Local land trusts have signed a $1.37 million agreement to conserve roughly 800 acres along Crooked River, the largest tributary to Sebago Lake, the drinking water source for the greater Portland area.

On Tuesday, CLT Co. President Robert Carlson, 89, of Harrison signed quitclaim deeds with the Western Foothills and Loon Echo land trusts, retaining the land in Harrison and Otisfield as working forests, but forever set them aside from development.

CLT Co. is a timber-growing company, Carlson said.

In Otisfield, 290 acres known as Twin Bridges sold for $617,000. In Harrison, 300 acres known as the Intervale, with 7,000 feet of river frontage, sold for $515,000.

Additionally, the land trusts bought adjacent parcels in a “bargain sale” in which $170,000 was knocked off the price. They are: 130 acres known as the Oak Hill parcel in Otisfield for $190,000; 56 acres called the Watkins parcel in Otisfield for $85,000; and 75 acres  known as the Woodsum Brook parcel in Harrison for $120,700. 

A coalition of conservation groups was assembled to finance to the deal, including a $280,000 pledge from the Portland Water District, the largest in its history. The parties expected to complete the deal this spring but were thrown off course when $400,000 — roughly a third of the funding — was suddenly wiped off the table after Gov. Paul LePage refused to disburse any voter-approved funds to Land For Maine’s Future, a state-run program that aids conservation efforts.

LePage said previously that the funds will be withheld until the Legislature approves increasing the timber harvest on state lands. On Tuesday, LePage vetoed a bill which would have compelled the governor to sell the general obligation bonds, arguing it would have overhauled the bond process by stripping the executive of constitutional powers. 

A spokesperson for the governor did not return an email seeking comment.

The sudden funding shortfall almost jeopardized the deal, which has been years in the making. Instead, Carlson pushed to complete it and agreed to loan Western Foothills Land Trust roughly $190,000 at 1 percent interest. The trust has 18 months to repay the loan, which will be funded through a heavy timber harvest.

According to Lee Dassler, Western Foothills Land Trust executive director, the lack of state funds led to $10,000 in additional legal fees, which have postponed plans to create public recreational trails.

Though able to close on this deal, Dassler called for the bonds to be sold to fund remaining projects across the state. 

“The good news is, this closing is a big deal for clean water in southern Maine and a boost for our regional economy,” Dassler said. 

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