Falmouth councilors lukewarm on $300K for Clapboard Island

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FALMOUTH — Efforts to purchase a portion of Clapboard Island may get a boost Feb. 24 when Town Councilors discuss a town contribution of $300,000.

Placing the potential contribution from this year’s undesignated funds on the meeting agenda was approved after a council finance committee meeting Monday afternoon, although councilors expressed reluctance to contribute the full amount.

“It is a jewel property, it offers a unique opportunity,” Council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce told the committee. “… (But) I have a little trouble with us being the ‘Daddy Warbucks’ of the campaign.”

While Councilor and Finance Committee member Claudia King was unable to attend the meeting, Pierce and Councilors Chris Orestis and Sean Mahoney joined Councilors and committee members Karen Farber and Russ Anderson in the discussions.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Friends of Clapboard Island and members of the Falmouth Land Trust hope to get as much as $500,000 in local donations help to fund the $1.43 million purchase and a $176,000 stewardship endowment fund for the northern 17 acres of the island opposite the town landing.

Susan Gilpin of Friends of Clapboard Island said Monday she was satisfied with the meeting’s outcome.

“I am pleased, the consideration was very thoughtful and represented a range of viewpoints in the town,” she said.

The purchase is expected to be offset by the sale of a three-season house on 100,000 square feet of island land for as much as $800,000. It also includes purchase of a Falmouth mainland property known as Oak Grove.

Keith Fletcher of the MCHT said he hopes for closings on the same day, and added $200,000 has been raised so far to buy the land. If fundraising reaches $500,000, the Pew Charitable Trust will donate $100,000.

The sale contract expires Aug. 15. Last December, the town Land Management and Acquisitions Committee voted unanimously to recommend town funding of $300,000 or more toward the purchase.

The acreage was put on the market by descendants of Sam Houston, a Pennsylvanian who bought the island in 1898.

While Pierce doubted the council would contribute the full $300,000, she said it is time to decide on how much may be donated, especially because the Maine Coast Heritage Trust faces a March 28 deadline to apply for a grant from Land for Maine’s Future.

“There is significance in showing we are participating,” she said.

Fletcher said showing local interest is critical when applying for the state funding.

Anderson said he is troubled about buying “Oak Grove,” which would not be used as open space although it would be preserved in a conservation easement.

“I don’t get why they are so connected and why town money would be used to preserve private land,” he said.

At least 15 acres of the island would be open to public access for hiking, picnicking and swimming along an estimated 4,000 feet of shoreline, but the water-only access also concerned Anderson.

“I also have a view that access, from a practical point of view, would be extremely limited,” he said.

Farber disagreed, saying the town Comprehensive Plan calls for preserving open space along Casco Bay, and the island would be enjoyed by boaters who don’t have many public places to put ashore.

Orestis signalled he might support a $200,000 contribution, and said the donation should to be considered in the bigger picture.

“The thing I have to balance is there are so many projects for the town,” he said.

Farber agreed with Pierce that the opportunity is worth exploring.

“I don’t think we can pass it up,” she said. “I wish the timing were different, (but) I think we are going to kick ourselves at some point if we don’t do this.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.