By Deb Carney
The candidates endorsed by CRU value the town's open space and support responsible management of the town-owned properties. The town must determine how we are going to manage and maintain our open space before acquiring more property with walking trails that will need maintenance and are required per terms of the grant, if grant money is used towards the purchase. The town must also assure access to public rights-of-way to water.
Charlestown currently owns seven properties, termed “open space”, totaling more than 460 acres. Six of these have walking trails that are maintained by the Charlestown Conservation Commission. This volunteer commission is responsible for monitoring these properties, ensuring safe passage, and keeping the trails clear.
The town owns more than 26 other properties that the Conservation Commission must monitor each year. The town also owns various other properties that no one monitors.
There are currently more than 10,600 acres of conservation and open space land in Charlestown owned by various agencies. Over 50% of the land in Charlestown is non-taxable.
Before the town purchases more open space, it must consider
1. Shoreline Rights
When the town partners with other agencies in purchasing property, it is bound by the terms of the agreement which will limit what can be done on the property. A perfect example is Blue Shutters Beach. Because the town accepted money from outside sources at the time of purchase, parking cannot allow for "residents only."
2. Land Management
Before purchasing more land that requires walking trails (because of the terms of the grant), the Town Council should first develop a plan to manage not only what is currently owned, but also future purchases as well. The DEM grant in question requires walking trails and a parking lot. This takes time and money. The town cannot rely on seven volunteers to maintain seven properties. The subject of the grant which is located on Carolina Back Rd would add 90 acres, totaling more than 550 acres that seven volunteers would be responsible for. Until a few years ago, the town only budgeted around $4000 for the Conservation Commission, which barely covered signage, chain saws, saw blades, kiosks, etc. Two years ago, I advocated to put $19,000 in the budget, and the council agreed. This money was used to hire outside companies to help clear and maintain the trails. It is dangerous, and a huge liability to have volunteers using chainsaws on town-owned property. Before the town acquires more open space, it needs to develop a responsible plan for how to manage and maintain the land it already owns. The town will likely need to hire either a Property Steward or add the responsibility to an existing department. Either option will require additional funding, and likely additional staffing for the Department of Public Works.
3. Open Space Bonding Authority
Charlestown’s most recent open space bond did not garner the same level of support as previous bonds that were approved for open space and/or recreation. The town has already spent over half of the last bond for $2 million. We need to choose our purchases wisely. There are currently more than 10,600 acres of conservation and open space land in Charlestown owned by various agencies. Over 50% of Charlestown’s land has already been removed from the tax rolls. Between 2000 and 2015, the town approved $5,000,000 in bonds for open space and/ or recreation In 2015, the council placed a question on the ballot for an open space bond for $2 million with no recreation component. It passed by only 11 votes. Based on the results of the last bond vote, there are no guarantees that a future open-space bond referendum would be approved.
4. Protected Conservation / Open Space Land
Currently, approximately 10,600 acres in Charlestown are already protected as conservation/ open space. That’s approximately half the land in town
Before the town acquires any more land, it needs to develop a responsible plan for managing what it currently owns and plan for future purchases as well. No one is opposed to open space or protecting the ground water and the trees. The candidates endorsed by CRU not only support responsible stewardship of what we currently own, but also support developing a plan to manage and maintain future purchases as well