News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 23, 2022
Comprehensive Planning Committee presents information on environment
Addresses water resources, agriculture

by David Avery

The town’s Comprehensive Planning Committee hosted a public meeting on November 16 at Emerson Hall during which it presented information about what chair Kate Noel called “the environmental pillar” of the comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan is a once-a-decade project for towns that wish to be eligible for some state and federal support, according to the committee’s website. Comprehensive plans are not law and are subject to approval by voters.

The current committee is aiming for a vote at town meeting in 2023.

The state guidelines for comprehensive plans outline 15 chapters of concern including such topics as housing, transportation and water resources.

The meeting on Wednesday night presented preliminary information on water resources, agriculture and forestry, marine resources, natural resources and climate change.

Committee member Kirk Langford spoke to water resources, an important issue for Castine, especially on-neck, he said.

“This chapter touches all other chapters,” he told the audience of about 20 people present in person and by remote connection.

He suggested that new challenges must be dealt with, such as testing for PFAS, which are pre- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals linked to human health concerns.

PFAS are present in sewage in Castine and many other places, and state and federal regulations surrounding exposure limits and treatments are evolving.

Langford also said that the current ordinances concerning, and organization of, Castine’s drinking water system are sufficient in general.

One area he noted was the treatment of the different wells that supply the town’s water. Some are deep wells that recharge slowly, whereas others are more shallow and recharge faster. Currently, the town treats them all the same, but maybe that needs to be “tweaked,” he said.

He also touched on climate change as a topic of the comprehensive plan, calling for monitoring and adaptation in the face of rising sea levels, for example.

Zack Sawyer, a committee member, spoke to the audience and addressed the issues of agriculture and forestry in Castine. He alluded to a survey of town residents conducted by the committee in which 75 percent of residents were in favor of expanding agriculture and forestry in town, and 95 percent wanted to protect the agricultural and forest resources already present.

Development could threaten those, he said.

Sawyer also named some current and future efforts that are consistent with the survey results, including the town’s elm tree program. Others include interest in community gardens.

Committee chair Kate Noel addressed marine resources. Survey results indicated that the town can expect enthusiasm and demand for the harbor, including commercial use, to remain high, as well as enthusiasm for access to the backshore beach area.

Survey results also indicate that the town is concerned about marine life and aquaculture.

She suggested that the fact that the harbor committee has a management plan made in conjunction with state collaborators is positive. It will help with anticipated demand for moorings in the harbor and with dinghy congestion.

She also listed, under action, that the town place healthy restrictions on leases associated with aquaculture.

On the topic of natural resources, Langford said survey results were similar to those for agriculture.

The talk was accompanied by many maps and figures, many of which can now be found at the website of the Hancock County Planning Commission, Noel said.

Resident Bobby Vagt said that most of the points addressed have several points of view. He asked how the committee would deal with that and what exactly the purpose of the comprehensive plan is.

Noel said that the committee is relying on the survey data and data from the county to guide them. Then, there is a long approval process that includes the state and the town.

“Nights like this one are very important so that people know what we are thinking about. We want this to be as transparent as possible,” she said.

Sawyer indicated that there is a balance to be struck. “We all want everything,” he said, meaning preservation of land and economic development.

When asked why the committee is not encouraging aquaculture, Noel responded by saying that survey results indicate that most people want to be cautious about it.

The committee has nine members from diverse backgrounds: parents and retirees, young and old, newcomers and longtime residents.

“I feel very good about the breadth and depth of the people who make up our committee,” Noel said.