2017-12-21 / News

Developer who took down trees won’t be fined, for now

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – While city officials chose not to impose fines on a developer for clearing trees on Saco Island, the Saco River Corridor Commission still has to meet and discuss what action it may to take.

Director of Code Enforcement Richard Lambert issued a stop work order Friday, Nov. 3 after learning that between 30,000 and 70,000 square feet of trees and vegetation had been cleared at the direction of developer Bernie Saulnier Jr.

Lambert said the city reached an agreement with J & B Partners that will allow the project to continue despite erosion issues that might arise from the tree removal. Saulnier, 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 and extension of RiverWalk.

“We’re rooting for it to go forward,” Lambert said. “What we’re doing is putting together a consent agreement between the city and the developers. J & B Partners will go back onto the site and stabilize it with erosion control measures to protect the resource. That has to be done within the next week or so. Based on the number of trees taken, anywhere from probably 50 to 100, we’ll put a value on that as far as how much the cost (would be) to restore it.”

The logging company that was hired to cut the trees will grind up the remaining timber on site and use that to create an erosion mix that will be placed wherever soil was disturbed and along river banks. Aside from stabilizing the area, the mixture is supposed to act as a filter and prevent sediment or storm water runoff from reaching the river.

Both Lambert and Saulnier said the project is scheduled to move forward and that Saulnier still has to go before the planning board before work can begin next year. However, in case financing falls through as Lambert said happened in 2008 with a different developer, Saulnier will provide the city with a letter of credit for the cost of restoring vegetation on the island.

In an email, Saulnier said such financial agreements between cities and developers are quite common.

“It will be a letter of credit from my bank, cash or money in city escrow,” he wrote. “The engineer and city will determine the fair amount. As developers we put up bonds all the time or letters of credit. The city and I are on the same page and moving forward.”

Lambert said the final copy of the agreement will be made available to the public once it is drafted.

“We believe if this project does come to fruition as (Saulnier) showed us in the site plan, it’s going to be quite the gateway to the city,” Lambert said.

Dennis Finn, executive director of the Saco River Corridor Commission, met alongside city officials and Saulnier Monday, Dec. 11 to discuss details of the agreement. Finn said commission members won’t meet again until January and will discuss the tree clearing then. He said he still hasn’t received an application for building from the Saco Island developer, but that the tree removal violated the Saco River Corridor Act, which governs not only the river but any land within 500 feet of the water line.

The Saco River Corridor Commission is able to fine J & B Partners. However, Finn did not know how much it could be or what the likelihood of the fine is.

Finn said it’s up to developers to reach out to the city and commission before taking action on the property to obtain proper permits. He said a short phone call could have saved hours of work later. “Everybody is affected when land use law get compromised,” Finn said.

Finn said that while he can’t speak for members of the commission, he is looking forward to the beginning of work by Saco Island East.

“This is a unique property with a large amount of waterfront,” he said. “The city is interested, of course, in extending the RiverWalk. In the end it’s going to be a community development partnership, of which the commission plays a role through regulations. It’s important for (developers) to keep that in mind. This isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s a high profile, very important piece of property and has to be treated as such.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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