Harpswell trust hopes to acquire preserve at Otter Brook

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HARPSWELL — The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust has its eyes on a property bordering Otter Brook, a freshwater stream that drains the northern part of Harpswell Neck into Ewing Narrows and Harpswell Cove.

And it’s asking the town to help acquire the land.

According to the land trust, Otter Brook is the second-largest freshwater stream in Harpswell, and is an important habitat for shellfish, migratory birds, and other wildlife.

The parcel in question is 29 acres, and is owned by Otter Brook Farms. It contains areas of coastal marsh, freshwater wetlands, forested uplands, and a pond.

“It’s just a beautiful piece of land,” land trust Executive Director Reed Coles said Monday. “It’s an essential element in the … wildlife corridor from Brunswick down into Harpswell Neck, and essential for the water quality of Harpswell Cove.”

Coles said there is a trail running along the brook, and the land trust hopes to build an access path to it from Harpswell Neck Road to help guests enjoy the property.

An appraiser commissioned by the trust valued the property at $225,000. Legal, appraisal, survey, and stewardship costs would bring the full price tag of the project up to $250,000, according to the land trust.

At the Aug. 3 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Coles asked selectmen to consider allocating $50,000 for the project costs.

He emphasized that the property is part of the Otter Brook focus area, an area identified as a conservation priority in the town’s open space plan.

“This is an opportunity to obtain one of the most important properties” in Harpswell, Coles said.

Donating $50,000, he said, would give Harpswell a “4-to-1 value.”

Reading from the project proposal, he said the new preserve would protect the livelihoods of local fishermen by conserving shellfish and water quality, and support tourism by providing access for hiking, hunting, and bird watching.

Developing the land, Coles said, would be a “dagger in the heart” of the conservation corridor.

Coles said the owner of the property had a “need and intent” to sell the land, and preferred it not be developed.

He also disclosed that one of the property’s owners is a member of the land trust’s board of directors.

“But as a nationally accredited land trust … we have a strict conflict-of-interest policy in place,” he said.

That includes limiting discussion with the seller to only providing information, and banning the board member from discussions of the acquisition and the final vote.

He said the land trust had already used these policies with success when acquiring Little Yarmouth Island in Casco Bay two years ago.

“I can’t see us giving you a quick decision on this,” Selectman Elinor Multer told Coles after his presentation.

Chairman Rick Daniels agreed, saying the board would send the request to the budget advisory committee. “But my personal thoughts on this are positive,” he added.

“That’s all we’re asking,” Coles said. “We’re just asking to enter it into the budget process.”

If the item receives an endorsement from the budget committee, the proposal could go to Town Meeting in March 2016.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3771 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Otter Brook is the second-largest freshwater stream in Harpswell. The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust hopes to conserve it by purchasing 29 acres.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.