SOUTH YARMOUTH – Yarmouth annual town meeting will get the chance to decide whether to draw $200,000 from local Community Preservation Act funds to help protect 30 acres of beach, dunes and marsh at the mouth of Chase Garden Creek in neighboring Dennis.
Despite some reservations, the Yarmouth Community Preservation Committee, the panel that decides which preservation proposals make it to town meeting, voted earlier this week to include the request on the May 2 warrant.
“It’s not for us to say it’s a good project,” Chairman Gary Ellis said before the vote. “It’s up to us to say this project qualifies. I don’t want to be one of the people who decide Yarmouth taxpayers don’t get to make this decision.”
Thomas Durkin, the committee’s representative member from the Yarmouth Conservation Commission, agreed. “You look at the philosophy of conservation, and in my estimation, this fits the criteria to preserve,” he said.
The article will ask voters for up to $200,000 – or no more than 50 percent of what Dennis pitches in – to be used on a $3 million joint effort with Dennis and several conservation groups to preserve land owned by the Aquacultural Research Corp.
The property lies directly across from Grays Beach in Yarmouth and is said to serve as a barrier beach protecting Yarmouth’s coast.
The preservation committee’s vote on whether to include the proposal on the warrant wasn’t unanimous. Ellis and members Dorcas McGurrin, Thomas Roche and Durkin were in favor; Jack Mulkeen was opposed; and Thomas Kelley abstained.
If town meeting approves, it will mark the first time community preservation funding raised in Yarmouth has been used for a project in another town.
The land deal would yield a preservation restriction on 30 acres and a use limitation on ARC’s remaining 10 acres to aquaculture, education and research. Once the deal goes through, ARC will turn the 30-acre portion over to Dennis.
Yarmouth, as a contributor, will have some say into how the preserved acreage is used. Community preservation committee members, when they voted, stressed the requirement that Yarmouth be included in all decision-making.
Roche, the Planning Board’s representative on the preservation committee, made certain the town meeting article would make Yarmouth’s contribution contingent on the total participation of all other involved parties, “so if there’s a weak link and someone backs out, the whole thing will be renegotiated.”
Kelley was uneasy about allocating money for an out-of-town project. “We’d be setting a precedent, and it may snowball to other towns.” He ultimately abstained from voting, saying he needed to first determine how selectmen felt, since they had appointed him to the preservation committee.
Mulkeen, a representative member from the Open Space Committee, said his panel supports the proposal, but he does not.
“I’ve thought long and hard about having something out of town,” Mulkeen said. “My feeling is that barrier beach will be there no matter what, protecting Yarmouth, and I’ll probably say that at town meeting.”
The state has committed $1.5 million to the preservation effort and another $100,000 for appraisals and preparatory work needed for the land exchange. The Dennis Conservation Trust has approved a contribution of up to $350,000, according to trust administrator Katherine Garofoli.
“Right now, it’s really coming together,” she told the Yarmouth Community Preservation Committee.
The Barnstable County Commission, by a 2-1 vote last week, agreed to keep the requested $250,000 contribution in county money in the upcoming year’s budget, at least for now.
Dennis Community Preservation Committee is expected to take its vote in the next several days on whether to place a request for $400,000 on the town’s May 5 annual warrant.
The land agreement also prohibits wind turbines from being constructed anywhere on the property. Current owners of ARC had proposed construction of a turbine a few years ago to help defray costs of electricity, but the project has been tied up in court appeals from abutters.
The request for $200,000 from Yarmouth’s community preservation fund will be reviewed in the next two weeks by the finance committee and selectmen, who will vote their recommendations.
Meanwhile, an additional $3 million is expected to be raised through private investment for the purchase of ARC’s remaining 10 acres where the shellfish hatchery is located. Current owners – Susan Machie, Richard Kraus and Gail Hart – will retain a small percentage of the company and serve as advisers.
The new group will continue the shellfish seed business, opening in a new building by March 2016.