Freeport athletic fields face state DEP scrutiny

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FREEPORT — Four key words could become an expensive proposition for regulation of a town-owned parcel of land west of Interstate 295.

“Common scheme of development,” is a phrase used in Maine environmental regulations. It could trigger a finding by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection requiring the town to get an additional permit for the 60-acre parcel, including athletic fields on Hunter and Pownal roads and the site where Topsham-based Seacoast United Maine sought to build an athletic complex.

DEP Project Manager Lisa Vickers said the agency is reviewing the status of the town-owned properties. The agency approved a general construction permit for a contractor working 19.7 acres in a section near Hunter Road, according to Town Engineer Albert Presgraves.

The general permit, covering erosion control, was allowed because the parcel to be developed was smaller than 20 acres. If the agency determines all 60 areas fall into a common scheme of development, the DEP could require the town to obtain a site location development permit.

Vickers said the application and processing costs for the permit are more than $8,800. Town Manager Dale Olmstead estimated the associated costs for preparing the state permit application to be between $20,000 and $40,000.

A DEP site review had been expected because of the Seacoast United Maine plan to build an indoor facility and outdoor fields adjacent to the Hunter Road complex of four soccer fields and three ball fields.

The project would have exceeded the 20-acre development threshold, Vickers said. In late February, councilors voted against a zoning change allowing Seacoast to more forward with its plans.

The need for deeper review of potential environmental effects of development in the area persists, resident Marie Gunning said. Gunning said she asked the DEP to look into the situation, but had asked for more comprehensive state review of plans last year as councilors moved forward on funding field construction.

Councilors approved spending $2.3 million in surplus funds to build the Hunter Road fields, which are scheduled to open July 1. Vickers said any review or application process required by the DEP will not halt use of the fields.

“It may be that everything is good, or it may inform us on how to maintain the fields,” Gunning said.

The project to convert 38 acres into athletic fields was approved by the town Project Review Board last May. The Maine Department of Transportation approved a traffic movement permit, and Presgraves approved a storm water mitigation plan. The plan conforms with state regulations as well, he added.

Gunning said the state should also be considering the effects of a proposed clubhouse within the 19.7 acres covered by the general construction permit as part of the development plans on the property as a whole.

Adding the clubhouse and impervious surfaces at the Pownal Road field could be enough to trigger the need for a site location of development permit.

The clubhouse, funded largely through a $500,000 contribution from L.L. Bean, was not included on plans approved by the Project Review Board, or as part of the DEP general construction permit. It was expected clubhouse construction would require its own approval process, Presgraves said.

Kirk Cameron, who helps lead Freeport United Soccer Club and is chairman of the Hunter Roads Field Advisory Committee, disagreed with the idea the decade-old Pownal Road field should be considered part of the acreage.

“There is no common scheme of development,” Cameron argued. While he said he was pleased to learn field use would not be prohibited, the need to seek an additional permit would prevent building something as simple as a storage shed for athletic equipment, he said.

Obtaining the permit will take at least 105 days, but Presgaves said if the state finds the permit is needed, he can contest the finding before the application process begins.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow David 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.