April 5, 2024

Lessard joins Royal River Conservation Trust as Conservation Director

By Ed Pierce

Decades from now, the legacy that Amanda Lessard has left for future generations of Windham residents will still be felt.

Amanda Lessard has served as Windham
Planning Director since 2019 and has been
with the town's planning department since
2014. She is leaving to become the Conservation
Director of the Royal River Conservation
Trust in Yarmouth. COURTESY PHOTO 
Lessard, who has served as Windham’s Planning Director since 2019, has accepted the position as Conservation Director of the Royal River Conservation Trust in Yarmouth and will be leaving her job with the town this week. She has spent the past 10 years working for Windham, the first five as a planner before her promotion to Planning Director. During that time, Lessard has been a stalwart and tireless worker behind the scenes for town government, involved in everything from the creation of Windham’s Comprehensive Plan, handling zoning issues, reviewing subdivision and commercial building plans to the development of the town’s Open Space Master Plan.

She remains a champion for land stewardship and retaining Windham’s rural atmosphere while ensuring town policies and practices focus on recreation and open space in Windham for the future.

“Rural character is central to Windham’s identity as a community,” Lessard said during a 2020 interview. “Being proactive about open space in the face of strong residential growth pressures will help preserve community character and ensure that Windham’s most important open spaces will remain available for future Windham residents. Building partnerships with organizations that value conservation and outdoor recreation will help the town meet its own open space goals.”

Among her achievements as Planning Director for Windham are a partnership with Presumpscot Regional Land Trust to purchase and conserve 661 acres near Little Duck Pond in East Windham. The project acquired 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 Atherton Hill. She helped Windham obtain a $1 million grant from the Land for Maine’s Future initiative for the project. In 2021, voters from Windham approved a $1.8 million conservation bond using open space impact fees and another $400,000 raised privately from public donations. A Land and Water Conservation Fund federal grant of $500,000 also was obtained to pay for the infrastructure improvements at the site which will have its grand opening in May and will become one of largest unfragmented forests in the Greater Portland region.

As Planning Director, Lessard was instrumental and played a key role in the town’s creation of a new $40.4 million sewer and wastewater treatment project for North Windham. Voters passed a 2023 referendum authorizing the project after decades of proposals, studies, and ballot failures and once completed, a new wastewater treatment facility is under construction on the grounds of Manchester School, which will address environmental issues in North Windham by removing 25,000 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants each year being dumped by septic systems into the aquifer and watershed.

The installation of sewers is expected to stimulate significant economic growth in Windham going forward and lead to development in the area by industries and businesses not willing to locate here because of associated septic system issues and costs. Through a special agreement between RSU 14 and the Town of Windham, in exchange for locating the new wastewater treatment site at Manchester School, the town will construct four new playing fields for youth sports at the school this year.

She’s also been part of the development of a master plan for the South Windham/Little Falls Village area to bring more focus on what that area will look like in the future. That includes adding more available parking in South Windham, the sale of the old South Windham Fire Station and bringing a new restaurant to that site, road improvements and new sidewalks.

Lessard became interested in community planning after working for the Maine Department of Transportation. She has a degree in geography and her skill in GIS mapping led to her first job with MDOT. While working there, she took community planning classes at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, and it ignited her interest in working for a municipality. She lives in Westbrook and is married and the mother of a son.

During her tenure as Planning Director, she added a mapping function for the town planning department’s web page and that allows the public to view where projects are under review. As a result, the Windham Planning Department has become more transparent as residents can stay informed about new construction or how they may be impacted by a proposed development near them.

“I think it is in everyone’s best interest to be able to have residents be able to understand what the process is and how to participate in a meaningful way to shape what a development will look like,” Lessard said in 2021. “This includes engagement in the big picture topics as well as site specific development.”

In assisting in the formulation of Windham’s Open Space Master Plan, Lessard said effective planning aligns with the desire of Windham residents and the Windham Town Council to encourage compatible growth in the future by managing aspects of growth and development while providing significant long term economic benefits and helping the town avoid costly mistakes of misusing available open-space resources.

She said the plan provides the criteria needed for the town to make smart and strategic decisions when identifying properties that would fulfill the needs of the community with goals that include enhanced protections for surface waters and wetlands( especially in the watersheds most at risk of development) and for streams and rivers and the purchase of development rights to keep properties in private ownership, most applicable in situations where the land is used for production, like farming, pasture and hay fields, and woodlots.

Her last day working for Windham will be April 9.

“She will be very much missed for sure,” said Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts. <

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