Saturday, March 8, 2014
By Matt Byrne firstname.lastname@example.org
Freeport town councilors have agreed to spend as much as $171,080 for environmental permits, storm water systems and other upgrades at the Hunter Road and Pownal Road playing fields.
The decision caps an 18-month debate about how to satisfy state Department of Environmental Protection requirements for the fields.
The DEP permitting fee totals $18,080, said James Hendricks, Town Council chairman, while roughly $25,000 more will pay for design and construction fees to bring the stormwater system into compliance.
Hendricks said other projects included $59,000 for infrastructure upgrades to Hedgehog Mountain Road, where the town's recycling center is located, and $69,000 to reconfigure a field parking lot to improve drainage.
Not all of the work must be completed immediately, however, and some of the permits are for future projects, such as trail work at the Hedgehog Mountain recreation area, and a road to connect the two field complexes.
"We may be on a two-year program," Hendricks said.
The DEP requirements, known as the "common scheme of development" rule, apply to parcels over 20 acres in close proximity with identical owners and similar uses.
By originally designing the Hunter Road project to cover 19.7 acres and potentially selling a parcel to the Seacoast United Maine soccer league, the town would have avoided the costly environmental review process. But the rule kicked in when a deal to sell another part of the 60-acre town property to a youth soccer league fell through.
In exchange for the land that was once slated for the club, Freeport would have won use of the turf soccer fields the group proposed to build. But the deal with Seacoast failed to materialize last year, when residents organized against the sale, saying it violated the town charter. The Hunter Road fields by then were already under construction, and opened last summer without the DEP permits.
A suggested alternative to the town paying the fees was to convey the Hunter Road fields to Regional School District 5, which is already responsible for scheduling field usage, said Town Councilor Kristina Egan, who favored the school option.
Egan said school ownership would have saved the town money during the impending budget process, which is expected to be exceptionally difficult. She said the town will struggle to raise the money without cutting an expenditure or raising taxes.
"My obligation is to keep the municipal money for the highest priorities," Egan said. "And this was not one of them for me."
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: