The Brunswick Town Council unanimously voted Monday evening to impose an emergency moratorium on the review and approval of development projects within the Maquoit Bay Watershed.

Council Chairperson James Mason proposed the measure, which could stall a major housing development project pitched by Mere Point Development LLC. Concerns about the health of the ecosystem peaked two weeks ago after Brunswick Coastal Resource Manager Dan Devereaux told the council that runoff from private lawns was likely partly responsible for the deaths of four acres of softshell clams off the town’s coast.

“This issue with especially nitrogen pollution into Maquoit Bay has long been known,” said Councilor Steven Walker. “It’s been one of those things that has incrementally gotten worse over time. Now, with the whole wild card of climate change, it’s time to really look hard at what we should be doing as a community.”

The 50-day moratorium, which the council may extend to 180 days following a Nov. 7 public hearing, will limit projects located entirely or partially within the triangular parcel of land between Maquoit Road, Mere Point Road and Rossmore Road, according to Town Manager John Eldridge.

Councilors and the handful of locals who spoke Monday discussed the need to slow the rapid pace of development in Brunswick until the town has time to update its zoning regulations, echoing the council’s justification for a housing development moratorium it passed this June.

“Once there’s development, it’s there for the ages,” resident Marcia Harrington said. “We need to get it right the first time.”


Mere Point Development LLC has been in early talks with town officials about constructing 900 or more housing units on a 283-acre property located partly within the Maquoit Bay Watershed. While that project could help ease Brunswick’s housing shortage, councilors feared the runoff it creates might harm the bay’s increasingly delicate ecosystem — as well as the fishermen and clammers who depend on it.

Nitrogen-rich fertilizers and pesticides, washed into the ocean by rainfall, can contribute to algal blooms, which deoxygenate water and kill animal life, according to Devereaux. With rising temperatures already harming the shellfish that serve as the water’s natural filtration system, the ecosystem is more vulnerable than ever.

“Any large-scale development that would consume hundreds of acres in the watershed could very well contribute to nitrogen loading and push us over that tipping point,” Devereaux said. “Because we’re close right now.”

Longtime commercial lobsterman Paul Hickey said he has been startled by recent changes in the water’s temperature and color as well as differences in how lobsters are behaving.

“I concur with your concerns about the water quality,” he told the council. “I’ve seen probably more change in the last three years than the 31 before it.”

During the moratorium, town officials and council members will compare recent scientific data on the region’s changing water quality with Brunswick’s zoning codes. According to Mason, some of these codes are based on a now-outdated 2008 comprehensive plan and are due for a revamp.

“What we need to do is assess whether our current zoning ordinances are reflective of what we know to be the science behind how to protect our watershed,” he said. “We absolutely need to come up with new projects, but they need to be not only the right size for Brunswick, they need to be the right size for where they are in Brunswick.”

So far, the public has been approved of the measure, according to Mason, who said that the council has received 40-50 emails supporting the moratorium.

Residents will have another chance to share their thoughts at a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 7.

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