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Latest conservation property embodies intent of Scarborough land bond referendum

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Latest conservation property embodies intent of Scarborough land bond referendum

SCARBOROUGH — Next week, residents will gather with local officials and representatives of several state and conservation agencies to celebrate the acquisition of significant conservation land known as the Gervais property.

The festivities will take place less than two weeks before voters decide whether to authorize the town to borrow up to $1 million to purchase additional conservation land.

The 46-acre Gervais property on Manson Libby Road has been added to the 3,200-acre Scarborough Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Consisting of farmland, a small wooded area, freshwater wetlands and salt marsh habitat, the property has been owned and maintained as a working farm since the 1950s.

Procured for its value as critical upland habitat surrounding Maine's largest marsh, the Gervais property was purchased for $795,000 using a $250,000 Parks and Recreation Land bond from the town; a $160,000 bond through Land for Maine's Future, and more than $326,000 in settlement funds from the 1996 Julie N oil spill. Remaining funds came from the Scarborough Land Conservation Trust, the Friends of Scarborough Marsh, the Davis Conservation Foundation and Ducks Unlimited. The property is now owned by the state and will be managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

The Gervais property was just one of several properties identified as high priority by the local land trust. Another is the 120-acre Benjamin Farm off Pleasant Hill Road, Town Manager Tom Hall said Wednesday. Though the town is not actively engaged in discussions at this point, Hall said the SLCT has discussed purchasing it because it is "in an area of town that's seen a lot of growth in the last 10 to 20 years, it's a pristine piece and it backs up to the Rachel Carson Preserve, which automatically puts it in high priority."

And, it's for sale.

The farm is one of about four or five significant properties the town could pursue with the additional funds that would become available if the local land bond referendum is approved on Nov. 3. And with its approval, the town would receive a 20 percent match, or up to $200,000, from the Maine Community Foundation as a clearinghouse for an anonymous donor, Hall said. Other than the requirement that the money be used to preserve conservation land, that donor places no conditions on the match, allowing the town to decide how the money is spent.

On two previous occasions, Scarborough voters have approved land bond referendums – $1.5 million in 2000 and $2.5 million in 2003. Of that money, the town has used a total of about $1.5 million to help purchase the Meserve property in 2004, now known as Broadturn Farm; 77 Broadturn Road in 2007, and the Gervais property earlier this year. That leaves a balance of about $2.4 million that is still available for purchase of conservation properties, money Hall said demonstrates good stewardship by the town.

But the chance to leverage the town's money with matching funds, coupled with the opportunity to take advantage of lower real estate prices, convinced Hall, the Town Council and the SLCT that the timing is right to request the additional funds so the town would be in a position to act if significant conservation properties became available.

"There could be a couple of deals that could come together that would use all that money," Hall said. "All are time-sensitive and can't always wait. (Additional available funding) is a luxury we'd love to have."

Hall said he realizes people are feeling the effects of the slow economy and acknowledged the timing of the request might not be ideal. And, with no organized opposition and no vocal opponents, fear over the economy may be the deciding factor for voters who choose not to support the referendum.

"This is truly the voters' choice," he said. "We want to make sure they know why we're asking; we hope they support us as they have in the past. The only way to do something about (conserving property) is to buy it yourself and control it."

The celebration of the Gervais property will be held at 2 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 53 Manson Libby Road, half a mile off Route 1 in the Industrial Park. The event is free and will include tours of the property and speeches by project partners.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.