LEA head comments on Long Lake case

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES — An advocate of water-quality protection is happy with the reforestation plan and the hefty fine handed to the party responsible for last spring’s clear cutting of almost an acre on the shores of Long Lake.

“To us, it was important that the site be restored as much as possible,” said Peter Lowell, executive director of Lakes Environmental Association (LEA).

“The combination of the restoration and the long-term management and the fine makes it a good resolution. The resolution does a decent job of restoring the site, and it sends a message to other folks who might want to have a lake-front view with total disregard for the water quality,” Lowell said.

On Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen was informed that Town Attorney Geoff Hole is finalizing the settlement paperwork — particularly the details for an aggressive, 10-year reforestation plan. The board had already approved the settlement. So, signing the completed paperwork will be a formality.

On Dec. 18, through an all-day mediation process, attorneys representing the Town of Naples and landowner John Chase agreed to a three-prong settlement: $65,000 fine, following through with a reforestation plan, and a lien on the property forbidding Chase to sell the property until the 10-year restoration plan is seen to fruition.

According to Town Manager Derik Goodine, Chase must pay the $65,000 in one lump sum — no payment plans. A portion of the money will be used to reimburse the town’s legal fees, which will likely total $25,000, Goodine said.

Lowell said the settlement was not only a strong statement for property owners to abide by the Shoreland Zoning Ordinances, but it also empowered the town to keep tabs on the long-term restoration plan, and see that a screen of viable trees is replanted along the shoreline of Long Lake.

The 10-year lien on the deed for the Long Lake parcel will ensure that the town can monitor the progress of the tree restoration plan, both Lowell and Goodine said.

The mediator Daniel Wathen, a retired Maine Supreme Court justice, suggested the 10-year lien on the deed, Goodine said. In a 10-year period, the Chase property can only change hands if it is sold or deeded to a family member, he said.

“Whathen will maintain jurisdiction over this case. So, if there is a disagreement or a break down, he would step in as rule maker,” Goodine said.

On Monday, Selectman Robert Caron Sr. commented on the positive aspect of Wathen’s commitment in continuing to monitor the Naples case and the tree-planting plan slated to occur over the next decade.

Lowell — who was in Florida after the settlement was reached, but was back in his Bridgton offices on Monday — said he was pleased that town leaders took the initiative to make certain there were consequences for the ordinance violation as well as backing a fool-proof blueprint for returning native vegetation to the parcel.

The settlement that resulted from mediation “was an enormous improvement over what would have happened if LEA hadn’t worked with the town,” he said. “This whole situation was very much confused by the fact the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stepped in. The advice that the DEP gave our code enforcement officer was basically recommending small trees to be replaced and a very small fine. They were willing to settle for $10,000,”Lowell said.

He said he had issues with the original restoration concept submitted by the Chase party.

“To say that six-inch hardwood could be replaced with three-inch Eastern hemlock — well, we thought the tree restoration plan wasn’t even up to DEP’s standards,” Lowell said. According to the law, the trees are supposed to be replaced size for size, he explained.

During the mediation process, the plan for returning the clear-cut area to its original state was debated for hours, according to Goodine. Landscape architects representing both groups put forth their arguments.

While Chase’s landscaper said larger trees might not survive transplanting, the town insisted on four- to six-foot trees going in.

The town’s horticultural consultant Richard Churchill Jr. stated taller trees would create a buffer more quickly. Churchill asked for some additional planting and suggested species (especially evergreens) be more scattered around the area, Goodine said.

“We wanted some larger trees scattered within the area so they would truly screen the property,” he said. In addition, rocks will be part of the landscape map — in an effort to stem erosion and run-off.

“We wanted to make sure the restoration plan happened,” Goodine said.

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