This column was originally published in the Lincoln County News
On February 2, my office received some great news for sixteen property owners in Newcastle in the form of a letter from the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT). The letter was in regard to the Sherman Marsh wetland banking project plan which would have utilized eminent domain to acquire all of the property surrounding the marsh to include in a wetland bank.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, wetland banking is a program developed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that allows regulatory agencies to restore, establish, enhance or preserve a wetland, stream or other aquatic resource in order to compensate for unfavorable impacts occurring to similar wetlands elsewhere. The program was established in 1983 to mitigate the impact of projects planned by state Departments of Transportation or other state agencies.
For instance, if MDOT plans to destroy a marsh in Brewer they would be permitted to do so by preserving a similar wetland elsewhere.
Back in December David Bernhardt, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, held a meeting for Sherman Marsh residents and other interested townspeople to explain the process and outline MDOT’s plans to utilize eminent domain to enter Sherman Marsh into a wetland bank to mitigate road construction elsewhere. This would have meant that sixteen property owners in Newcastle would have been on the hook for improvements elsewhere.
I attended the December meeting and listened to concerned landowners question the need for this proposal. One landowner is a family farmer. He spoke about how his family has been farming that land for generations. Had this project gone forward, he would no longer be permitted to have his cattle within the easement placed on his land. Another landowner spoke about how the easement would have gone all the way to her porch.
It was clear from the meeting that many residents didn’t consider preliminary offers for the takings to be fair and many questions were left without an adequate answer.
The whole situation didn’t seem right to me. If MDOT were building a road there, it would be one thing. But to take this land to mitigate a problem elsewhere didn’t seem reasonable. So, I submitted legislation put forward by those concerned citizens to prohibit MDOT from using eminent domain to take the land.
I am happy to report today that I have withdrawn this legislation, as it is no longer necessary. After careful consideration, Commissioner Bernhardt wrote in the letter that “Upon hearing the concerns of Newcastle property owners and careful consideration, I have decided to forego the acquisition of conservation easements by eminent domain.” He went on to write that “I understand the use of eminent domain is something to be used sparingly and never taken for granted.”
It’s always a good day when issues can be resolved without the need for legislative interference. This just goes to show how powerful public input can be throughout the governing process.
The moral of the story is, never assume that your voice won’t make a difference. If you’re having an issue, or there is something that is of importance to you, speak up. If you would like to discuss any state or legislative matter, please get in touch with me. You can reach me at 287-1505.