Topsham commission updates conservation inventory of town-owned land

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TOPSHAM — The Conservation Commission on July 9 presented the Board of Selectmen with an updated report  that rates town-owned property for its conservation value.

Rod Melanson, Topsham’s natural resource/assistant planner, said the report covers 48 parcels comprising about 400 of the town’s approximately 21,000 acres.

While the commission’s original 2003 report recommended property to be retained and disposed, the update focuses on the conservation values. The commission, which began an inventory process in 2006 that includes more comprehensive mapping and standardized review criteria, conducted geographic information system mapping on each parcel, as well as visiting each one, Melanson said.

The commission plans to produce an inventory every five years.

The report ranks parcels according to very high, high, moderate or low conservation. While it makes no recommendations concerning disposal of any properties, it does advocate strategic thinking by the town in how to manage high-valued parcels.

“The Conservation Commission’s standpoint is that this is a good start for the town to really think about conserving and managing and making available to the public these areas,” Melanson said.

Some town lands have already been conserved in a variety of forms and have restrictions on them, including the library property and the recreational fields. Among high-value parcels not currently under restriction are full wetlands in the Cathance corridor area.

The commission members “want to make sure that the town is doing a good job of offering open space to the community,” Melanson said, adding that the inventory facilitates that process.

“It’s kind of an ongoing report,” he noted. “There’s nothing binding to it. It’s just the Conservation Commission trying to have the town think about how to manage these town parcels.”

Parcels were ranked based on principal qualifying criteria such as scenic value, historic or archaeological value, water access, trail potential, being a working farm or forestland, riparian land and general outdoor recreational value. Some secondary factors included parcel size, legal considerations, remediation requirements, the ecological relation of resources to other sites in the region or adjacent parcels, threats of resource loss, and scarcity of the resource according to local, state and national criteria.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.