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Foxborough cancels sale of land where salamanders live

A small family of marbled salamanders found in a vernal pool on town land in Foxborough has caused local officials to call off the sale of the 18-acre parcel, even though the $750,000 asking price would have helped pay for needed projects, including potentially a new town hall.

Instead, in order to protect the stubby striped amphibians, the town’s Asset Review Committee will identify another property to take its place along with four other parcels under consideration for sale, Town Manager Kevin Paicos said.

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That way, the former Camp Lincoln Hill property on Oak Street — which voters purchased in the 1970s for recreation and open space — may be returned to its former use as a day and overnight camp with the help of local Scouts and others, Paicos said.

“This is actually a huge win,’’ Paicos said in an interview last week.

Originally, five buildable lots on about 6 acres were to be separated from the 18-acre parcel and sold, a way to make money and protect the salamanders that were found in the other portion of the property, officials said. But members of the town’s Conservation Commission did not back the plan and filed for protection status for the creatures with the state, officials said, believing their preservation far outweighed any cash proceeds from a sale.

Paicos said Town Meeting voters decades ago meant for the Foxborough Recreation Department to operate the camp when it was purchased, and for the Conservation Commission to oversee all the land behind it.

Another parcel, which Paicos declined to identify, is being considered as a possible replacement.

“It doesn’t have a vernal pool, but it does have wetlands,’’ he said. “Maybe we could split off a buildable lot. We’ll see what happens.”

The decision to protect the salamanders was good news for conservationists and others who have said the land was never meant to be developed. In a recent interview, Jacob Kubel, a conservation scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, said he is only aware of about 90 local populations of the marbled salamander.

The small amphibians have become the rarest of their kind in the state thanks to proliferating development, new roads, and the use of chemicals, he and others have said.

Marbled salamanders, with their distinctive black-and-white markings, live underground for about 10 months of the year. The female generally lays between 50 and 150 eggs in a nest under dead leaves or other protected areas in a dry vernal pool. She stays with the eggs and protects them until the pool fills with water and they hatch a few days later.

Selectwoman Lorraine Brue heads up the Asset Review Committee that originally targeted the Oak Street parcel. The panel has spent the past three years identifying possible town-owned properties for sale, not only to raise money but also to boost the tax rolls, she said.

The inactive properties now under the town’s care had been acquired as gifts, taken by tax title, or foreclosure, Brue said.

Other parcels on the chopping block include an old town fire station, land on Garrett Spillane Road and on Pine Acres Road, and the former Keating Funeral Home property on Market Street.

The combined sale has been expected to raise about $1.6 million. Paicos said, however, Foxborough has enough cash to pay for potentially half of a new town hall. The rest can be raised through a bond, he said.

The Oak Street property is dotted with ramshackle buildings and rubble left from the camp. It has been abandoned for decades and has fallen into disrepair, officials said.

Though the sale was rejected, selectmen chairman James DeVellis said he is glad three town committees worked together to ensure “due diligence” in the matter before giving up.

“One option members are exploring is the interest brought by the Boy Scouts to invest in the old camp and use it while getting the educational and recreation benefit,’’ DeVellis said. “Foxborough would have a return on our investment in many ways while preserving the assets. That I think will be something that could have merit.”

Reach Michele Morgan Bolton at michelebolton@live.com.
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