Portland’s preserved lands deserve better protection

1 month ago
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The Presumpscot River Preserve is a special part of Portland. It is one of the only conservation areas and trail networks within Portland city limits, an untouched nature preserve that provides essential habitats to hundreds of species.

The Presumpscot is also the largest freshwater input into Casco Bay, flowing from Sebago Lake. The pristine woods, wetlands and waterfall in the Presumpscot River Preserve make it an environmental and recreational gem. Right now, it is in danger of being damaged and infringed upon by out-of-state developers with a track record of incidents in Maine. Hundreds of local people and families are worried about the future of this treasured nature preserve that is supposed to be protected.

The Miami-based real estate developer pursuing a permit to build a major condo development abutting the Presumpscot River Preserve, proposes to demolish 14 acres of forested habitat and wetlands. Another part of the development proposal shows stormwater retention ponds that will likely overflow during severe flooding events like those we experienced earlier this year, and spill down a steep embankment that is part of the preserve.

The threat to Portland’s conserved lands is a concern, but even more troubling is the disregard the developers have shown for this land. In February, this entity brought in heavy machinery for a soil sample and caused significant environmental damage to city property. The city issued a fine after discovering that this developer trespassed and damaged trees and trails.

This same developer built a retirement community in Saco that was plagued by construction deficiencies, including flooding and mismanaged stormwater, cracks in walls and foundations, and complaints from an abutting farm about erosion, runoff, and construction debris damaging fields. There have been other complaints to the Maine Attorney General about this developer citing a range of specific grievances. This firm seems to exhibit a pattern of recklessness and disregard for Maine people and Maine communities.

When conserved lands and preservation areas are on the line, many local people believe we need to be more discerning about the who and the how of important housing development in Greater Portland. It is clear we have a housing crisis, and we need to create affordable housing units for our diverse population. We also need to ensure these units are safe and protective of people and the environment.

Other nearby projects, Lambert Woods and Dougherty Commons, will bring more than 100 affordable housing units to the North Deering neighborhood. The community warmly welcomes this new project and the new neighbors it will bring.

We are wary, however, of developers proposing to build six-bedroom buildings within 25 feet of portions of a protected river preserve. They could not collect a soil sample without causing substantial damage to the surrounding environment. What would happen when they actually start building?

The Presumpscot River Preserve is the result of a collaboration between Portland Trails and the City of Portland Land Bank Commission, who partnered in 2001 to save this beautiful piece of land along the river by creating a 48-acre public nature preserve. In a conservation scorecard of the property abutting the river that the developers now want to clear, the Portland Land Bank ranks it a high priority for conservation. It checks every box, including having a healthy forest ecosystem and wetlands, mitigating impacts of climate change by minimizing runoff to the Presumpscot River, and supporting the City of Portland’s desire for equal access to undeveloped natural space in every neighborhood.

Hundreds of Portland residents, environmental advocates, outdoor enthusiasts and responsible development proponents have come together to form a local alliance, Protect Presumpscot. This group supports conservation for the specific parcel on the Presumpscot River Preserve and urges local planning boards to uphold the highest standards of integrity, safety, and sustainability in planning and development.…Read more by Robert Benak

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