Agreement Would Conserve Sheepscot River Frontage On Westport Island

February 24, 2011

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, announced that they have reached agreement with a private landowner to purchase 202.39 acres for the Town of Westport Island. Located in the heart of Westport, the property, locally known as the Barrett/Hopkins land, a conservation priority for the local community because of its importance for water quality protection, wildlife habitat and recreational potential.

The property features a significant wetland and pond complex surrounded by unfragmented forest. This catchment serves as a sponge for precipitation, helping protect drinking water quality and quantity for many of the islands residents. Conservation of this property will also protect important waterfowl and wading bird habitat, while providing permanent recreational access for hiking, biking, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. With over 2,400 feet of frontage on the Sheepscot River, the property will provide public coastal access to the lower Sheepscot and build on ongoing efforts to protect water quality and critical coastal habitats in the Sheepscot and Kennebec estuaries.

Gregg Caporossi, a Project Manager for TPL, said, "TPL is grateful for the opportunity to work with the Town of Westport Island and the local land trusts Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT)and Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association (SVCA) to help meet one of Westport's and the regions conservation goals. Reaching agreement with the landowners is the first step in that process, and we look forward to fully engaging with the community to let everyone know about this opportunity as we move forward."

Bill Hopkins, Chairman of Westport Island's Conservation Commission says, "the option to acquire this property for conservation created by TPL offers our citizens a unique opportunity to help secure many of the Island's open space attributes in perpetuity. It is certainly the type of action our Town's Open Space Plan, currently under development, hoped to initiate. Having TPL involved will greatly assist the community's efforts and will be a critical factor to meeting our funding goals."

The option agreement signed by TPL and the landowners gives the project partners 18 months to raise $1.35 million to acquire the property. TPL anticipates raising those funds through a combination of federal, state and private sources. The majority of the funding will be raised through a grant to the federal Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In order to receive a grant through this program, the project partners must match the funds on a 1:1 basis. To meet that requirement, the project partners anticipate applying for funding through the Land for Maine's Future program and through private donations.

Both of the major land trusts in Westport's area, KELT and SVCA, have expressed support and offered assistance for the project. Maureen Hoffman, Executive Director of SVCA observes, "The SVCA has been approached by a number of Westport residents over the last year who were concerned about the possible sale of this property because of its location over an aquifer that provides drinking water, its long shore frontage and the fact that it is a large, intact property on a rapidly developing island. We are thrilled that this project is moving forward and have offered our full support." Jack Witham, President of KELT, remarks" this property is one of the largest shorefront parcels in Maine's mid-coast area. It is also rich in important wetland habitats."

If this effort is successful, the property will be owned by the Town of Westport, with an easement held by a local land trust such as KELT or SVCA. Once acquired, the property will be managed to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and for public recreational uses. Westport Island's Conservation Commission is taking the Town's lead in assisting TPL to develop this opportunity for the residents. Prior to Westport taking ownership of the property, the voters will be asked to approve this acquisition at annual Town Meeting in June.

The Trust for Public Land, established in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations. In Maine, TPL has protected more than 126,000 acres.