MBNA's soccer field OK with BEP, but board wants to look at big picture
AUGUSTA — Maine's Board of Environmental Protection voted unanimously last week to uphold the state permit that allowed MBNA to build a soccer field last spring on its land in Northport. At the same time, the BEP discussed at length rules assessing cumulative impacts of large developments.
"I do think this is something the board needs to address," said board member Ernest Hilton during the BEP meeting last Thursday in Augusta.
The BEP is a 10-member citizen advisory panel that hears appeals of decisions made by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and acts in a policy-making capacity.
Ron Huber, of the Rockland-based Coastal Waters Project, filed the appeal last May, saying the DEP failed to evaluate secondary and cumulative impacts of the soccer field when taken in conjunction with MBNA's previous development on its Northport land.
While the soccer field appeal was the catalyst, Huber's larger goal was to highlight how Maine's Department of Environmental Protection processes project applications.
"Cumulative impacts," according to Maine's environmental policy, are "those impacts that are realized when the incremental effects of individual developments add up to the point where certain thresholds of tolerance are exceeded."
Besides revoking the artificially-turfed soccer field permit, CWP wanted the state to create a policy for defining thresholds that trigger offsite and cumulative impact reviews of any development reviewed under the Site Location of Development
Law, and that the DEP suspend review of other development projects in certain areas around Penobscot Bay, including aquaculture projects, until such a policy is established.
This wasn't Huber's first protest of an MBNA project; last winter, he unsuccessfully appealed the credit bank's plan to build 40 cabins on a portion of its 254-acre Northport parcel. That land, which extends up the slopes of Ducktrap Mountain, lies at the town border with Lincolnville and is accessed from Route 1.
An outcome of Huber's appeal, however, was the BEP's stipulation that MBNA establish a conservation easement there, something that MBNA said it was already working on at the time.
According to the DEP, MBNA submitted a site plan review for developments at its Point Lookout land in 1996, when the bank first wanted to build a conference facility near the top of the mountain. Since 1996 and at various times, MBNA has amended the plan to build an additional function building, pavilion, access roadway, several additions, fitness center, softball field, 40 cabins, access drive, and utilities.
MBNA also built the Lincolnville Central School on a parcel of land adjacent to the soccer field land.
"We were encouraged the board has seen the cumulative impacts of sprawl as a real concern," Huber said after the hearing. "We are discouraged the board allowed this development, which ignores cumulative impact, to proceed."
According to MBNA, the DEP did its job in reviewing the corporation's application, and that CWP's arguments were factually incorrect. MBNA argued that Huber and his organization lacked the requisite standing to appeal, particularly because it had no members.
"Our contention is that there is no group," said MBNA regional director Shane Flynn at the hearing.
In MBNA's written response to the appeal, Portland attorney Philip Ahrens, of Pierce Atwood, wrote: "Here, all that CWP has alleged is that unspecified members of its 'association' live in the the towns of Northport and Lincolnville, as well as 'other sites' in the area that will be impacted by 'implicit sprawl' caused by the project. CWP has offered absolutely no evidence to prove any specific impact on any specific CWP member caused by the proposed development."
CWP, according to Huber's statements filed with the BEP, is a citizen's association "dedicated to restoring and protecting the ecological integrity of the nearshore waters of the Gulf of Maine through local oversight and citizen action.�The CWP includes members from Northport and Lincolnville, the two towns that share stewardship of the Ducktrap Mountain and its watershed, in addition to others sites around the bay's Route 1 corridor that will be impacted by the sprawl implicit if thise development is not revoked."
BEP board member Andrew Cadot asked Huber at Thursday's hearing to respond to the issue of CWP's standing and organizational focus in relation to his opposition to the soccer field.
"You really can't look at the water and land as a separate place," Huber said. Impacts to coastal land affects the water below, he said. "You can't isolate one from the other."
Board member Jean Wilkinson responded to MBNA's opinion on Huber's standing by saying the BEP has a responsibility to hear "the Mr. Hubers who come before us who may not have top-knotch legal resources."
BEP member John Wardwell asked Flynn who the soccer field would serve.
Flynn responded that is was built for the company's fitness center, as well as the larger community. Now, he said, students at the Lincolnville school (which was built by MBNA for Lincolnville) can also use it.
"Was the soccer field part of the master plan for the site?" Wardwell asked.
"No," Flynn said.
Board member Hilton pointed out that MBNA has had a substantial impact on the Maine coast, increased employment, and created attractive buildings. He also said he wondered if the MBNA "bounty" "purchases an opinion of you."
"I find that an extremely difficult point to answer," Flynn said. "We try to get involved in things that make a difference."
"We've had a free-ranging discussion," BEP chairman John Tewhey said.
"MBNA is not on trial here," said board member Irving Faunce.
While the BEP did vote to uphold the soccer field permit, it requested that attorney Jan McClintock, of the state's attorney general's office, produce a short report about what the board's actual authority is in guiding the issue of cumulative impact.Lynda Clancy can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.