Five Maine conservation organizations that serve a swath of the midcoast from Freedom to South Bristol are proposing to merge into a single organization with more than 7,000 acres of conserved land.

The executive director of one of the groups, Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association, said the merger would allow the organizations to share strengths, reduce overlapping efforts, expand programming and put the organizations in a better position to care for their conserved land long-term.

“We are very excited about what we are going to be able to offer our communities,” said Jody Jones, the executive director of the Jefferson-based organization. “Instead of having five executive directors trying to do everything, we’re going to have more program people available to work in the communities that we’re in.”

The plan calls for Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association, Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson, Pemaquid Watershed Association in Damariscotta and the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance in Liberty to merge into the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association in Newcastle.

Because the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association is already accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, the four other organizations wouldn’t have to apply on their own to get the accreditation, which takes hundreds of hours of preparation for the initial application, Jones said. If approved, the new organization would have two years to bring all of the former organizations up to the required standards, she said.

The accreditation requires organizations to meet certain standards, including ensuring they have enough funds to care for the conserved land and they follow best stewardship practices, Jones said.

The accreditation would also make the organizations eligible to buy into a network of insurance plans to defend their land easements, she said. Currently, if someone built a house on land protected by an easement or did something else that violated an easement, the organizations wouldn’t have the resources to defend the easement, Jones said.

The boards of four out of the five organizations approved the merger. The Pemaquid Watershed Association’s board rejected the merger with a vote of six against, five in favor and one abstaining, Jones said. The members of the organization will hold a special meeting Aug. 31 to vote on the merger, which will require a two-thirds vote, Jones said. The organization’s board would then need to ratify the vote, she said.

The members of the other organizations, besides Hidden Valley Nature Center, which doesn’t have a voting membership, will vote between August and the end of September on whether to approve the merger, only needing a simple majority, Jones said. If some organizations don’t approve the merger, the organizations that approve it would be able to decide whether they want to continue with a merger plan, she said. If approved, the merger would go into effect Jan. 1.

All staff members of the organizations — a total of 10 full-time equivalent workers — would have jobs in the new organization if approved, Jones said. The name of the potential new organization hasn’t yet been chosen, and the groups are seeking ideas for a name, Jones said.

Tim Glidden, president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust in Brunswick, said in a news release about the merger that he hopes it becomes a model for land trusts across the state and beyond.

“Local land trust collaborations such as this represent a tangible, intelligent way for small conservation organizations to reduce administrative overload, enhance focus on their missions and magnify their collective impact,” Glidden said in the release.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig

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