We are residents of Harpswell writing with concerns about the imminent sale of the Harpswell Coastal Academy building and land at 9 Ash Point Road. While we understand that HCA is liable for repayment of debts and is making every attempt to procure the funds necessary to finance staff salaries, we are worried that the pace with which the sale is taking place will ultimately compromise the character of the community and the natural resources on which it depends. This is especially concerning given that the original premise of the school’s educational mission was place-based and natural resource-minded.
The corner of Harpswell Neck Road and Ash Point Road is a prominent location this far down a remote peninsula. Changes here are likely to shape the future development and character of this region of town. There are few ordinances governing how this parcel of land might be developed, leaving the neighborhood vulnerable to the whims of a developer who may — or may not — have the best interests of the community in mind.
Of primary concern is the carrying capacity of the aquifer. In recent drought summers, the wells at 4 Ash Point Road, directly across the street from HCA, have run dry. In the three decades prior to 2020, there is no evidence that this was ever a problem. Since 2010, Goose Ledge Road has been developed and several other year-round homes have been built in the area, all placing an additional demand on groundwater resources. Before additional development is approved, we feel strongly that the town must hire a qualified hydrogeologist to assess the aquifer, including projections about how the installation of impervious surfaces will impact groundwater and the health of the adjacent floodplain forest.
Developers should be aware that drinking water resources may be a problem at this site.
Should the aquifer prove to be robust enough to support development, our preference is to work with whomever procures the land and building at Ash Point Road to develop it well, with consideration of the character of its rural location and carrying capacity of the aquifer. We are hoping that the eventual owner will partner with the community to create something sustainable and well integrated.
We realize this is a situation where a balance between community concerns and economic profit may be difficult to achieve. Increasingly, Maine communities are facing threats to natural resources and preservation of the unique character of our towns. In the past 50 years, throughout New England, many small farming and fishing communities have been homogenized into suburbs and bedroom towns, with little regard for the character of place and the natural resources that support it. We believe we can do better than that and prefer to work together to make that happen.
In this regard, we ask HCA and its board of directors to support us in our request to steward this land well. Please be vocal at the auction and in any interaction you may have with the buyer about the community’s desire to work together to develop this land sustainably. This neighborhood has supported you in your endeavors here and we’re asking you to help us with this transition that we, as a community, will live with in perpetuity.
We ask Keenan Auction Co. to take the risk of telling potential bidders the same. We understand that this in no way ensures that the buyer will respond to our requests, but as a Maine company who profits from the culture that small Maine towns create, please help us to preserve that.
We ask that the buyer remain open-minded and talk with the community about development plans. Please do due diligence in assessing the natural resource base before exploiting it without a projection of potential consequences. Please work with us and let us work with you to create something we can all take pride in.
We ask that the town of Harpswell come to a clear understanding of what we stand to lose by allowing development to continue largely unchecked. Assess the town aquifers. Once they’re overdrawn, there is no backup. Expedite the completion of the Comprehensive Plan revisions pertaining to groundwater resources or put a pause on decisions around major development until the data is complete and clear about how best to proceed.
In a world where opposition has become the norm, it’s time to learn how to create alliances that allow us to move forward.
Mary K. Brennan
James A. Kneebone
Mary Ann Nahf
J. Catherine Wnek
Robert C. Porter
Connie Sage Conner
Joanne B. O’Donnell
Yves Van Damme