St. George OKs donation for island purchase

Bates, Sawyer elected to office
By Juliette Laaka | May 13, 2014

St. George — At the polls May 12, residents approved spending $25,000 toward the purchase of High Island for conservation and recreation.

Unopposed candidates Wayne Sawyer and Richard Bates were also elected to serve on the town Board of Selectmen.

The island, off Tenants Harbor, is privately owned by the Wentworth family and is for sale to state-wide conservation trust, MaineCoast Heritage Trust, for $650,000.

Votes were 214 in favor of the donation, and 176 opposed to the proposal.

The town Conservation Commission requested the town set aside the funds from the municipal budget to help the land trust purchase the island and maintain it as a public resource.

The budget committee recommended the money be allocated to the acquisition of the land, but the town select board was against the proposal.

"I'm ecstatic," said Leslie Hyde, a member of the Conservation Committee May 13. " I'm excited not only for myself, but for the people who will use the island now and forever," he said.

Hyde said the island is not yet saved, and that fundraising will continue.

Hyde, a former faculty member of the University of Maine System as part of the Tanglewood Camp, said if the 18-acre island is purchased by a private individual, Blueberry Cove Programs that use the island for long weekend trips for teenage leadership programs, would most likely end. The program is a yearly excursion since 1992 for students to reflect on their experience and think about setting lifetime goals. The island has been a magical place for such a program, said Hyde.

The island, which can be seen from Route 131, has a quiet side facing town, with a salt marsh, and another side that faces the open ocean. There is only one small camp on the island that is not inhabited, said Hyde.

High Island is a benefit to the town not only for recreation, but for economic and conservation reasons as well, potentially increasing tourism and protecting the scenic beauty of the land, Hyde said.

The price the island is offered at is a gift to the town, said Hyde, as the listed value of the property is around $850,000. Other municipalities in the state, such as Yarmouth and Freeport, are assisting the same land trust with purchasing islands that are part of their community as well, he said.

If the MCHT is unable to fund the project in full by 2017, the town may take the funding back, according to the commission's website.

The land trust is also seeking grants, but many of the grants are matching grants, said Hyde.

The mil rate impact of the donation would be about 0.03 cents, according to the commission's website. A property valued at $250,000 would contribute $7.50 to the purchase of the island.

The town would also forgo about $2,000 of property tax revenue annually if the island is acquired by the trust as the MCHT is a non-profit organization, said the commission's website.

Town meeting is slated for Tuesday, May 13, 7 p.m. at the town office.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at jlaaka@villagesoup.com.

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Juliette Laaka
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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