Falmouth council acts to preserve snowmobile trail

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FALMOUTH — It was a busy night for the Town Council on Monday.

The night began with an hour-long workshop at Falmouth Memorial Library and ended after a lengthy meeting that covered changes to the Route 1 Infrastructure Plan, the possibility of acquiring four parcels of land, and the adoption of a land management plan that could bring forestry to a significant portion of town-owned lands.

Possible land acquisition

The council voted unanimously to pursue grant funding for four parcels of land abutting North Falmouth Community Forest in the town’s northwest corner.

The parcels, which could cost a total of $410,000, would help save a popular east-west snowmobile trail from being scuttled by a landowner.

“The owner wants the trail moved,” said Robert Shafto, the town’s open space ombudsman. “The topography of the land … would make relocating the trail quite difficult.”

The trail allows snowmobile riders in Falmouth to access 3,500 miles of trails within Maine’s Interconnected Trail System.

“It’s a key link, and it’s one of the reasons to acquire that property,” Shafto said.

The properties could also accommodate biking and hiking trails in the future, he said.

Shafto said appraisals haven’t been completed yet on the properties, so its unknown how much money he will apply for; nonetheless, the grants, if awarded, could potentially pay for most of the cost.

“I don’t promise it, but it could,” he said.

The grants would come from the U.S. Forest Service and Land for Maine’s Future. The town has a fair chance at winning the federal grant, Shafto said, but he is “not as confident” about a possible grant from the latter. Grants from Land for Maine’s Future have tended to focus on northern Maine as a means to bolster the hunting economy there, he said.

“We don’t have that kind of economy here, although there’s an economic argument to be made,” he said. “We get a lot of hunters in Falmouth, a lot more that they get in Township 9, Range 11, and that surrounding area, because this is where the deer are.

“I plan to make that argument when I write the proposal, but I’m not sure how much water it will hold.”

Forestry in Falmouth?

Thirteen percent of town-owned lands could be subject to forestry under a land management plan unanimously adopted Monday by the council.

An overview of the plan was provided by Caleb Hemphill, a member of Falmouth’s Land Management and Acquisitions Committee. Most of the land would be designated “forever wild” under the plan. Many other locations would be subject to invasive species management and some trail building.

Most of the discussion, however, focused on the 13 percent of forests that could be harvested.

Councilor Sean Mahoney, who serves as council liaison to the land committee, began the discussion by saying forest management will require public education.

“People in southern Maine aren’t used to active forest management,” he said. “We have to make sure people in Falmouth understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and understand that it represents best practices. I think this land management plan is a great vehicle for that.”

Councilor Karen Farber agreed that any forestry should follow at least three months of  communications with residents and neighbors.

“I think a public relations campaign is important,” she said.

Councilor Russ Anderson questioned the need for forestry altogether, citing a recent hike through Hadlock Forest, where previous forestry is evident, he said.

“It looked like Hell,” Anderson said. “To bring in heavy equipment to cut down trees and create havoc in these forests that we’re trying to conserve – so that we can somehow play God and bring back the rabbits at the expense of the birds that may be nesting in the trees – I don’t get that.”

In response to Anderson, Mahoney said the land was acquired by a previous council with the goal of thoughtfully managing the forests. First, however, Mahoney offered an amusing assessment.

“My whole world has changed … I’m defending cutting down trees to this guy,” Mahoney said, stifling his own laughter.

Chairwoman Teresa Pierce reiterated that many of the individual items within the management plan – including forestry projects – will still require council approval before any action is taken.

The summary of the plan covers nine town-owned parcels, Hemphill said:

• River Point Conservation Area needs a replacement bridge to span the railroad tracks between the trail head at Hannaford on Gray Road and the land itself. The property also requires vegetation management to preventing the existing fields from growing into forests. An abandoned farmhouse on the property must also be demolished.

• Suckfish Brook will be largely left alone, but the town should look for opportunities to buy adjacent properties to grow its size and extend a trail to a nearby ridge line.

• North Falmouth Community Forest will see trail development in the spring, plus  tree harvesting.

• Blackstrap Hill Community Forest would be subject to forestry to create better wildlife habitat, particularly for New England cottontail rabbits.

• Hadlock Forest has also been identified for tree harvesting.

• Falmouth Community Park and Falmouth Town Forest would be subject to 15 acres of forestry, with the remainder designated “forever wild,” aside from invasive species management.

• East Branch Conservation Area is subject to invasive species management, but otherwise left “forever wild.”

• Woods Road Community Forest will be managed as a deer wintering area through “limited forest management.

• Falmouth Nature Preserve has been designated “forever wild,” but invasive plant species need to be managed. Acquiring abutting properties is also a priority.

The resolution follows on an all-day workshop that was held Oct. 28, in which the Town Council visited many town-owned properties for short, guided hikes. At each point, Shafto provided highlights of the property management plans.

Route 1 plan scaled back

To avoid cost overruns, the planners behind an $11.7 million project to re-shape U.S. Route 1 have scaled back a major element of the improvements, Anderson told the council.

Utility wires on the eastern side of U.S. Route 1 between Route 88 and Waldo’s General Store will no longer be re-routed underground as had been planned, according to Anderson, who serves as chairman of the Community Development Committee. Utility lines elsewhere along the corridor from Route 88 to Bucknam Road will be underground, as planned.

With that section of underground wiring deleted from the project, the total cost will be just under $11.7 million, or $55 less than budgeted – an announcement that drew laughter from the council and audience.

The council voted unanimously to authorize the committee to seek bids on the project. Construction will begin in the spring and end in summer 2015.

Memorial Library

The night began with an hour-long tour of cramped quarters at Falmouth Memorial Library, led by library director Andi Jackson-Darling.

Afterward, the council adopted an updated memorandum of understanding between the town and the library.

The updates include a provision that allows the Town Council to appoint one councilor or town employee to the library board; however, that member would be excluded from participating in executive sessions.

Farber explained that the provision helps protect the privacy of the library, which is a nonprofit corporation.

Another new provision allows the town to “terminate its financial support of the library” with reasonable notice.

“Nothing herein shall prevent the Parties from negotiating the terms for termination of this agreement,” the memorandum states.

After the meeting, Town Manager Nathan Poore said the termination provision has nothing to do with the library’s pursuit of a $5 million expansion plan, adding that it is standard language in contracts, but perhaps it hadn’t been considered when the memorandum was last updated in 1994.

Asked if the termination clause was a hint of things to come, Poore’s response was succinct.

“Oh gosh, no,” he said.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Sidebar Elements

Town Councilor Sean Mahoney inspects a bookshelf in the basement of the Falmouth Memorial Library on Monday during a council workshop. The workshop was just one item during a busy agenda that included an update on the Route 1 project, potential land acquisition and more.