AUGUSTA — Most city councilors appeared to support moving ahead with acquiring the Howard Hill tract despite questions about funding to maintain the property.

Acquiring the 164-acre gift from the Kennebec Land Trust requires signing an agreement that an attorney has warned could someday obligate the city to pay to stay in compliance with Land for Maine’s Future standards.

City Manager William Bridgeo believes it is unlikely the city would be forced to spend a “burdensome” amount to remain in compliance.

Most councilors appeared to favor signing the agreement and move to close on the property, although no vote was taken Thursday.

Bridgeo said he’ll prepare an order for councilors to consider next week that would confirm the council’s authorization to close on the property.

At-Large Councilor Mark O’Brien expressed concern about the deal. He suggested the land trust could sign an agreement that would have it pay any future costs of complying with state regulations.

“If the risk is as minimal as everybody would argue that it is, they shouldn’t have a real concern about indemnifying us on this,” O’Brien said.

Howard Lake, attorney for the land trust and a member of its board of directors, suggested any future unanticipated expenses associated with the property should be the responsibility of the city, not the land trust, which raised $925,000 to buy the property. A conservation easement prevents it from being developed.

“This seems like something that is part of the ownership of the city,” Lake said.

Bridgeo said that part of the project agreement with the Land for Maine’s Future program, which is providing $163,500 for the project, would obligate the city to spend whatever money is necessary to stay in compliance with the program’s regulations.

“It was that open-ended phrase that caused our attorney to say, ‘I can’t give you a green light on this without knowing you agree to this undefined, potential future liability, and accept it,’ ” Bridgeo told councilors Thursday.

Bridgeo believes the positive benefits of acquiring Howard Hill, which is heavily wooded and provides a scenic backdrop to the State House, justify some assumption of risk. He said refusing to sign the agreement could jeopardize the project.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

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