Ramblings by John

Fairhaven Acushnet Land Preservation Trust – Early History

The good news is, this year, 2006, the ink is finally set to dry on the Kelleher property. As Mark and Brad Wakeman shared a moment of weary celebration, Brad asked Mark if he remembered the first time they celebrated the Kelleher acquisition. Brad reminded him that they clinked a martini glass in the Fairhaven Chowder House. 1994, Mark recalled. Dr. Kelleher has died, the Chowder House closed long ago, but Mark and Brad keep trudging forward.

They are one powerful combination, the Rasmussen Wakeman team. I recall the summer of 1992(?), listening to the great cracking of one old oak tree after another rip through the air. Even now, I do not know how the developers of Manny Nunes land in Mattapoisett made so much noise destroying a forest, but the sounds of the destruction of that woodland reverberated along Nasketucket Bay like sick violent thunder.

Whenever someone talks about a done deal, I think of the Nunes property. The Mattapoisett voters had passed on it, the Mattapoisett Land Trust had passed on it, and the developers were building their roadways when Brad and Mark attended a land use conference out near Worchester, and a spokesperson for the Governor, Christie Foote-Smith I believe, said the Governor was looking for places to spend money in southeastern part of the state. Mark and Brad approached her after the meeting, and then pursued the deal hard until the state bought the Nunes property at a cost of 8 million dollars, a record amount of state spending.

Their role in that acquisition was hardly acknowledged, if at all. It took the cooperation of many parties to seal that 500 acre 8 million dollar deal – the biggest in state history – and they kept their heads down as they brought the necessary people to the table. But as a close witness to the situation, I can say that after every hope was long gone, and construction was well underway, those two saving angels stepped up and saved that land.

But I digress. The founding members of the Fairhaven Lands Trust were Mark Rasmussen, Danny Mello, Toby Dills, Peter London, David Hewitt, and John Darwin. It was Mark’s idea to have a Trust, and it was an idea everyone embraced warmly. Mark put together the group. They met and talked about concept. Thomas P. Crotty, town counsel for Fairhaven, created a 501 3C agreement, at no charge, and thus the Fairhaven Land Trust became a nonprofit corporation to which people could contribute and receive charitable deductions.

In those early days, as the Trust worked to develop its identity, the directors got info from the Land Trust Alliance. They also looked to other established lands trusts for guidance. There was great debate about all sorts of philosophical dilemmas, for example, small lots.

The national organization, as well as well-established Trusts, warned against accepting small lots. The caveat went something like this -All properties take resources to manage, so make sure you are judicious in accepting gifts.

But some of the early directors loved small lots. Peter London spoke with passion about how big a small lot is to a small child, and asked, where land is better saved than in overdeveloped neighborhoods, where no open space exists. The debate on small lots continued, but the first gift would be a small lot. John Darwin offered a half acre parcel, as a practice piece for Mark, so that he could move through the logistics of accepting land without the pressure of having to look knowledgeable.  This half acre patch of saltmarsh is in Priest’s Cove on Egypt Lane.

Second was Bonny Street West, as it is called, a tenth of an acre where Bonny Street meets New Bedford Harbor. Again, there was debate about accepting something so small, but the Trust went ahead and accepted it anyway. Mark was aboard a ship in the Antarctic.

The owner, who inherited the property, learned through normal inquiry that it was unbuildable. He was advised that a tax deduction could be gotten if the property was given to the Land Trust. Sometime after the gift was made, the sewer line ran by Bonny Street and apparently, with town sewer, the lot may be buildable. A private party offered the Trust $25,000 as well as a three acre swap for an upland property. Of course, the Trust refused to sell or swap Bonny West, as a matter of principle. Presently it is a great place to view sunsets and see coastal wildflowers.

Kempton Meadows Sconticut Neck – 18 acres on Nasketucket Bay. Marshy waterfront and a sandy island off the coast. The owner loved the land, but had a hard time keeping up with the taxes. He gifted the land to the Lands Trust, keeping his summer place so he could continue oystering.

