Along with approving a near $38 million annual budget and associated warrant articles during the annual town meeting on June 18 at Windham High School, residents also voted to allow Windham to enter into a partnership with Presumpscot Regional Land Trust to purchase and conserve 661 acres near Little Duck Pond in East Windham.
The East Windham Conservation Project would acquire the forested acreage for recreational opportunities in Windham while also adding 1,545 feet of undeveloped water frontage on Little Duck Pond, the 150-acre Deer Wintering Area for hunting, and the 580-foot Atherton Hill, the tallest hill in Windham.
Earlier this month, the Lands for Maine’s Future organization awarded the East Windham Conservation project $998,000 to help fund the initiative. The project will directly abut more than 1,000 acres of other conserved land in Windham and Falmouth, including Lowell Preserve, North Falmouth Community Forest, and Blackstrap Hill Preserve, providing 20 miles of interconnected trails and five trailheads for public access, and amounting to one of the largest unfragmented forests in the Greater Portland region.
Voters approved a bond to match the LMF award with open space impact fees so there will be no impact upon the mil rate for local homeowners. The project will preserve a part of Windham that residents have identified is an important area to conserve during increasing concerns about local development, offers scenic views of the western mountains and offers a place for outdoor recreation.
Amanda Lessard, Town of Windham Planning Director, said that in the latest Open Space Plan, Windham identified this area of East Windham as important to conserve for its large undeveloped habitat blocks, preservation of rural character and water quality protection.
“With guidance from the steering committee, we held two community meetings, site walks of the property, and put out a town-wide survey that had 900 responses,” she said. “The top-ranked community benefit identified by the survey was to conserve the land to remain undeveloped for wildlife habitat, water quality protection and rural character. The second-highest ranked community benefit was to provide multiple-use outdoor recreation and create access for the whole community. Finally, the top four highest-ranked activities that will bring respondents to this land once it is conserved are walking, hiking, visiting an observation tower with 360-degree views including scenic views of the White Mountains.”
The plan envisions a year-round trail head parking area, multi-use trails, access to fishing, hunting and wildlife observation area, a universal access trail connecting from Falmouth Road to Little Duck Pond and Atherton Hill, an observation tower that will provide scenic views to Casco Bay and Mount Washington, and destinations with scenic views of the western mountains and the pond.
Rachelle Curran Apse, Executive Director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, said that the land trust is grateful to be partnering with the town of Windham to conserve the area for the future.
She said that the Land Trust will lead a private fundraising effort over the summer to raise the remaining funds needed to conserve the land and that support and donations will be needed to finalize the project.
The bond for the conservation project was just one of a series of town budget warrant articles which were approved during the meeting.
Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbets told those in attendance that while town revenues are up $1.5 million, excise taxes, building permits and other revenues are expected to be flat or down for the coming year. He said revenue sharing from the state has been set at $2.5 million, with Windham expected to receive about $1.63 million from Cumberland County.
Tibbetts said TIF funding for the year ahead also is expected to be flat because of anticipated expenditures for local access road funding and for the North Windham wastewater project. The approved budget takes into account increases in labor relations contracts, and general health and benefit increases coupled with the RSU 14 budget.
The 2022-2023 town budget also includes the expense of adding six fire-EMS personnel, and fixed cost increases from rising electric and fuel expenses, along with medical and dental contractual obligations, bonding, and capital equipment leases. The budget also funds other initiatives in Windham such as intersection engineering for River Road/Route 202; preliminary development of a Northwest Fire Station; Firewall and Switch Replacement for municipal buildings; creating a Public Safety Memorial at Windham’s Public Safety Building; records conservation; Collinwood Circle and Running Brook Development; purchase of a recreation storage container; and providing reserves for capital projects and bonding.
Several residents attending the meeting also inquired about the status of the trash and recycling contract for the town and if the Pay As You Throw program will be eliminated.
Tibbetts said that the town is still negotiating with Pine Tree Waste, Inc., also known as Casella Waste, on a new contract to replace the one that expires next year. He said the contractor wants to modify the contract because of staffing issues to require separate bins for trash and recyclables which can be emptied mechanically by a single truck operator but that nothing has been settled yet.
According to Tibbetts, the new budget includes funding for new trash and recycle bins for the town if needed.
During the town meeting, attorney Stephen Langsdorf of the law firm Preti Flaherty was elected as moderator to preside over the gathering. <