Media Archive

Land for Maine's Future to invest in Piscataquis County

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 166, No. 4, January 28, 2004

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA Three Piscataquis County land conservation and recreation projects are included in the Land for Maine's Future program most recent round of funding, according to an announcement released Monday.

Among them are the Appalachian Mountain Club's proposed easement on 37,000 acres purchased last fall near Katahdin Ironworks and Gulf Hagas Gorge, the purchase of approximately 800 acres of forest land at the southwest end of Sebois Lake by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the conservation of the Varnum Farm, including approximately 2,600 acres of farm land and Piscataquis River shoreline in Dover-Foxcroft and Sebec, by Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The Land for Maine's Future Board approved the projects Monday, along with 23 other projects statewide, but the amount to be distributed has yet to be determined, according to Tim Glidden, LMF staff director.

The total available funds left from the $50 million bond approved by Maine voters in 1999 is about $12 million, Glidden said. All of the funds are expected to be distributed in this final round.

Glidden pointed to the Katahdin Ironworks project as exemplifying Gov. John Baldacci's North Maine Woods Initiative, announced last year, as it partners land conservation and recreation with sustainable forestry practices. "This will be the flagship project in that initative," he said. "It really fits that vision."

According to Glidden, the AMC and the Department of Conservation applied for the easement, which allows for the continuation of sustainable forestry, along with protecting the land surrounding the Appalachian Trail from inappropriate development. It also guarantees public access to the property.

The AMC purchased the parcel from International Paper Co. last June for a price of approximately $14 million, according to Gerry Whiting, AMC's special project manager in Maine. At the; Jan. 20 meeting of the Piscataquis Conty Commissioners, Whiting presented the project to the board, saying the club was seeking funding assistance from the Land for Maine's Future

"It was a major challenge for us," Whiting told the commissioners. "We went to the bank to borrow the money."

Glidden said that before any funding is awarded to the project it will need to meet "due diligence through appraisals, surveys, title work and, in this case, an easement negotiation to make sure the state's investment is done responsibly." He said a public hearing would be scheduled prior to the release of such funds, and estimated the time frame to be between six months and a year.

The much-smaller Sebois Lake project, as submitted by the state's Bureau of Parks and Lands, will be added to a larger conservation project, amounting to 13,800 acres in that region. According to Ralph Knoll, deputy director for that bureau, the 800 acres is part of a land swap that the state is negotiating with International Paper Co. IP will receive two parcels from the state around Grand Falls, along with minority ownership in another parcel, in return for the Sebois properties.

Knoll explained that the difference in appraisals between the properties amounts to about $363,000-owed by the state to IP. The Land for Maine's Future funding will assist in that purchase, he said.

On the surface, he added, the public "won't see any immediate change" on the affected Sebois property. He said that camp sites already on the propery will be assessed for safety and environmental compatability. In the near future, the parcel will be included in a long-term maintenance plan for the state's holdings near Sebois Lake.

The third Piscataquis County project approved Monday for funding, according to Glidden, includes 2,600 acres along the Piscataquis River in Dover-Foxcroft and Sebec. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is negotiating to purchase
the Varnum Farm from the Varnum family, he explained, in order to protect about eight miles of shorefront. IFW also plans to work out an arrangement with the Maine Department of Agriculture to lease the farm land on the property for planting of crops and hay, Glidden said.

As with the Katahdin Ironworks project, both the Sebois and Varnum Farm projects are required to meet certain guidelines to ensure the state's investment, Glidden stressed. Public hearings will be scheduled, as well, before any final release of funding.

In all, the 26 land conservation projects approved Monday ensure public access for recreation and conserve wildlife habitat on more than 90,000 acres, as well as protect 3,000 acres of farm land.

Glidden said there is approximately $3.5 million remaining in LMF funds after this round of awards is complete. Those funds must be delegated specifically for water access/boat launch projects. He urged anybody interested in applying for those funds to contact him at 287-1487.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.