Dec 16, 2016

Saint George: controversial ramp & float application sent back to Planning Board - for 3rd time. AUDIO

Saint George Board of Appeals
SAINT GEORGE.  On December 15th, the Saint George Board of Appeals voted to send back to the town's planning board for reconsideration, an application  by two property owners  to put a ramp and float into Saint George's biodiverse Watts Cove.

Audio of the 12/15/16 meeting:  
2Board Discussion & VotePart 1. 14minPart 2. 13minPart 3. 14min  and Part 4. 19min  
Public attendeesT

The appeals board told the planning board to take a second look at  the November 17, 2016 appeal by Bryce & Gail Molloy of the rejection of  their second application on October 4th  to build a ramp with chained floats extending out from the shore of Watts Cove, a small intertidal embayment of the tidal Saint George River.

The cove is well documented by  conservation agency Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,  and in reports from environmental consultants Paul Leeper of Moody Mtn Env. (report)) and Sr Ecologist Richard Podolski PhD of the Ecology And Technology firm, (report) . Both identify Watts Cove and surrounds as high quality, highly productive estuarine shore and wading bird and shellfish habitat.

The St George Planning Board denied the 2 requests  based on  Section 15C of the shoreland  "The facility shall be no longer in dimension than necessary to carry on the activity and be consistent with the surrounding character and uses of the area. A pier, dock or wharf in non-tidal waters shall not be wider than six feet for non-commercial use."

However, their review  included  extensive consideration of the plan's fitness to meet the standards of Section 16 D-4 :

"4. Will not have an adverse impact on spawning grounds, fish, aquatic life, bird or other wildlife habitat;"

In their October 25th rejection of  the  10/4/16 application, the Planning Board's Motion to Deny stated:
"The facility is not consistent with the surrounding character and uses of the surrounding area because:  
1.  of the unique character beyond Watts Cove beyond the dam 
2.  the existing conservation easement and resource protection in the cove 
3.  the tidal waterfowl and wading bird habitat 
4.  the absence of existing floats in the water "

CONTROVERSY
After deciding in the Molloys' favor to send the application back to the Planning Board, controversy arose as Appeals Board members and the two attorneys sparred over what the scope of the Planning Board should be in its review of the newly sent back application:
Both Sections 15C and 16D-4?  Or 15 C only?

Atty James Katsiaficas
They disagreed over whether the float would unlawfully intrude into an area identified by the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife as Significant Wildlife Habitat  for shorebirds and other species.   

James Katsiaficas, the Molloy's attorney, said that as a seasonal ramp and float, the proposal fell outside Maine DEP's purview. The Dept of Inland Fish and Wildlife's involvement would have been contingent on Maine DEP  seeking IFW's expertise. With DEP not involved, there was nothing for IFW to review. The findings of the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife need not be factored in. LISTEN TO KATSIAFICAS 31MIN MP3.

Atty Paul Givens
Paul Gibbons, attorney for Watts Cove shoreowner Matthew Stern and other interested parties, held to the opposite opinion. He said that the Planning Board was  entirely free to use all of the evidence and information it had put into the official record, and discussed during its deliberations, when looking at the application again, and determining if it would : "have an adverse impact on spawning grounds, fish aquatic life, bird or other wildlife habitat."   . LISTEN TO GIBBONS TESTIMONY 22MIN

 Gibbons said the documented facts of the unacceptable impacts to wading birds & other wildlife should compel the Planning Board to reach the same conclusions as before.

 He noted that the float would  intrude into an area identified by the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife as Significant Wildlife area for shorebirds and other species. 
These concerns were about Section 16 D-4 of the Saint George shoreland zoning ordinance which requires a positive finding that a project "[w]ill not have an adverse impact on spawning grounds, fish aquatic life, bird or other wildlife habitat."  
Watts Cove lower. Saint George River, upper .

However, the planning board did not specifically include these Section 16 D-4 related issues in its list of "findings" in the final wording of their rejection of the Molloy's plans. Only 15C.

Did the Planning Board begin its review of the Molloy stair and floats, and then end its review when they found 15C to be a showstopper? Not  the facts found re the impacts of the project on Sec 16D-4 

Thus, said the Appeals board chair and the Molloys' attorney. the planning board could not consider those Section 16D-4 issues in its new review.  Only Section 15 C-5 standards on the size and shape of the proposed ramp and floats  should be reviewed *

Members of the Board of Appeals were initially mixed on whether the Planning Board should be directed to review the project under 16 D-4 In addition to Section 15 C-5 of  the shoreland zoning ordinance, but ultimately voted to request only that they review the project under the latter.

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