Lopez unlikely to prevail in having wetlands fee lifted

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The Army Corps of Engineers isn’t willing to eliminate a $30,000 wetlands mitigation fee on the McDonald’s project in Bridgton, despite plans by developer Mark Lopez to add a second stormwater filter pond.

“It’s very unlikely” that the fee would be lifted from the permit requirements, Army Corps Senior Project Manager Rodney Howe said last week. “Based on current law, we’re required to seek compensation for wetland disturbance,” and nothing in Lopez’s amended Site Location of Development Act permit request with the Department of Environmental Protection, nor its National Resources Protection Act amended permit request, would change that requirement, he said.

Tom DuBois of Main-Land Development Consultants, Inc. filed the amendment proposal in February with the DEP’s Bill Bullard, asking him to “do the math” and reconsider its decision on wetlands compensation. DuBois sent a copy of the amendment request to Gov. Paul LePage, whose office has encouraged the department to create more business-friendly policies.

Lopez said in February that the $30,000 impact fee “compromised the economics of the project,” which was approved by the Bridgton Planning Board in January of 2011 for the 5,400-square-foot restaurant and adjacent retail space to be located diagonally across from the entrance to the Hannaford supermarket on the Portland Road. McDonald’s corporate officials said then they expected to decide by April whether the project would go forward.

Bullard said both the DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers must weigh in on any changes to stormwater plans for the project, and “they typically will require more compensation beyond what we’ll do.”

So, while the DEP might consider waiving the mitigation fee, the Army Corps of Engineers will not, he said. “They’re not inclined to reduce the fee. And they’re the federal agency,” Bullard said. Howe verified that statement, while saying, however, that a final decision has not yet been made.

In his request, DuBois said Lopez already preserved an 8.35-acre parcel near Sandy Creek containing 2.8 acres of wetlands as compensation for the project’s 1.04 acres of wetland impacts. He also pointed out that Hancock Lumber was not required to provide wetlands compensation when it was approved to build its store behind the McDonald’s project site. He said further that the McDonald’s project was required to “cover” the 10,127 square feet of wetland impacts previously approved for the Hancock Lumber store.

With the creation of two wetland ponds at the bottom of the property next to Portland Road, Lopez was creating 2,900 square feet of wetlands, which, when deducted from the 19,668 square feet of wetlands impact, left 16,768 square feet of wetland impacts, DuBois’s request to the DEP states.

“Between these two methods, creation and preservation, the applicant has far exceeded the standards for wetlands compensation,” DuBois argued. “Even if one were to include the Hancock Lumber impacts, the creation and preservation still significantly exceed the required compensation. Therefore, the applicant requests that the requirement for a $30,000 in lieu fee be eliminated from the project approvals.”

In order to create the second filter pond, the application proposes using a portion of the adjacent parcel owned by Paul Colbath. In February, Lopez said he did not have the property under contract. The second filter pond would be located south of the new right-turn-in driveway off Route 302. It would treat a portion of the flow that was originally directed to the first filter pond, thereby mitigating the impact to Willett Brook. A $4,975 impact fee for phosphorus generation had previously been negotiated with the DEP for the project.

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