2017-12-07 / Front Page

Clear-cut case?

Saco Island project stalled because of trees
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Saco Code Enforcement Director Richard Lambert issued a stop work order Friday, Nov. 3 for tree clearing on the south-eastern section of Saco Island. The land is owned in part by Bernie Saulnier, who expects to submit final plans soon for a development that would include a hotel, residential apartments, restaurant, RiverWalk and marina. The city has not yet said if there will be a penalty for the clearing, which Lambert said violated a shoreland clearing codes. (Grant McPherson photo) Saco Code Enforcement Director Richard Lambert issued a stop work order Friday, Nov. 3 for tree clearing on the south-eastern section of Saco Island. The land is owned in part by Bernie Saulnier, who expects to submit final plans soon for a development that would include a hotel, residential apartments, restaurant, RiverWalk and marina. The city has not yet said if there will be a penalty for the clearing, which Lambert said violated a shoreland clearing codes. (Grant McPherson photo) SACO – Progress on Saco Island has momentarily paused as city officials decide whether or not to impose fines on the developer for clearing trees on the project site.

Director of Code Enforcement Richard Lambert issued a notice of violation and stop work order on Friday, Nov. 3 to J&B Partners LLC for clearing trees on the southern half of Saco Island east of Main Street. Bernie Saulnier Jr., of J&B Partners LLC and Saulnier Development, purchased the land in August for $1.5 million. The development is expected to include 85 housing units, a boutique hotel, recreation center, community park, marina facilities and extension of the RiverWalk. According to Lambert, the clearing violated the Natural Resources Districts Shoreland Performance Standards.


Developer Bernie Sualnier said that because Saco Island was used for dumping coal over 100 years ago, there could be over half a million dollars worth of remediation work to prepare for the development. He said the tree clearing was necessary in order to conduct soil tests. The tree clearing revealed trash throughout the development site including tarps, a bicycle and tent. (Grant McPherson photo) Developer Bernie Sualnier said that because Saco Island was used for dumping coal over 100 years ago, there could be over half a million dollars worth of remediation work to prepare for the development. He said the tree clearing was necessary in order to conduct soil tests. The tree clearing revealed trash throughout the development site including tarps, a bicycle and tent. (Grant McPherson photo) “At distances greater than 75 feet, horizontal distance, from the normal high-water line of any water body, tributary stream, or the upland edge of a wetland there shall be allowed on any lot, in any 10-year period, selective cutting of not more than 40 percent of the volume of trees four inches or more in diameter, measured 4 and a half feet above ground level,” the ordinance stated. “Tree removal in conjunction with the development of permitted uses shall be included in the 40 percent calculation.”

“Essentially the lot has been cleared of almost all of the trees in the area greater than 75 feet from the normal high water line of the river,” Lambert wrote. “Whereas the ordinance allows only up to 40 percent of the trees to be removed.”

Lambert said aside from a buffer area along the edge of the river, between 30,000 and 70,000 square feet of the 6-acre lot was cleared. Lambert planned to meet with the city’s attorney, the attorney general’s office and the Saco River Corridor Commission (whichi s overseen by the attorney general’s office) to discuss what penalties, if any, would be issued. Lambert said the city would likely hire someone to determine how many trees exactly had been cut down and what the extent of the violation was.

Lambert learned of the tree clearing in an email from a staff member at Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, whose offices are located at 110 Main St. adjacent to the development site. The staff member wrote to Lambert that their view had improved greatly, which caught Lambert’s attention.

“We went to investigate and saw all the tree cutting planned to get done was completed by the time we got out there,” Lambert said. “They stopped right away. The logger packed up his machinery and left the site.”

Saulnier said he cut down the trees to allow a soil testing company to conduct work on the property. He said had spoken with the Saco River Corridor Commission and made sure nothing within 100 feet of the river’s edge was cut. Saulnier said the reception from the city has been negative since he cleared the trees and doesn’t understand why he wasn’t able to do so on his own land.

“I didn’t know there was a fine for cutting my own trees,” he said. “My engineer guided me on what we should cut. I thought we were doing what we were allowed to do. I buy a piece of property and the city tells me I can’t cut trees. I’m a little surprised.”

Bill Mann, economic development director, wrote that the city is still waiting on Saulnier for the submission of the final development plan, and will continue to work with him on the project.

“I would note that the city of Saco has worked with Bernie and his development team on a regular basis,” he wrote. “We have facilitated a number of meetings with the public and other groups, a site tour of the development site for members of several of the groups that are/will be involved in the review of Bernie’s development proposal for the east side of Saco Island.”

Kevin Roche, who just finished a two-year term as Ward 4 city councilor, said it’s not the first case of trees being cleared without the city’s permission. Roche said trees on city owned land were cut down by a private entity between lots 3 and 4 in Millbrook Business Park in May and there was no repercussion for it.

“We didn’t talk fines at the Economic Development Commission,” Roche said. “Fines imply you want to scare someone away you don’t want here.”

Roche said Saulnier allowed the public works department to mow on Saco Island in October to help prepare for the dredge by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Roche said Saulnier was being cooperative with the city and should receive similar treatment.

Saulnier said results of the soil tests were not ideal and that the site might need a half million dollars’ worth of remediation work. Saulnier said the site was historically used for dumping coal and that there were no trees on the island 100 years ago. He expects to finish the permit process for the Saco Island development sometime by the end of December. Saulnier also said he and Jim Brady, developer of the Press Hotel in Portland, are finishing contract negotiations for the hotel part of the development.

“I would think the city was glad I opened up the property,” Saulnier said. “I am having a really hard time with why the city is in an uproar. I am the property owner. I said to the city I would partner with them to develop the property and create a RiverWalk to connect their open space and allow public access for everybody to use. I feel like the city turned on me.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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