Freeport officials continue to seek a solution to a state environmental permitting problem that overshadows the town’s new athletic fields on Hunter Road.

At the same time, town officials are planning to build a smaller recreational lodge for the seven fields so it will cost less and won’t draw greater scrutiny from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, town officials said Tuesday.

The controversy continues in the wake of Seacoast United Maine’s failed proposal to build an indoor-outdoor soccer complex on adjacent land that would have been provided by the town in exchange for limited public playing time.

With the soccer club out of the picture, DEP officials are examining whether town officials should have sought a comprehensive environmental review for both projects.

“They probably should have submitted a site permit application for both field areas,” said Mike Mullen, DEP licensing and compliance coordinator. “Now that site laws have been triggered, there are different ways to deal with it.”

It’s not clear how the town will respond or whether the DEP will require the town to go through a more comprehensive environmental review, Mullen said.

Town and DEP officials have been in talks about the future of the Hunter Road fields since the Seacoast proposal fell through in February. Town Manager Dale Olmstead said he hopes to have the permitting issue resolved by the end of May.

The 19.7-acre Hunter Road project, completed last fall, was designed to cover less than 20 acres to avoid an extensive and more costly DEP review, Olmstead said. The town sought and got a basic stormwater management permit.

However, the project was built on a 60-acre swath of town-owned land that includes pre-existing athletic fields on Pownal Road. The Seacoast soccer club, working with town officials, had planned to build on 12 acres between the Hunter Road and Pownal Road fields.

Normally under state environmental law, the Hunter Road project would be viewed as having a “common scheme of development” with the Pownal Road fields because of their proximity, shared ownership and similar use. That would have triggered a full DEP review, encompassing all aspects of the project, including funding, design, wildlife, groundwater, wastewater, historical and wetlands impacts.

Without Seacoast in the mix, the Hunter Road fields are set to open in July whether or not the state requires a comprehensive review. A full review could cost the town $20,000 to $40,000, Olmstead said, and result in additional site work.

L.L. Bean contributed $500,000 to the Hunter Road project last May, about a month after the Town Council decided to buy the 38-acre Hunter Road property and build the fields for $2.3 million.

The Hunter Road project called for a two-story, 5,000-square-foot lodge costing about $575,000 and required more fundraising. Moreover, in recent months, project supporters had considered building the lodge on town-owned land outside the project’s 19.7-acre boundaries.

To minimize the project’s environmental impacts – and in hopes of avoiding a costly DEP review – town officials now plan to build a one-story, 1,200-square-foot lodge housing only bathrooms, locker rooms and common space, town officials said. The town has enough money – $200,000 to $225,000 – to build the smaller lodge, Olmstead said.

The lodge will be built to the rear of the property, said David Latulippe, a local developer who led the field project and now heads the town-funded Freeport Economic Development Corp.

Last week, the Town Council directed municipal staff to submit plans for the smaller lodge to the Project Review Board. The town will seek competitive bids from contractors and hopes to begin construction by fall, Olmstead said.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]