Harpswell conservation panel receives singular award

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HARPSWELL — Typically, the Citizen Planner of the Year award goes to one volunteer.

But last week the Maine Association of Planners gave the award to the Harpswell Conservation Commission, a group that’s been very busy over the last several years.

MAP’s decision to bend the rules to honor the eight-member group took a little arm-twisting by Carol Tukey, the town planner. The soft-spoken Tukey doesn’t quite fit the part of aggressive lobbyist. But, as Tukey said, the Conservation Commission’s persistent, successful activism helped her make a compelling case.

“They don’t just sit in a room and talk,” Tukey said. “They actually go out and do it. They are actually physically involved.”

Tukey was specifically referring to the group’s Adopt-a-Road program, in which citizens pick a road and help with cleanup each spring. The program, initiated by the Conservation Commission, has 45 volunteers this year. Eight of them are on the commission, which is responsible for picking up trash on Mountain Road between Community Drive and the Ewin Narrows Bridge.

Other commission members have adopted other roads, too.

The program is one of several highlights cited by Tukey in her case to the MPA.

Last year, the group put the finishing touches on its Open Space Plan, a lengthy document that will guide decisions for preservation of Harpswell’s natural and scenic areas. The plan was adopted by voters at the 2009 Town Meeting, capping more than three years of work.

That the group produced an Open Space plan isn’t entirely unique; many towns have similar guiding documents. But according to Tukey, the commission wrote almost the entire document, and that was after discarding much of the language drafted by a consultant.

“They had a consultant, but it just wasn’t what they wanted, so they wrote it themselves,” Tukey said. “And it’s very, very good.”

The group also initiated the town’s Save Our Bay program, in which residents pledge not to use chemical fertilizers on their lawns and gardens. The chemicals are of particular concern in an island community noted for its limited supply of quality well water, and a local economy dependent on fishing and seafood resources.

The commission is also leading the effort to create a permanent easement for the popular Cliff Trail, which takes hikers to the views atop Long Reach, the town’s highest point. Tukey said the conservation group is trying to secure grants for the project.

It helps, she said, that the group’s membership has been nearly the same over the last several years.

The Conservation Commission, she added, is symbolic of a town known for its involvement in local government and volunteerism.

“The volunteers we have in this town are beyond comparison to the others I’ve worked with elsewhere,” Tukey said. “This town is loaded with talented individuals who also volunteer.”

Kristi Eiane, the Town Administrator, agreed.

“We’re very fortunate to have the quality of volunteers we do,” Eiane said.

The commission members are Mary Ann Nahf, Don Jones, Dierdre Strachan, Tony Barrett, Ann Nemrow, Anne Perry, Burr Taylor and Sue Vachon.

The panel received the Citizen Planner of the Year award on June 11 at MAP’s annual meeting at the Chewonki Center for Environmental Education in Wiscasset.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net