Letter: Beem ignores details of conservation easement

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This is in response to Edgar Allen Beem’s defense of the building of dorms and dining halls on the Riverbend Farm in Saco under a recorded conservation easement (“The Universal Notebook: Preservation isn’t the same as conservation”). As someone who has donated several land conservation easements in perpetuity to preserve rural, agricultural, scenic and natural habitats that benefit the public and the town I live in, I would be very upset if the clear wording of the signed and recorded easement were later not honored and someone built several huge 9,000-square-foot structures on a scenic historic easement.

The recipient land trust also has legal obligations to monitor and honor the easement terms. Breaking an easement can result in increases in the land values supposedly given up by the donor, and related tax consequences for the donors. Adding new uses of the land makes it more valuable versus what was donated and written off. It can also deter others in the future from preserving farm land aiming to prevent any development no matter how noble or profitable.

The devil is always in the details, and unless you parse the words of the actual easement, one shouldn’t assume broad, noble goals are sufficient, better or “close enough” to break such terms.

Brian O’Connor
Brunswick 

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  • EABeem

    I read the easement several times and could not include every detail of the document. I noted that I believe the Ecology School satisfies the requirements, an opinion that seems to be shared by the City of Saco’s attorney and council. I believe you will find that the proposed buildings are within the farmstead precinct that is not covered by the easement. Of course, I also made it perfectly clear that I do not understand why anyone has the right to determine how a piece of property can and cannot be used in perpetuity if they do not own it. That may be legal, but it certainly is not logical. If Mary Merrill wanted her farm to remain as is forever, she should have given it to the land trust. Even then I’m guessing there would be changes made, just as many things have occurred at Baxter State Park that Gov. Baxter would not have foreseen.

  • Brian OConnor

    Of course conservation easements are legal and they are logical too. They are the primary method of protecting natural scenic and agricultural land from development. Attacking conservation easements to allow for a new use not even contemplated by then current zoning is a risky and unwise practice. Land trusts can’t afford to own and pay taxes on every piece of land that is conserved. Easements fill that void. Honoring their terms will ensure future grants. Breaking them will reduce future land conservation and promote litigation.