Naples officials are pursuing the maximum fines against a landowner whose property on Long Lake was cleared of trees and vegetation that protected the lake from storm water runoff.

The town has cited Chase Holdings LLC for three violations of the shoreland zoning ordinance and is researching whether a fourth violation occurred. The company is associated with John Chase, a builder in southern Maine who owns Chase Custom Homes.

Potential fines for the three violations could total $660,000, said Town Manager Derik Goodine.

“This is a such a shame that this was done to this piece of property,” said Selectwoman Christine Powers “We have to, in my view, make sure this doesn’t happen all over the lake.”

Powers said she doesn’t have a particular figure in mind as an acceptable fine, and is more concerned with restoring the property and protecting the lake.

The Board of Selectpersons has authorized the town’s attorney to seek an appropriate reforestation plan and take legal action if necessary.

Michael Lane, a lawyer for Chase Holdings, said a restoration plan approved by the town and the state Department of Environmental Protection was completed in April, two weeks ahead of schedule. He has said that poor communication led to the clearing.

“We have done every single thing the town has asked for to date. We’re working with the town to wrap this matter up,” he said.

Lane said the town has not notified him about the amount of the fines. John Chase could not be reached for comment.

A fine in the $660,000 range would not be the largest imposed in a shoreland zoning case in Maine.

In 2001, a judge ruled that a campground owner in Damariscotta should pay $8.4 million for building cabins within a shoreland zone. The campground owner ended up paying $350,000 in fines and $100,000 for the state’s legal fees in a settlement reached the next year.

The state mandates shoreland zoning, but towns interpret and enforce the law. Naples’ shoreland zoning strictly limits tree cutting and the removal of low plants or other ground cover within 100 feet of the shore. Trees and plants protect the lake from storm water, which picks up phosphorus as it runs toward the shore.

An area of more than 100 feet by 100 feet on Big Bear Point was cleared of all vegetation, opening a view of Long Lake and adding significant value to the property, according to the DEP, which had a staff member investigate in March, along with Naples’ code enforcement officer.

Chase Holdings was cited for three violations within the 100-foot shoreline buffer zone: creating an opening in the forest canopy greater than 250 square feet, failing to retain a well-distributed stand of trees and other vegetation, and removing shorter vegetation and ground cover.

The other possible violation would be for removing more than 40 percent of the trees in the buffer zone within a 10-year period.

Town attorney Geoffrey Hole said he will negotiate with Chase Holdings on a consent agreement that could address civil penalties and the environmental remedy. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, he said, the town will sue in Superior Court.

Recommendations made in a letter April 1 from DEP Assistant Shoreland Zoning Coordinator Mike Morse were meant as the minimum that would be acceptable to the department, said Richard Baker, Morse’s supervisor.

Morse’s letter to the town was used as the basis for the notice of violation that Naples issued April 13 to Chase Holdings. Morse suggested that the town impose a penalty of $20,000 to $40,000.

In a letter dated Monday, Baker told the town that at least five large trees should be planted across the lot’s opening on the water to provide screening.

Baker also wrote that, in hindsight, it appears that the restoration was too heavily weighted toward deciduous trees, and that more evergreens are advisable.

He also said that the evergreens that were used were “spindly,” and that more softwood trees should be added.

Peter Lowell, executive director of Lakes Environmental Association, said the DEP’s initial recommendation didn’t even satisfy its own guidelines.

“The fact that the town came down so solidly in favor of protecting water quality is a fantastic leap ahead for all of us,” he said. “It sends the absolute right message about the case and it really lays the foundation for it getting resolved in a meaningful way, as opposed to a Band-Aid.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]