Unless enough residents speak up right now, the Willard Beach neighborhood in South Portland is going to lose the only remaining forest that graces the entrance to our neighborhood. This precious acre-and-a-half forest of hundreds of maple, oak and birch trees will be taken down, and replaced by a 13-unit condo development with 26 parking spaces.

The forest is located at the corner of Preble Street and Surfsite Road and extends from Preble Street all the way to the SMCC dorm on Surfsite Road. If you live here, you’ve likely passed by this forest thousands of times in your car or perhaps by bike or on foot. It’s a magical place that’s easy to take for granted, until one day it’s gone.

The South Portland forest is located at the corner of Preble Street and Surfsite Road and extends from Preble Street to the Southern Maine Community College dorm on Surfsite Road. Courtesy photo

Our community needs this community forest. We need the 50- to 60-foot trees that still stand, with grace and in peace. This neighborhood is already living with noxious air quality issues from the nearby oil terminal and gas tanks. These big and beautiful trees help clean out tainted air. We are already living with increasing traffic and congestion, we do not need more. We need this forest, as do the native animals and birds who need such vanishing green places to live. It is their home, too.

I initiated the recent moratorium effort, with the worthy and limited intention of at least trying to save the handful of remaining forests and green spaces in our neighborhoods, including my beloved Surfsite-Preble Street forest. For other South Portland residents, “their” forest was the one at Evans and Hill Street, or the wonderful greenery of a place called the Piggery.

As clearly stated in the fliers I created, discussed and handed out to almost 100 of my neighbors, in August, this limited initiative was not intended to be a blanket moratorium everywhere in the city. Yet, during the past few weeks, and culminating in this past Tuesday’s city council meeting, my citizen created initiative somehow transformed into a referendum on the city’s tax base, the future of affordable housing, the city’s bond rating and almost an attack on motherhood and the American way.

To me, the concerned resident who stepped forward for my neighborhood forest, this was a manipulated diversion from what was in fact intended and what my neighbors and other South Portland citizens, in our neighborhoods, actually spoke up for. And so many residents did speak up loud and clear for saving our neighborhood forests.

As Councilor April Caricchio, alone among her colleagues, still realized and shared at Tuesday’s city council meeting, the actual voices of numerous individual citizens, not organized special interests, issued a strong and clear plea: Save our remaining neighborhood forests.

An effective and enlightened tree ordinance, is in addition to the immediate and urgent desire to save these forests in our neighborhoods. This rising plea from the citizens of our neighborhoods is firmly based on protecting our already tainted air, holding the line on increasing traffic and congestion, and preserving a quality of life that is being compromised by over-development in our neighborhoods.

We still have it in our power to work out land swaps and other solutions that create a win-win for everyone. Let’s make that happen, for our neighbors and neighborhoods, now, and for those who will come after us. This is still doable, now, as these forests still stand.

Robert Goldman is a South Portland resident and can be reached at [email protected]

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