Long Lake clear cut settlement includes a 10-year tree re-growth plan

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – During a season when the only trees being cut down are the ones adorned in homes at Christmas-time, the businessman responsible for this spring’s clear-cutting of trees on the shores of Long Lake will be doling out some of his green to the town coffers.

John Chase, of Chase Custom Homes and Properties, recently agreed to pay the Town of Naples $65,000 for the tree removal incident that left bare almost an acre of waterfront land on Long Lake, according to Naples Code Enforcement Officer Boni Rickett.

The clear cut took place in March 2010, she said. The shoreland ordinance prohibits removal of trees 100 feet from the shoreline – with the exception of minor tree-cutting necessary to create a footpath. The ordinance exists to protect run-off into bodies of water and to maintain erosion control, Rickett said.

The ordinance violation case did not go to court as originally anticipated. Instead, an agreement was pursued through the mediation process.

This month, Chase Properties’ lawyer gave a nod to the settlement amount of $65,000 - which includes civil penalties and reimbursement of the town’s legal bills, Rickett said.

“Also, there is a lien of $175,000 if the property changes hands to a non-family member in 10-year period,” Rickett said during a phone interview on Tuesday. The property owner can’t make a profit from the sale of the land which was unlawfully cleared, she said.

In addition, Chase will be required to submit a more suitable restoration plan than the one currently drafted on paper, she said.

The financial settlement between the town and Chase was the result of a 9 ½-hour mediation process, which occurred on Saturday, Dec. 18, according to Town Manager Derik Goodine. The town opted to use as a mediator, Daniel Whathen, a retired Maine Supreme Court Judge. Members of the Naples Board of Selectmen attended portions of the mediation meeting, were updated on the proceedings – if they left briefly, and signed required legal paperwork in person, Goodine said.

At Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting, the selectmen formally ratified the settlement with a vote.

Adding the $175,000 lien to the lakefront parcel gave the town some leverage to make certain the clear-cut area was re-treed, he said. The lien is attached to the deed for the next decade, he said.

“This gives the town the opportunity to baby-sit the property. In ten years’ time, the tree growth should look like it did before the clear cut. The tree line should be similar to that of neighboring properties on Long Lake,” he said.

“We wanted to make sure the property was restored,” Goodine said.

A finalized landscape architectural proposal has not yet emerged, he said. That plan should take shape in the spring when another site walk is planned. Already, some of the trees that were transplanted this fall have died; and those will need to be removed and replaced.

During the mediation process, the involved parties spent about six hours discussing how best to approach returning the lake-front greenery to a likeness of its original state.

The town’s horticultural consultant Richard Churchhill, Jr., recommended re-planting larger trees and more evergreen species. Churchhill advised that larger trees would help mitigate erosion in a quicker period of time while Chase’s consultant said re-planting more mature trees would have to be done with heavy equipment that could acerbate erosion issues.

“We wanted more evergreens scattered within the area so they would truly screen the property. It will provide a visually appealing screen for people recreating on Long Lake,” Goodine said, adding the exact mix of species and size of trees would be tackled this spring.

He estimated the town’s legal fees will total about $25,000 – and the remaining $40,000 of the monetary settlement will go toward fines.

“We weren’t looking forward to spending taxpayers’ dollars to do this. But, we weren’t going to turn our back on enforcing this ordinance,” Goodine said.

“We wanted to make sure that this doesn’t happen in Naples again.”

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