Lyme Timber enters agreement with Downeast Lakes Land Trust, others on sale and conservation project on 22,000 acres in Maine; DLLT leading US$24M capital campaign to fund deal

Audrey Dixon

Audrey Dixon

GRAND LAKE STREAM, Maine , April 8, 2009 (press release) – The Downeast Lakes Land Trust (DLLT) and partners today announced a 22,000-acre conservation and economic development project designed to protect the economy of the Grand Lake Stream community in central Washington County.

The project sets the stage for creating the West Grand Lake Community Forest within a 1.4 million acre international landscape of conserved land.

As part of the project, the town will immediately acquire 182 acres to support future development priorities. The West Grand Lake Forest surrounds the village of Grand Lake Stream and includes 17 miles of undeveloped shoreline on West Grand, Lower Oxbrook, and Big Lakes. The forest has over 3,000 acres of wetlands and deer wintering areas and other wildlife habitats. The lands will continue to be a source of sustainable forest products and public recreation.

DLLT signed an option agreement with the owner of the 22,000 acres, The Lyme Forest Fund managed by The Lyme Timber Company (Lyme). The option provides DLLT the right to purchase two working forest conservation easements at fair market value on 21,700 acres, to be held by the State of Maine. Once funds are raised, the easements will forever protect the shorelines and forests from development and secure public access while allowing sustainable forest management.

After the easements are acquired, DLLT will purchase the land and manage it as the West Grand Lake Community Forest for wildlife habitat, a sustainable timber supply, and public recreation. In a unanimous vote at a November, 2008 town meeting, the citizens of Grand Lake Stream – yearround population of 120 – appropriated $40,000 as a contribution to permanent conservation of the West Grand Lake Community Forest.

“This is a powerful statement from a small community that their future is worth fighting for,” according to DLLT Executive Director Mark Berry, “despite hard economic times, we’re working to protect a way of life for current and future generations.”

A key component of the transaction was Lyme’s ability to secure special financing through the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) Program. On behalf of the previous owners, Webber Timber, LLC and other heirs of the Webber Family, Prentiss & Carlisle sought an economically feasible sale of the land that would support conservation and community priorities. They approached Sustainable Forest Futures (SFF, a non-profit subsidiary of the Northern Forest Center) to explore NMTC financing. SFF worked with Lyme and Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), a community development financial institution with an NMTC allocation. Bangor Savings Bank and U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation provided a combined total of $13 million in financing for the transaction.

The municipal government of Grand Lake Stream established a public process to identify appropriate lands for future growth. Lyme agreed to donate five parcels of land near the village totaling 132 acres – including 65 acres for affordable housing – for future residential and business growth. Local citizens have unanimously voted to accept these donations and purchase another fifty-acre parcel from Lyme.

The NMTC financing was concluded on March 26, 2009, and the donated land is being transferred to Grand Lake Stream ownership.

Governor John Baldacci, Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, Passamaquoddy Tribal Governor William Nicholas, The Nature Conservancy Chairman and Baskahegan Company CEO Roger Milliken, Jr., and Seven Islands Land Company Retired President John Cashwell serve as Honorary Co-Chairs of the West Grand Lake Community Forest Project Committee.

In partnership with The Conservation Fund, DLLT invested $2 million in securing the option agreement, as a down payment toward acquisition of the conservation easements and fee ownership. This sum includes a $1 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, a $500,000 loan from the Open Space Institute, and private contributions and loans. Lyme also has committed to sustainable forest management during the term of the option. DLLT is leading a $24 million capital campaign to fund the conservation easement and land purchase and associated expenses. Funding for the West Grand Lake Community Forest Project will be sought from diverse sources including charitable foundations, corporations, individuals, and public agencies.

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