Town split on giving money for island purchase

By Juliette Laaka | Apr 15, 2014

St. George — A public hearing is slated for Tuesday, April 22 to inform residents about a proposal for the town to aid in the purchase of an island off Tenants Harbor — an option that has split the opinion of governmental bodies.

High Island is currently a privately-owned island, offered by the Wentworth family to MaineCoast Heritage Trust for $650,000. The town Conservation Commission is asking the town to appropriate $25,000 from the municipal budget to help the land trust purchase the island and maintain it as a public resource.

Citizens will vote Monday, May 12 on the referendum on whether to donate the money to the statewide conservation land trust to purchase the island.

The budget committee recommends the money be allocated to the acquisition of the land, but the town select board is against the proposal, according to a St. George public announcement.

A message left for the Select Board Chairman William Reinhardt has not yet been returned

Leslie Hyde, a member of the conservation committee, and 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.

The public hearing will be at 7 p.m. at the Town Office, which Hyde said is a fitting day for the hearing as April 22 is Earth Day.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.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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