Branch Lake Public Forest in Ellsworth. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Ellsworth is looking to acquire a 285-acre lot off Bangor Road that would significantly expand the size of the city’s public forest.

The property separates the public forest — which fronts on Branch Lake and has more than two miles of trails — from another large city-owned about half a mile further north off Phillips Way.

Buying the land would triple the size of Ellsworth’s public forest, creating a contiguous 800-acre area while also protecting the city’s water supply.

“The purchase price is for $185,000, which is significantly below the actual value,” Ellsworth City Planner Matthew Williams told the city council Monday night.

Williams said he is confident that the city can obtain grant money that would cover the entire purchase price, which would mean the acquisition wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything. The city would coordinate with Frenchman Bay Conservancy, which has a conservation easement on the existing 237-acre public forest, to apply for grant funding from the state Land for Maine’s Future program and from the federal Land and Water Conservation fund.

Acquiring and conserving the land would help protect the water quality of Branch Lake, which serves as Ellsworth’s water supply. It also would link the city forest to the 285-acre lot off Phillips Way, which is undeveloped and has no trails, and would allow the city to potentially create up to 10 miles of hiking trails across all three parcels, Williams said.

Dale Hamilton, chairman of the city council, said he supported the plan. The asking price is fairly low to protect the city’s water supply and provide greater recreation opportunities to local residents, he said.

“It sounds like we’ll be able to pay for this without a dime of taxpayer dollars,” Hamilton said. “If we don’t act on it, I think it will have a negative long-term impact in the city.”

Local resident and businessman John Linnehan told the council he objected to the plan.

“I’m opposed to spending money right now,” Linnehan said. “I can see the value to Frenchman Bay Conservancy owning all three properties. There’s a lot of expenses to owning land.”

Williams told the council he and Frenchman Bay Conservancy were looking for initial city support for the idea before they moved ahead with applying for the grants. In response, the council voted 5-1 to support the idea, though the council will have to vote again to accept any grants that come through.

Steven O’Halloran, who said that so-called “magic money” made him nervous, was the lone councilor to vote against it. Councilor Michelle Beal was not at the meeting.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....