Joanne and Vaughn Anthony, critics of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens expansion, posted a sign on their Gaecklin Road land, next to the gardens property. The Anthonys think the ongoing expansion is too big for a small town like Boothbay. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay was cited by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection late last month for multiple violations, including improperly displacing soil and filling natural wetlands, and for doing work without obtaining proper permits.

The violations were discovered this spring after multiple inspections of a major expansion underway at the popular gardens. The state cited Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens as the landowner, Wright-Ryan of Portland as the construction manager and Crooker Construction of Topsham as the site contractor.

William Cullina, the gardens’ executive director, called the violations “minor” and said they did not stem from negligence, but extreme weather.

“One hundred percent (compliance) is a difficult goal,” he said Thursday. “We have had a couple of issues, not due to any negligence, but really due to acts of nature. These were pretty minor things that were dealt with in hours.”

But for some critics of the expansion, such as Kevin Anthony, whose family owns property bordering the gardens, the recent violations validated their concerns about the expansion.

The DEP report, dated June 27, alleged that work crews filled freshwater wetlands and altered a significant wildlife habitat without first obtaining permits, a violation of the Natural Resources Protection Act.

The state also said soil was displaced or exposed “without taking adequate measures to prevent unreasonable erosion of soil or a sediment beyond the project site or into a protected natural resource,” a violation of the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Law.

The state said the gardens also violated the Site Location and Development Act for failing to follow plans already submitted and approved by the DEP, and the Location of Development Act for discharging soil into state water without obtaining a permit.

The report outlined corrective action that the facility must complete by the end of this month, including installing and maintaining adequate temporary erosion and sedimentation controls and keeping a log of maintenance. The gardens also must submit a new application to reflect changes already undertaken, and submit a restoration plan to restore disturbed soil and remove fill from wetlands.

Visitors look over the gardens Thursday at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. The organization was cited by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection last month for violations including improperly displacing soil and filling natural wetlands. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

PROJECT CHIEF PLEDGES COMPLIANCE

In a response letter to the DEP dated June 30, the project manager, Jan Wiegman of the Topsham engineering firm Wright-Pierce, said all of the issues cited by the state had been dealt with and a restoration plan for the affected wetland would be submitted soon.

“Wright-Pierce, CMBG and the construction team are committed to completing the project in accordance to the approved plans and to practice exemplary erosion and sedimentation control practices throughout the construction and beyond,” Wiegman wrote.

The DEP violations are related to a $30 million expansion of the nearly 300-acre gardens, home to dozens of varieties of flora that bloom with the seasons. It’s one of the most popular spots on Maine’s midcoast, with an estimated 160,000 visitors last year, the highest number in the nonprofit’s nine-year history and an increase of 300 percent since its opening year.

It was that unexpected jump in popularity, aided in part by an immensely successful late-fall event called Gardens Aglow, that prompted the botanical gardens to plan its expansion, which is being done in phases.

The first phase includes paving a significant portion of the property to improve parking and double the number of spaces to about 900, similar in size to a big-box store. The parking lot would be massive, especially for the area.

Over time, the gardens plan to build a new visitors center and a 22,000-square-foot conservatory, the largest in New England. The visitors center would be three stories and would include office space, restrooms and a lobby connecting to the gift shop. The conservatory would, in part, help ensure that the gardens are more than just a seasonal attraction.

SOME NEIGHBORS OPPOSE PROJECT

Even before the recent DEP violations, the planned expansion hasn’t sat well with everyone in town.

Property owners who border the botanical gardens and others have criticized the plan as overly ambitious and not consistent with the organization’s mission of conservation.

Vaughn Anthony stands near a construction site at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay on Thursday. He believes it is part of the parking lot and is concerned about runoff from the parking lot and how it may affect nearby vernal pools and the water on his adjacent property. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The biggest critics have been the Anthony family – Vaughn and Joanne Anthony, whose property is next to the gardens, and their sons Jason and Kevin Anthony, who grew up there and have spoken at local meetings.

The Anthonys have been upset about the plans, which they see as too big for a town as small as Boothbay, and about how garden officials have communicated with stakeholders.

“If they had engaged with us, good management could have avoided all this,” Kevin Anthony told the Press Herald last year. “But they don’t feel they need to negotiate. They seem to feel that some of the rules just don’t apply to them.”

Paula Arsenault, a Boothbay resident who lives on nearby Knickerbocker Lake, has opposed the gardens’ expansion as well.

“I’m not a scientist. I’m not published in any journals. I’m just an artist and a neighbor,” she said. “But I know what I’m seeing up there is something I thought we had graduated from. It looks like something that would happen in the ’70s or ’80s. It’s been clear-cut and bulldozed. I know they needed to expand, but it couldn’t have been more wrong in the way they did it. I think they have gone about it in a very callous and destructive way.”

Officials with the Boothbay Region Water District have expressed concerns as well, that the expansion could adversely affect the watershed and Knickerbocker Lake, the town’s secondary water supply. Those concerns were enough to get the project’s disposal field moved out of the lake’s watershed.

Cullina said that concession should be seen as a sign that the nonprofit is mindful of community concerns.

“I think some – and one abutter in particular – are never going to be happy,” he said.

TURBID WATER, ALTERED WETLANDS

The DEP first approved a permit for the expansion in October 2016. The project began the next month, although local approval didn’t come until December.

Not long after work began at the site, DEP officials issued a warning after a third-party inspector discovered that sediment had been discharged into a protected natural resource. Over the course of four follow-up visits – one in April, three in May – the inspector discovered the violations outlined in the DEP report.

Joanne and Vaughn Anthony, neighbors of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, walk down Gaecklin Road near a construction area. Violations found by the DEP are related to a $30 million expansion of the gardens, which had an estimated 160,000 visitors last year. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

On April 7, “the third-party inspector observed turbid (cloudy or spoiled) water in a freshwater wetland … as a result of a blowout of recently backfilled material from road construction.”

On May 3, “the inspector observed that a permanent structure, specifically a plunge pool (a deep-water collection area), had been placed in Wetland #22. Construction of the plunge pool resulted in wetland alterations which exceeded what was approved under Department Order.”

During additional visits in May, the inspector again found turbid water in wetlands and discovered that the contractors were working off revised plans that had not been approved by the DEP.

COOPERATION, POSSIBLE PENALTIES

Dawn Hallowell, a licensing and compliance manager for the DEP’s Bureau of Land Resources, said the agency doesn’t discuss active enforcement cases and declined to characterize the severity of the violations.

There is no set penalty for the violations, Hallowell said.

“If they don’t stabilize the site, the department will continue to document discharges and any assessed penalties will reflect that,” Hallowell said, adding that the botanical gardens were taking steps to fix the problems. She said there could be penalties assessed for the violations to date, even if the gardens corrected the problems. Those would be determined by several factors, including the severity of the violations, the gardens’ response, how long the problem was allowed to continue and the environmental sensitivity of the area.

Hallowell did say, though, that the department issued a warning back in January and that “if the discharge had stopped at that point, there would have been no need for a notice of violation.”

But Cullina pointed out that the inspector had been to the site about 30 times, and in most of those visits found no violations.

“In many cases, we’ve self-reported,” he said. “DEP has been working closely with us from the beginning. They want this project to succeed.”

Kevin Anthony hopes the DEP violations spur more people in the community to pay closer attention to the project.

Arsenault, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, is not as optimistic that the DEP violations will change anything.

“I feel like once the local planning board gave its approval, that was it,” she said. “It’s very sad. I loved going up there, and I don’t do that anymore.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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