FALMOUTH — Two environmental groups said Tuesday that Gov. Paul LePage is again withholding voter-approved bonds that are earmarked for conservation projects in the Land for Maine’s Future program.
The governor’s action means two projects in Falmouth, one in Freeport, one bordering Cumberland and North Yarmouth, and one in Harpswell will not receive funding for completion at this time.
The Maine Coast Heritage Trust and The Nature Conservancy issued a statement Tuesday in which they accused LePage of refusing to authorize borrowing $11.47 million in Land for Maine’s Future bonds that voters approved in 2010 and 2012.
In Falmouth, Clapboard Island and the North Falmouth Community Forest would have to be put on hold. Clapboard Island would add 15 acres of open space to the town, and the North Falmouth Community Forest would add 100 acres.
The Knight’s Pond project, which would add a 215-acre parcel of undeveloped land in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, would not receive its funds. Neither would Harpswell’s Gosling Islands, a small group of islands slated for conservation.
In Freeport, the 46-acre Winterwood Farm project would be put on hold.
The groups don’t appear to have much information about the situation other than a message transmitted late last month from a state official that said “at this time the LMF Program is not able to make funds available to applicants.”
The state borrowed about $955,000 of those funds last year, according to the groups’ statement.
A request for comment from the LePage administration was not immediately returned Tuesday morning.
“The governor’s latest decision to withhold LMF funds contradicts his previous statements, including the good faith commitments his administration made affecting dozens of landowners in July of 2014,” Maine Coast Heritage Trust President Tim Glidden said in a written statement. “This approach erodes the trust between businesses, local community partners and state government, while resulting in lost opportunities to strengthen Maine’s vital tourism, farming, forestry, and fishing economies.”
The Land for Maine’s Future program currently has about $2.2 million on hand, which is insufficient to cover the cost of 36 active projects that the program is working to complete. The total cost of those projects is estimated to be $11.35 million.
The projects include 50,000 acres earmarked as conservation, recreation, forest and agricultural in three dozen communities and 13 counties in Maine.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said some of the money was designed to help Maine’s deer herd.
“Protection of critical wintering habitat to support Maine’s white tail deer population was a primary objective of the 2012 bond funds, which received strong bipartisan support in the Legislature and overwhelming endorsement by Maine voters,” Trahan said in a written statement.
If the bonds approved by voters in 2010, which total nearly $6.5 million, aren’t borrowed by November, their authorization could be canceled, according to the statement from Maine Coast Heritage Trust and The Nature Conservancy.