Downeast Coastal Press
April 28, 2008

Land Trust Acquires 1,500 Acres along Bold Coast

Preservation, Anti–development Effort of Cutler–Trescott–Lubec Coast Dates to 1980s

By Fred Hastings

An effort to stop further development along the easternmost coast of Maine advanced recently when the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), a leader in the collaboration of state and federal government agencies and private land trusts involved in the long–term project, announced that it has secured, in a $5 million deal, more than 1,500 acres stretching nearly two miles from Bog Brook near Cutler's easternmost boundary to Moose Cove in Trescott.

The lands include the 900–acre Bog Brook Cove homestead property. “For more than 20 years, local conservationists have hoped to secure the future of Bog Brook Cove Farm,” said Alan Brooks, executive director of Quoddy Regional Land Trust (QRLT), in a release issued by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “These lands have always ranked high in our local list of priorities, and have been recognized by state programs like Land for Maine's Future and the Natural Areas Program for their exceptional conservation values.”

Long–Term Plan with a History

The plan to stop development along the Cutler–Trescott–Lubec coast began in the 1980s when the National Park Service, working with the State Planning Office and environmental groups, earmarked the 20 miles of coast for acquisition and land–use prohibitions under the National Park Service's National Natural Landmarks program. The plan was discovered by local residents after the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the State Planning Office were cited as the source for plans in the 1988 National Park System Plan that included taking over most of Washington County for a new national park, also promoted by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon. After residents learned that their properties had been targeted for federal acquisition without their knowledge, some formed an activist organization–the Washington County Alliance–to protest the objectionable activity and as stakeholders to demand more transparency and accountability by those pursuing the agenda.

The landowners complained that their properties were being secretly targeted by the device of being officially labeled “nationally significant,” with its threat of government condemnation for the proposed national park. After four years of sometimes acrimonious fighting, then Sen. George Mitchell and other members of Maine's congressional delegation sided with the residents.

The most pointed congressional statement came from Mitchell, who said that the regulations “do not contain adequate safeguards to ensure that the rights of landowners are fully recognized and protected” and “fall short of the promise made to me in writing by [Secretary Manuel Lujan] more than two years ago. “I expect the NPS to produce final program regulations that (1) reflect the substance of the comments from citizens familiar with the abuses which have characterized the [Landmarks program].”

In the years following, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, attempted to acquire the privately owned lands through expansion of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. Land trusts collaborating with state and federal government agencies, besides MCHT and QRLT, have included the national Conservation Fund, which purchased the former Hearst Pejepscot lands in Cutler for the government, some 10,000 acres. Much of that acreage was transferred to the Maine Bureau of Public Lands (BPL) after the plans for federal acquisition failed. Subsequent to its original National Park Service collaboration, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust has incrementally acquired several large parcels of shorefront in Lubec.

In 2001, MCHT's then executive director Jay Espy and QRLT's executive director Alan Brooks proposed that the state's Land for Maine's Future Board subsidize an MCHT acquisition of Moose Cove in Trescott. Their report lobbying for the subsidy, prepared by David MacDonald, the current interim president of MCHT, employed the emotive rhetoric often associated with environmental advocacy: “On the northern shore of the harbor, just west of Eastern Head, is a vivid reminder of the pressures facing this sought–after coast: more than a dozen 40–acre ‘spaghetti lots,’ created in the last land boom of the 1980s, most of them sold for speculation, with a few lots now starting to be developed with new homes … [W]hen MCHT conducted an inventory of the Bold Coast's conservation values and ownership patterns prior to launching a protection campaign in 1988, the property ranked just behind the more prominent–and more threatened–headlands at Boot Head, Jims Head, Western Head, and Fairy Head, all of which were either platted for subdivision or listed for sale–and which have all since been conserved by MCHT and BPL.”

