Island warns of 'breathtaking' forest fire risk from property owner's request

By Stephen Betts | Oct 07, 2019
Photo by: North Haven

North Haven — North Haven is fighting a request by an island property owner to get an additional tax break by opening its lands to the public, saying the move would create a "breathtaking" risk of a forest fire.

Pulpit Trust has requested a more expansive open space tax break from the town. The trust, of which Charles Cabot III of Dover, Mass., is the trustee, already had a regular open space tax break, but the property owner is seeking an additional 25 percent reduction in its tax assessment by allowing public access to the properties.

The town, however, said that would be a threat to the community. The properties total about 150 acres on Sedgewick Point at the southwest entrance to Pulpit Harbor.

Pulpit Trust has appealed to the Maine Board of Property Tax Review to overturn the rejection by the town of the additional tax break.

North Haven's attorney, Paul Gibbons, of Camden, stated in a Sept. 27 response to the Maine Board of Property Tax Review that the forest was not managed. He said there was no tree harvesting or trees planted.

"As a result of such neglect, trees died, some of them falling to the ground and some of the dead trees remain standing. It is now a spruce tree graveyard. The Petitioner (Pulpit Trust) seeks to change this neglected forest into a property tax advantage by placing the property into open space classification," Gibbons stated.

Pulpit claims the open space would provide a public benefit, but Gibbons said It would be irresponsible for the town to accept the risks that the property owner seeks to shift to the public.

"North Haven is an island exposed to fierce ocean winds, and the dead trees and timber present an open fire hazard. There are no roads into this forest for fire trucks to enter. In minutes, a forest fire could rage out of control. The Town of North Haven has only its volunteer fire department to fight such a fire. The North Haven volunteer fire department would be on their own. There is no hope of additional help because this is an island and there is no meaningful mutual aid from other towns to help. The heat and smoke alone from a fire of this size would likely do them in. A fire could easily spread to inhabited areas. Could the volunteer fire department save the neighborhood? How much of the Town would be lost to a forest fire starting on this property? Putting volunteer firefighters at such risk, as well as the general public, would be irresponsible," Gibbons argued.

Attorney Mary Denison of Winthrop, who represents Pulpit Trust, said the rationale of the town for denying the additional tax abatement is without basis in any law.

Dennison said the potential for a forest fire is not relevant to a determination of whether open space land should receive an additional designation of public access.

The landowner's attorney asked the Property Tax Review board to rule for the property owner.

The full value of the properties is about $5.5 million, but with the current tax breaks, the assessment has been dropped to slightly more than $3.4 million. The public access request would give the trust another 25 percent tax break, the town's attorney said.

The Pulpit Trust was created in 1948. The properties have been owned the Cabot family since at least 1883, according to deed records. Members of the Cabot family have homes on the properties not under the open space designation.

Comments (8)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Oct 10, 2019 12:32

Easy.  They purchased the land, they keep the land.



Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Oct 08, 2019 10:03

As that olde saying goes, "The Lodges only speak to the Cabots and the Cabots only speak to God."

-Phyllis Merriam



Posted by: Bethany Rebekah Boivin | Oct 08, 2019 09:01

Furthermore, I would also like to point out that  we actually have a pretty awesome fire department here on North Haven, volunteer or not. We also have additional resources via manpower from Vinalhaven, and likely Islesboro if needed. Forest fires are fought on foot and in a situation such as this the type of equipment needed would be Indian tanks, shovels and man power.

Additionally, the point is in a relatively rural and uninhabited area of the island where it does not directly threaten other properties, is surrounded by water (it's a narrow peninsula!) and when it burned flat once before in the 1960s no houses in that area (all of which existed then) were threatened or damaged.  When that happened, our fire department and assistance from Vinalhaven handled it quite well, without incident to life or additional properties.

 



Posted by: Bethany Rebekah Boivin | Oct 08, 2019 08:47

My husband and I are the Caretakers for the Sedgewick Point property in your article and much of the description of the property has been GROSSLY exaggerated.

 

First, when my husband and I moved here to take the position in 2017, that description would have fit the property well. However, in the 2 1/2 years that we have been here my husband has been working very hard to clean up the property. First, there is an access road that as a former fire fighter, I can tell you that you could get a full size fire truck down at least half the length of the point and forestry trucks could access all but the the very end of it. There are trails all over the property now, even with signage like you were hiking on a state park property. The trails are maintained every few days to ensure they are accessible and we have a huge contingent of regular hikers who report to us if they see anything that needs taking care of.

Third tree harvesting IS happening. My husband gets most of our yearly cordage for our own woodstoves and the woodstoves for the Pulpit Trust houses (9 of them) from the point, not to mention that responsible islanders in need of wood are able to get permission from my husband to cut wood for their own homes, free of charge from the property to help those who may not be able to afford wood otherwise. They do need to cut it themselves, but its FREE.

Lastly, the trust does it's best to get this property cleaned up. My husband works his ass off out there, but he is only one person. The trust can't afford to hire additional help to get it cleaned up sooner. A tax break would allow for my husband to hire additional help to responsibly clean up the point without having a negative impact on its fragile environment or breaking rules set by the EPA regarding harvesting of trees and such near wetlands and shore lines. Maintaining the property in it's most natural form is very important to the family.

 

What is NOT being said here is that different people within the town office system have  quietly and repeatedly pushed the family to sell the property so that it can provide additional housing lots for the island which would bring in a significantly higher amount of tax revenue to help fund their desire to build things like a new airport, a new firehouse and town garage and more. Denying the tax break makes it more difficult for the family to maintain the property and more likely to give up and sell it, which would benefit the towns coffers.

The issue is not at ALL that the family is trying to cheap out on their taxes. They are trying desperately to make this property a beautiful space for EVERYONE to continue to be able to use and keep it a wild space on an island that is constantly trying to build its tax base.

People would do well to remember that there are always 2 sides to a story and that when a town helps produce an article such as this through their lawyers, they have an ulterior motive.



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Oct 07, 2019 19:17

Please correct my thoughts: By giving them the tax break they would probably NOT be responsible liability wise if a fire breaks out on that land that would damage the entire island. By the description of the land it is a fire trap waiting to happen.

 



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Oct 07, 2019 17:05

Oh Mary,

Here you go again.  Missing the point of the whole article.

 



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Oct 07, 2019 15:35

How would a forest fire be handled either way? Would not the same people be involved? It is a threat either way but perhaps places liability in the property owner and that would give them a big "rich" break.

 



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 07, 2019 14:44

Public access should get a tax break, big time. I would never let public access to my property without a better tax break.



If you wish to comment, please login.