caporossi said last month.
“We will do our best to put contingency plans in place, so that if the LMF funds don’t flow to the project, we have some recourse of how we’re going to address that,” he added.
“We’re waiting on the governor,” Asherman said Monday, noting that if the funds do not come through, contingency plans include more fundraising.
“Most of the work has been done,” Breen said. “All that needs to happen is that the executive branch just needs to pull the trigger and issue the bonds.”
Former professional hockey player Eric Weinrich, left, Ed Gervais of North Yarmouth, and Penny Asherman, president of the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, were among those who gathered at Knight’s Pond in Cumberland Monday, April 27, in support of its planned acquisition by Cumberland and North Yarmouth. Gov. Paul LePage is withholding bonds for conservation projects that could jeopardize the purchase and preservation of the 215-acre Blueberry Hill parcel.