Hathaway Forrest – 22 acres in Acushnet on Hathaway Road – may have been the first piece of property the Fairhaven Land Trust accepted outside the limits of Fairhaven. The story is that the owner logged the property in anticipation of developing it for residential house lots. Unfortunately for the owner, some of the property was subject to the Wetlands Protection Act, and the developer found himself embroiled in an unpleasant controversy as to the applicability of state environmental laws.  Wishing to cut his losses, the developer tried to find an agency to accept the land for a charitable deduction. Mattapoisett refused, stating it would not take Acushnet land. Acushnet did not have a land trust.

I recall thinking that it was a mistake for Fairhaven to step up and accept a controversial property just because it was offered to them. I feared that if the group were going to be open to anyone who wanted to give it anything, the group might lose focus, and perhaps get overwhelmed. Stick with a mission, I thought.

But the directors, in their wisdom, followed their instincts. Eventually, the Fairhaven Land Preservation Trust would benefit immensely from people like Mr. Gilmore a farmer, from Acushnet, Joyce Reynolds, presently Laurel Farrinon. Acushnet people joined the board of directors. Irwin Marks got up at an annual meeting and proposed changing the name to include Acushnet, thus the Trust was renamed the FALPT.

Most significantly, there would be an unfolding awareness of the geological bond which threaded the two towns together. The Acushnet River, with its wetlands and tributaries would show out to be an important environmental commonality. Most importantly, the FALPT, as an organization, would be in a unique position to apply for and receive grant money through the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council, an organization set up to distribute fines paid by corporations who damaged the Acushnet River.

So the early spirit of the Land Trust was to take what was given, give what was needed and let the splendor of the Trust unfold. And that is just what happened.

Pine Grove Street, 14 acres – on Route six, across from the Capeway Cafe – is the remainder of a family farm. The owner recalled harvesting firewood there. Several developers over many years tried to develop it, and couldn’t get permits. A lot of money was spent on experts trying to delineate the resource areas, and there were appeals made to the state. The owner knew Joyce Reynolds, and over a long period of time, the idea of a Land Trust gift was fostered.

Pine Grove – so called because it is a pine grove of 20 acres, no access, no address, off Rivard Street. Developer gave tag end of development to the Land Trust. When development was built, access was lost. The Trust decided that the access was so dubious to begin with, there was no point in arguing about the loss.

But the loss of access is significant in terms of the lesson it taught the Trust. Always safeguard the access. Now the trust is burdened with a property for which it is responsible, yet it has no way to step onto or even properly locate. Very undesirable.

Moreover, it is a reminder of all the times Town Meeting shortsightedly gave away or sold off the public land by giving away tag ends of public roads which served as public access to the ocean. At one time, many near coastal roads ran all the way to the ocean. One after another, they have been given away to various private individuals who gave the town a reason for closing off public access. Now that we have so few left, we realize how dear they were. The lesson is that people are invariable short sighted about defending and defining access, and too often regret what they took for granted. Always treat the matter of access soberly.

Shipyard Farm 53 acres on Nasketucket Bay, coastal forest, marsh meadow, and salt marsh. Gift from the estate of Peter Haste. Nephew needed a tax deduction; lawyer recommended a donation to a land trust.

Bridge Street 3 acres in Fairhaven near 195 New Boston Road. From Ned Soares, remainder of family farm. Woodland. No perk, no sewer.

Winsegansett Marshes, 160 acres, Across from Shipyard Farm, abutting, and crossing Sconticut Neck. Fronts on New Bedford Harbor. Bought from Helen Silva, with funds from New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council. Funded by industrialist making amends, fines paid by polluters of the Harbor. $340,000

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3 Responses to Ramblings by John

  1. The Mother says:

    Wonderful, succinct history. Thank you, Rope.

  2. Apples says:

    I would love to see more pictures of the land . . . such a special part of the world. Thanks for everything you do!

  3. Landlover says:

    Very interesting — keep up the good work!