The City Council will hold another workshop on alternatives to a conservation easement to ensure the protection of Bug Light Park. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli last week tried to shut down rumors that the city is looking to sell Bug Light Park.

“No one is selling Bug Light. That’s not on the table; no one has talked about that,” Morelli told residents at a City Council workshop on strategies to protect the popular park and other open spaces. “I understand how rumors can get started, but the city is not considering selling Bug Light or any other city park.”

The South Portland Land Trust and the city Conservation Commission have said that a 4-3 council vote in February against a conservation easement on the park would allow the council to potentially decide on its own to sell it. Councilors opposed to the easement said they were uncomfortable ceding partial ownership of the nearly 9-acre site.

One alternative to an easement the council discussed Tuesday was requiring a super-majority vote before decisions are made on granting easements or selling land that the city has officially deemed vital to protect, which includes Bug Light Park. Councilors also heard other land-protection recommendations, such as requiring a citizen referendum if public open space is to be sold or imposing permanent use restrictions on those properties.

“All of the options we provided you will afford you some additional level of protection, short of that conservation easement,” Morelli said.

Resident Leslie Gatcombe-Hynes said leaving decisions about public land solely in the hands of a future council puts the land at risk, even if a super-majority is required.


“I worry that, somehow, it feels like five councilors could overturn the will of the people,” she said.

South Portland Land Trust member Nancy Crowell argued that an easement would thwart that.

“I offer the land trust as a potential buffer against the very thing we’ve been talking about tonight in terms of politics and the whims of a council that, at some point in time, may or may not have our best interests (in mind),” Crowell said.

Richard Rottkov, a former president of the land trust, emphasizing he was speaking for himself as a resident, agreed with Crowell. Without an easement, he said, he supports having voters decide what happens with public land.

“It will take you folks off the hook,” he told the council.

Councilor Richard Matthews, who voted against the easement in February, and other councilors indicated they would favor a citizen vote if the city ever wants to sell Bug Light Park or any other public land.


A “money-hungry” council in the future may not best represent the majority of residents, Matthews said.

“I trust that the public would come out tenfold. It would probably be one of the biggest votes in South Portland (history) and I’m sure they’ll make the right decision,” Matthews said.

Councilor Misha Pride said a public vote could work.

“There are some things I want to see protection for,” Pride said. “I thought that easements were a good way to do that,” but sending a potential sale to registered voters “is the best way to go in lieu of an easement plan.”

Matthews and Councilors Natalie West and Linda Cohen said they stand by the decision that a conservation easement was not the right strategy for Bug Light Park.

“I don’t want to take control away from the City Council,” Cohen said.

Kathy DiPhilippo, who is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society, which is located at Bug Light Park, said she was speaking solely as a city resident in pointing out that all residents commenting at Tuesday’s workshop have a common goal, no matter their stance on the conservation easement.

“We all want to preserve open spaces … the disagreement here is just the vehicle we’re using to do that,” she said. The council’s decision boils down to “whether you’re OK with handing control of public lands to third parties or if you want to keep it in-house.”

Councilors voted at the end of Tuesday’s workshop to schedule a second workshop on the matter.

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