The Maine Department of Transportation’s plans to place a conservation easement on more than 130 acres around Sherman Marsh has frustrated a group of property owners living around the marsh.
Eight Newcastle residents visited the Newcastle Board of Selectmen on Monday, May 9 to voice their concerns and frustrations regarding the impact of the DOT’s easements on their property.
The Sherman Marsh project involves the DOT’s acquisition of conservation easements on 16 properties in Newcastle and Edgecomb totaling 133.14 acres, according to DOT spokesman Ted Talbot. The land would be used for preservation, Talbot said.
In August 2010, the DOT sent a letter to Ron Grenier, Newcastle’s town administrator at the time, saying the easement is “intended to protect the marsh area that was re-created when the Route 1 dam breached in fall 2005.”
According to the letter, the DOT hopes to restore the marsh area with desirable indigenous vegetation and control invasive species. The DOT also plans to create a wetland “bank” site that can be used to offset the impact of transportation projects on wetlands in the region.
Talbot said the project re-started in 2015, when the DOT hired an independent appraiser to assess the value of the individual property rights being acquired. The DOT also hired a negotiator to notify the property owners of the department’s offer of just compensation. In the event the property owners did not accept the compensation, the land would be taken by eminent domain.
Talbot said the negotiation process has been taking place this spring. The DOT anticipates filing the notice of taking, the next step in the eminent domain process, in mid- to late June.
Justin Wood, of Newcastle, said he originally received a letter from the state regarding the easement in 2015 and an appraiser visited to assess the property. When Wood didn’t hear anything afterward, he thought the project had been dropped.
Three weeks ago, Wood said a new appraiser contacted him regarding the easement. Wood said he did not consider the offer he received from the state for 25 acres of property a fair price.
“What they offered for the property for a forever easement was not fair market value in any way, shape, or form,” Wood said.
Marva Nesbit, also of Newcastle, agreed, saying the offer she received was not an accurate value of the property.
“It’s not enough that they’re taking away the land,” Nesbit said. “The additional indignation is the petty amount they’re offering. That alone is insulting to me.”
A buffer zone will also be created around the easement, which would extend approximately 25 feet inland from the high-water mark, Talbot said.
Three properties will have a deeper width due to “specific and unique environmental concerns” associated with each property expressed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which dictates the necessary areas to preserve.
Wood, who uses the land for his cattle, said the state told him his property would require a 100-foot setback from the marsh.
“What’s frustrating to me is that this property has been in my family for a long time, and has been farmed for well over 100 years,” Wood said. “It’s just really disheartening.”
Nesbit said the setback requirement on her property extends “all the way up to her porch.”
Wood said he would no longer be able to use the land for his cattle. Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, said he reached out to the DOT and confirmed Wood’s cattle would not be permitted on the land.
Wood told the selectmen he is in the process of attempting to schedule a meeting with a representative from the Army Corp of Engineers and the DOT, however, he did not think he would be able to schedule a meeting before June 7, the date Wood said the state would take the land through eminent domain.
The selectmen suggested setting up a meeting with the landowners, the DOT, Johnson, and Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, to see what options there are for the landowners.
Town attorney Peter Drum, who attended the meeting to discuss other matters with the selectmen and does not represent the landowners, suggested filing a Freedom of Access Act request with the state for any documentation regarding the Sherman Marsh easement process from when it began in 2010.
The landowners thanked the selectmen for hearing their concerns.
“At this point, any help is greatly appreciated,” Wood said.