Town Conservation Easement, lawon side of Monastery preservation

Town Conservation Easement, lawon side of Monastery preservation

By Jayne Guertin

It's been said that when neither facts nor the law are on your side you can't argue either, but you can pound the table. There's been a lot of table-pounding these days from the folks who want Cumberland's citizens to believe that 1) the Monastery is the best and only place on which to site a safety complex, and 2) the organization known as the Monastery Preservation Alliance is disingenuous.

But the MPA has the law and the facts on our side, so we are engaged in only the low pitched, peaceful pursuit of enforcing such law and facts. No political tactics, no games, no exaggerations.

The Conservation Easement exists to protect the entire 525 acre parcel in perpetuity, and the mayor and MPA detractors cannot simply wish it away. If you read the minutes of the many Town Council meetings leading up to the Easement's execution you'll find records showing the Town of Cumberland's eye on future needs. The town obviously knew and understood the restrictive implications of the Easement (including the inability to use the property for future town buildings, etc.) and specifically intended the Monastery land to be protected in perpetuity. (Minutes of Town Council meetings, the Easement, and Monastery Management Plan can be read at http://www.monasterypreservationalliance.com, under Easement/Documents.)

The accusations (the hypocrisy! the irony! the disingenuousness!) concerning the BMX bicycle trails (located in the northern section of the Monastery) suggest that the MPA has been around forever (rather than for 12 months) and is some kind of governmental or quasi-governmental agency responsible for the Monastery land (rather than a group of concerned citizens coming together over the safety complex issue). The MPA is not responsible or answerable for the Monastery's management nor for the actions of the architects of the BMX trails constructed - by some accounts - nearly 20 years ago, long before the Easement was conceived.

Painting the MPA as something they're not (governmental agents, hypocritical or disingenuous) is a baiting game, and we needn't bite the tips of empty lures. Would it make sense for the MPA to address ancillary issues not nearly as critical as enforcing the Easement when we're under the gun, in triage mode to save the Monastery (or any part thereof)? Shall we pull the trigger on each failing? Naming only a few, there are felled trees left to rot on trails; no trail markers; piles of crushed stone left trailside; rusted and mangled fencing. Had the town conducted the Management Plan's mandated annual survey of the Monastery they surely would have known about the BMX trails. And - by some accounts - it's the town who, subsequent to the signing of the Easement, either explicitly or implicitly sanctioned BMX trail sprawl with a friendly wink and nod.

When Cumberland's mayor, attempting to publicly discredit the MPA, stood in disbelief by the BMX trails - as if he hadn't been aware of them, as if the town were some na?Øve, uninformed agency - and asked why the MPA had done nothing, he irresponsibly exposed the town to increased liabilities. Now, every child or teen or young adult who rides a bike knows of the trails and precisely where to find them. The MPA would not have taken that risk.

This is the same tactic the town used with the proposed J.H. Lynch donation. The implication that the MPA blocked a "win-win" compromise relating to that land is simply false. We say Yes, please do! to Lynch's offer to donate certain land to the Monastery. But there can be no compromise - the town must go to court and get a judge to approve the deal, and it's extremely unlikely (given the state of the law and the Attorney General's response) that the town will get that approval. The MPA has no legal authority to negotiate any deal relative to the Monastery or any other open space. The obligation to do the right thing rests on the town of Cumberland who has sole control of and responsibility for the Monastery land.

Until a suitable third party, or parties, in the serious business of conservation have control of the Monastery land there is little we can do with regard to the myriad management issues.

This brings us to the suggestion that the Conservation Easement somehow "hog ties" the entire parcel. It's true that all 525 acres of the Monastery land are protected in perpetuity by the Conservation Easement and that the same prohibits, in part, further development or subdivision, refuse dumping, dredging or landfilling, biocides and fertilizers, and waterways and wetlands alteration. In other words, wisely restricted is anything that would or could cause soil changes, water contamination, destruction of plant, animal and water life, and new building construction or roads.

What the Easement does not prohibit is the use of the Monastery land "for all purposes that are not inconsistent with the Easement and Management Plan," as well as the maintenance or improvement of buildings that existed at the time the Easement was recorded. That suggests that the town could expand the playground, erect a temporary tent, fix up the Senior Center, and do the things necessary for the maintenance or management of the Monastery. Since 2004, the town has, among other things, paved and added additional Senior Center parking spaces, permitted tents to be set up on the grounds for book/plant/art sales, and allowed benches and placards to be placed at the edges of paths by Eagle Scouts.

To say that the Easement has the effect of "hog-tying" the Monastery is to say that the Monastery is some kind of helpless and enslaved animal. But if the Monastery and the tied hog have anything in common it's that they are both in danger of being butchered.

The "Goals" of Cumberland's new Comprehensive Plan call for the maintenance and improvement of our open space, and the acquisition, preservation and protection of land, and adjacent lands, in order to enlarge existing protected parcels and create an extensive area of contiguous open space from the Monastery to Diamond Hill. The intent is to protect "significant plant and animal populations and communities" and provide passive recreation for all. This Goal cannot be achieved without the Monastery intact.

The Monastery is not the best and only location for a safety complex. Many alternative lots/buildings (ripe for repurposing) submitted by MPA to the Mayor-appointed Safety Complex Location Committee were summarily dismissed after only a cursory look, and the mayor made public his decision to pursue the Monastery before he even received the SCLC's report which includes other sites. The mayor continues to press forward with his plan to use the Monastery land for a safety complex, senior center, and new Town Hall, despite the legal impediments, the cost and delay, the work of the SCLC, the lack of authorization, and the town's clear intent in 2004 to protect this land in perpetuity. This, dear Cumberland, is hypocrisy and irony at its best.

Jayne Guertin

For the Monastery Preservation Alliance Cumberland