YARMOUTH — The Town Council voted unanimously Nov. 16 to allocate up to $12,600 to extend an option agreement on Yarmouth’s last remaining continuous habitat and shoreline along the Royal River.

Last spring, the town and the Royal River Conservation Trust partnered to acquire the 24-acre parcel of land on the Royal River owned by Steve and Greg Dugas. 

The land abuts two other town-owned preserves – the 22-acre Hilda Barker Preserve and the 35-acre Sligo Road Reserve. Purchasing the third would create an 81-acre corridor of trails and protect a half-mile of shoreline, known as the Riverfront Woods Preserve. 

The Dugases agreed to sell the parcel to the town for $250,000 – a 35 percent discount from its appraised value. That offer expired on Nov. 21, but with the extension, the town can pay $1,800 a month for up to seven more months before sealing the deal. The money spent on the extension will be credited to the final purchase price.

In May, the council pledged $110,000 from the town’s property acquisition reserve for the purchase. This month, the Riverfront Woods Preserve received an additional $110,000 in grant funding from the Land for Maine’s Future Board. The program is the state’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land for natural and recreational value. 

The RRCT is spearheading a capital campaign to raise the remaining funds needed for the purchase. 

In addition to the $250,000 purchase price, an estimated $60,000 will be needed for trails, signs, land management, a conservation easement, and due diligence, making the final cost of the sale around $310,000.

So far, the trust has acquired about $45,000 in private donations and is now making a final push to raise the remaining $45,000 needed by the end of the year. Twenty thousand dollars will be put towards initial trail improvements and setting up a small fund for ongoing maintenance of the land.

“That’s what we are here for tonight, to ask for more time,” Town Manager Nat Tupper said Nov. 16. “Not because it is taking longer than expected, but because we’re making much better progress than we had hoped.”

RRCT Executive Director Alan Stearns said Nov. 17 that he feels fairly confident that the Dec. 31 goal will be met. 

“We’re hoping people will pitch in this month and next month so we can aim for that finish line, but the town has given us more time if needed,” he said. “We’ve been so encouraged by the generosity of the community so far, but the goal still requires people to dig deep.”

The Dugases are also seeking approval from the town to build a subdivision on their remaining land between the Riverfront Woods Preserve and East Elm Street. The development would include 7 acres of open space that the family has said they’ll donate to the town. 

The project proposes 11 new single-family house lots with a small eight-car parking lot and trailhead to be deeded to the town “for residents to enjoy for generations to come.”

The plan received preliminary plan approval from the Planning Board on Wednesday, Nov. 15. 

Tupper noted Nov. 16 that the preserve and subdivision proposals are separate transactions. 

Chairwoman Pat Thompson said Nov. 16 that the Riverfront Woods Preserve will be a wonderful thing for the town once the purchase is concluded.

“This will be a pretty significant contribution towards a large tract of land for habitat (and) human activities, increasing natural resources,” Tupper said. “I think it’s a great thing.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

In collaboration with Yarmouth, the Royal River Conservation Trust is making the final push to raise $45,000 needed by Dec. 31 to purchase a 24 acres along the Royal River. 

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