by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
ROCKLAND — The Georges River Land Trust, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the wilderness along the Georges River, is poised to acquire a large section of estuarial wetlands along the river.
The land, which belongs to a collection of relatives from a family, comprises 100 acres of the sensitive marine habitat that the land trust has made it a priority to acquire.
This acquisition is due to the latest conservation efforts formed by the state, known as the Maine Natural Resources Conservation Program (MNRCP).
“The program came about as a way for developers to submit the area where they’ve [had] some impact, and pay an amount decided by the state encompassing what they’re impacting,” said Annette Naegel, conservation program manager for the land trust.
Essentially, if a developer builds something that will impact the environment, they are able to put money into a pool the state has created, and that money will then go towards preserving another part of the area. Previously, developers had to set aside and preserve a bit of land on their own – an arrangement that was less than ideal, according to Naegel. This arrangement allows for conservationists to acquire resources and preserve important pieces of land, instead of having developers who are typically unaccustomed to preservation do it.
“There may not be anything available or suitable in the first year that the development is done,” said Naegel. “This way, the money can just sit there until there is a good match.”
The parcel of land that the trust is on the verge of acquiring is just such a place. Estuarial wetlands have become a high priority for both conservation groups and the state, which has allowed the land trust to acquire a substantial amount of funding from the MNRCP.
“It’s been identified in a block of land by us and the state as a parcel of significance. It’s a place where we’ve been trying to direct activity,” said Naegel.
The land itself is owned by several different family members. Each generation saw the land split a bit more as parents passed pieces of it on to all of their children. Negotiations with each family member have taken time, but according to Naegel, everyone involved had similar goals in mind.
“Everything is in place, we’re just now waiting for the deed to get passed around to all the family members,” said Naegel.
The land trust itself are the stewards of over 2,800 acres of land spread across 54 properties, all centered around the Georges River. The trust’s goal is to keep the land in a pristine state for generations to come.
“We’re a nonprofit organization with a specific mission to conserve land for the public benefit,” said Gail Presley, the executive director of the land trust. “We work with our communities to identify the areas of land that are of highest conservation value and importance to the community.”
The land trust’s specific mission is the preservation of lands within the watershed of the Georges River, encompassing roughly 255 square miles.
“We work with any landowner that comes forward as long as there are mutual benefits on both sides,” said Presley. “If it’s just somebody’s front yard or something, we wouldn’t do that.”
Land can be preserved in one of two ways: Either the trust directly acquires the land, or there is an easement put upon the property that will forgo the development rights of the property. Currently, the trust does not have to pay state or federal taxes on the land it preserves, thanks to it being a nonprofit and having tax-exempt status. All but one town in the trust’s area also allows them to forgo property taxes, and the town that requires it leaves a minimal tax burden.
The real backbone of the land trust is the volunteers who help maintain the land and trails. A veritable army of over 200 volunteers regularly do trail maintenance and other projects essential to maintaining the land.
“We couldn’t do what we do without them. They are an enormous work force for us,” said Presley.
Within the month, those volunteers will have another section of land to take care of, one that the land trust hopes will be preserved for future generations.
“We are making sure we spend our hard earned dollars in the right places,” said Presley.