July 5, 2011

'Urgency' drives land deal

A pact to preserve 97 acres of coastal land in Biddeford may fail unless conservationists raise $1.6 million by Sept. 15.

By Emma Bouthillette ebouthillette@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD - With less than three months remaining on a sales agreement contract, local conservationists are turning to the public to help preserve coastal land off Granite Point Road and a small island near the mouth of the Little River.

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David Quenneville of Huntington, N.Y., casts for striped bass at Timber Point in Biddeford. A coalition of conservation groups hopes to make 97 acres in the area part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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The Ewing family plans to retain the farmhouse and 13 acres at Timber Point in Biddeford when it sells 97 acres in a planned conservation deal. The family is asking $5.125 million.

Additional Photos Below

WALK THE LAND

ADDITIONAL site walks are scheduled on Tuesdays, July 12 at 1 p.m., July 26 at 5:30 p.m. and Aug. 9 at 1 p.m.

THE TRUST for Public Land and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust are accepting donations for the acquisition.

ADDITIONAL information can be found at www.tpl.org/maine or www.kporttrust.org.

The Ewing family, which owns the 110 acres of land known as Timber Point, is willing to sell off 97 acres for conservation purposes for $5.125 million. The Trust for Public Land, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and The Friends of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge have combined efforts to make the acquisition possible.

To date, 70 percent of the funds have been secured, including $3 million from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and more than $525,000 from private donations. However, if the remaining $1.6 million is not raised by Sept. 15, the property may be listed for sale on the private market, said Wolfe Tone, state director for The Trust for Public Land.

"I'm certainly working under a sense of urgency," Tone said, despite feeling confident the money will be raised in time.

The property would become part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge's Little River Division, and the family would retain 13 acres and an existing farmhouse.

"Five years ago or so, the family had a choice. Their choice was to sell the property on the market to the highest bidder or to give conservation a chance," Tone said. "The decision came out to give conservation a chance."

Josephine Ewing, one of 12 grandchildren in the family that has owned the property since 1929, said selling the property wasn't an easy decision, but family members would like to see it remain undeveloped.

"Conservation of the point was a really important piece," she said. "That's what we find beautiful about the place."

The acquisition would be significant for the refuge, said Bill Durkin, president of The Friends of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

The area is believed to be one of the last large coastal parcels of land under single ownership between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth.

Kennebunkport Conservation Trust Executive Director Tom Bradbury said the rocky coastline and wooded area of the land defines the scenic views from Goose Rocks Beach. He said keeping the property intact and undeveloped is a unique opportunity for conservationists.

"It's just a marvelous spot on the Maine coast," he said. "Its beauty and the wildlife opportunities -- everything speaks to preserving it."

According to Ward Feurt, refuge manager for the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, the oceanfront, marsh, fields and forests are rich with species, including the bobolink, a grassland nesting bird; eiders, a type of sea duck; and likely the endangered New England cottontail rabbit. He said he is keeping his fingers crossed that the acquisition is completed this fall.

"There just aren't big tracts that are all coastal anymore," Feurt said.

Last week, officials from Biddeford and Kennebunkport were invited to walk the property and learn more about the efforts to preserve it. Durkin, who is also the chairman of Biddeford's Open Space Committee, said site walks have been scheduled throughout the summer.

He hopes these walks and the efforts from partnering groups will help attract additional donors.

"We have to be optimistic that we're not going to be in that situation" of falling short of the purchase price, Durkin said. "We've been looking at this land for over 25 years and we're 70 percent there already."

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ebouthillette@pressherald.com

 

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Additional Photos

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A snowy white egret lands in the estuary at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on Granite Point in Biddeford. The refuge hopes to add a large tract of property from Biddeford's Timber Point.

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A northern harrier hawk, perched at Timber Point, shows the diversity of wildlife in the coastal area.

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Aerial view of Timber Point.



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