After learning that the Maine Department of Transportation will meet with local property owners to discuss Sherman Marsh easements later this week, the Newcastle Board of Selectmen has decided to host a meeting on Monday, Sept. 19 to discuss the project.
The Sherman Marsh Wetland Bank, as the DOT calls the project, would purchase conservation easements on 16 properties in Newcastle and Edgecomb, with the area of the easements totaling approximately 130 acres. By placing the conservation easements, the DOT would create a wetland bank to offset the impact of transportation projects on wetlands in the region.
The project has been met with opposition from most of the property owners it would impact and from Newcastle town officials. Many have expressed frustration about the restrictions the DOT would place on their land once the easements go into effect and about the amount of land in question.
In addition, an “interagency review team” comprised of officials from federal and state agencies that determined the width of the buffer zones on each property, which are areas around the easements with restrictions on their use. Property owners will not receive compensation for the creation of the buffer zones. The interagency review team not met with property owners and the town to answer questions, despite a number of requests from both town officials and the DOT.
DOT officials came to Newcastle for meetings in June and August to discuss the project. During the Aug. 17 meeting, DOT Project Manager Deane Van Dusen presented a less restrictive list of uses the interagency review team will allow for the land around Sherman Marsh.
The interagency review team had also provided the DOT with additional allowed uses for properties owned by Justin Wood and Marva Nesbit, which would have larger buffer zones.
The DOT reviewed the uses privately with Wood and Nesbit after the meeting, and will visit both properties Friday, Sept. 16 to discuss possible additional modifications to the easements, Van Dusen said.
“They are the only two properties remaining,” Van Dusen said. “I believe no other owners were concerned with the modifications we made and I believe most left with satisfaction with the modifications.”
Van Dusen said the appraisal process to determine the department’s offers to each property owner is on hold until the appraiser can be provided a list of what the restrictions are on each property.
“We’re in a holding pattern until that happens,” Van Dusen said.
Van Dusen said due to the number of modifications to the allowed uses, the DOT will end up receiving less credit.
Following the August meeting, Newcastle town officials have met with representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to discuss possible next steps for the town. Chairman Brian Foote said one suggestion was to request a meeting with the interagency review team and other interested local and state officials.
The selectmen will invite the members of the interagency review team, which consists of representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
In addition, the selectmen plan to invite the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners; local legislators Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, and Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle; and Gov. Paul LePage.
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the community room of the Newcastle fire station on River Road.