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Brunswick to get 800 acres from Navy for recreation, conservation

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Brunswick to get 800 acres from Navy for recreation, conservation

BRUNSWICK — As work continues to create a more vibrant, community feel at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, the town will gain access to some new recreation space in the fall.

A year ago the Recreation, Trails and Open Space Committee applied for a technical grant through the National Parks Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program for help writing a multi-phase plan to develop trail systems and other recreation venues on about 800 acres of land at Brunswick Landing.

“Our program works outside of the National Park Service to help create trails and open space and places where people can go outside in their own back yard,” said Julie Isbill, project manager at the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. “This project is a perfect example of that. It's right in the middle of Brunswick.

Originally, through the Brunswick Naval Air Station Reuse Master Plan, about 1,500 acres were supposed to be dedicated to the town. But the total had declined for several reasons, Town Councilor Benet Pols said.

“Other federal agencies decided – they have priority – that they had needs that weren't initially foreseen. There's a marine reserve center that hadn't been a part of the plan; the FAA has, effectively, because of buffer zones, limited the availability of land; and another category is environmental remediation," Pols said.

The 800 acres will first be conveyed to the National Park Service and then, once the plan for their management is completed, to the town.

“The parcels of property the town will be receiving are conveyed by the Department of the Navy to the National Park Service, and that conveyance is a federal-to-federal agency transfer,” said Denise Clavette, liaison from the town to the Mid-Coast Regional Redevelopment Authority. “Once it's conveyed to the National Park Service, the National Park Service can convey it to the town of Brunswick."

Clavette said that the town already owns a 66-acre plot of land on Brunswick Landing, but the rest of the land will trickle in as time goes on.

“The other parcels, once they have been conveyed to the National Park Service, will come into the town. Maybe three or four parcels as a time,” she said.

Pols said some of the parcels on the map are designated for active recreation while some are designated for passive recreation, but the possibilities for conservation development are broad.

“There are some acres out there that may end up being available for ball fields and more traditional parks and recreation activities, rather than conservation,” he said. “Some of it is clearly conservation land, hiking trails or shared-use trails accessible by bicycles.

He also said that the plan for management of the property needs to be in place before the town receives the land, to prevent using it for purposes not related to conservation.

“It's a condition of the public benefit conveyance that we have a clear plan that complies with both the reuse plan and their regulations on giveaways,” Pols said. “We can't just take it, hold it and then at some point in the future say we're going to put a fire station on the land that we got from the Navy 20 years ago. ... We do need to be careful that all of our plans for it comply with the spirit and letter of the public benefit conveyance.”

The plan for the land will unfold in several different phases.

“We can't do all of the work at once, and it's going to require money and time and labor, so what we're hoping is to find a few things that can be done fairly easily and quickly so that the public has access to at least parts of the property soon after it becomes owned by the town,” Isbill said.

She said initial projects will include opening some of the gates to the property, taking down fences and clearing up old road beds for trails, as well as putting up signs and maps.

The project is a collaborative effort representing 17 entities, including the Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Brunswick Parks and Recreation, property abutters and the Town Council.

Money for the project will come from a combination of sources including grants, civic-minded groups and the Recreation Department's budget, Pols said, but precise numbers have yet to be worked out.

If all goes according to plan, trail clean-up could begin on the properties in early fall. More extensive work will begin next year.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter: @croninamber.