Some Property Owners Agree to Easements

It isn't clear how many privately owned homes are included in the stretch of coastline described by the land trust for its most recent acquisition, but one resident estimated there to be “dozens” from Moose Cove in Trescott to Cutler. Among the more prominent property owners is the family of Joseph Lelyveld, the retired executive editor of the New York Times, who have a longstanding home near Norse Pond and Broken Point in Cutler, and Keith Lockhart, the conductor of the Boston Pops, who several years ago built a home on the north side of Moose Cove, which is not included in the latest trust acquisition.

MCHT and QRLT said they worked with eight different owners, including Greg and Catharine Moser, who acted as “conservation buyers” to purchase 82 acres on and around Stone Hill, a promontory in the area. In recent years, the land around Stone Hill was being marketed for residential housing. MCHT now holds an easement on the Mosers' land, and the trust said it plans to build hiking trails in the area. Last September, MCHT purchased a 500–acre parcel adjoining Stone Hill.

The land trust said its staff worked with several property owners and residents on the south side of Moose Cove on a land–for–structures swap. “While largely undeveloped, Bog Brook Cove Farm does have some residential structures on it, ” said MCHT Project Manager Patrick Watson in a prepared release. “Knowing that landowners at nearby Moose Cove were planning to build a waterfront home abutting our preserve there, we asked if they would consider swapping their undeveloped 50 shorefront acres for the clustered compound of buildings already at Bog Brook Cove. That way, the buildings at Bog Brook Cove Farm would remain in private ownership and on the tax rolls.” There is, however, a conservation easement on the property. In February, that swap was completed, Watson said, preventing further development along 3,700 feet of Moose Cove (where MCHT had acquired 75 acres of peat bog in 2005). The trust said it retains a right of first refusal when the home is eventually sold. The 2001 Maine Coast Heritage Trust LMF proposal said that homes in the area are inappropriately in the “viewshed” of state–owned land.

Widely Differing Views of Project

“The Bold Coast has a lot to offer those who enjoy hiking, wildlife–watching and spectacular scenery, ”said Judy East of the Washington County Council of Governments, in the prepared release. East is co–chairwoman of the Vacationland Resources Committee, a group that is promoting what it terms “sustainable tourism” in the area. “We're delighted that Maine Coast Heritage Trust is making natural destinations accessible to the public, protecting lands that can help support our regional economy,” she said.

But the acquisitions East describes as supporting the local economy, Erich Veyhl, a Moose Cove property owner for 22 years and a founder of the Washington County Alliance, describes as undercutting it. “It would have been better for the local people of the south Trescott area if the land just grabbed by MCHT had been further developed to provide a stronger base of local owners in a community under siege,” he said in an e–mail. “New people would be welcomed and we need them. This is what MCHT constantly undermines in its obsession to take over the land it covets. Its claims to represent ‘local residents,’ and the pittance MCHT pays got itself exempted from property taxes by its cronies in the state legislature, are more dishonest political farce by a manipulative political elite. This has nothing to do with ‘speculation,’ ‘land booms,’ ‘pressures,’ ‘threats to the land,’ ‘kingdom estates,’ ‘spaghetti lots,’ or any of the rest of the derogatory MCHT/QRLT spin.”

“We and the other owners at Moose Cove and south Trescott generally all love our property. We have every right to own it and live there, whether MCHT and its wealthy backers who have their own piece of Maine elsewhere approve or not. The acquisitions have nothing to do with ‘protection’ or a need for ‘public access’: The government and the trusts already own over half the coast from Cutler through Trescott to Quoddy Head at Lubec… There is obviously no need for more acquisition at the expense of people already here and those who would like to live here. “This is a relentless, long–term agenda for control of our coast by an elitist, extremely wealthy and politically–connected organization that has arrogantly decided where other people will not be allowed to live. The trust wants it all.”

Copyright © 2008 Downeast Coastal Press, All Rights Reserved. Posted by permission.

More on the Maine Coast Heritage Trust: Anatomy of a Land Trust