Summer Visitors Poison Trees to See Ocean Better

03:44 June 23, 2024

Summer Visitors Poison Trees to See Ocean Better

A common subject for British mystery stories is a death at a seaside community.

But in the northeastern state of Maine, mysterious, real deaths happened — although the victims were trees that blocked the view from a wealthy family’s summer home.

The story begins with a home kept by Amelia Bond, former chief of the St. Louis Foundation, and Arthur Bond III, an architect. Their summer home is on a hill that looks out onto Camden Harbor, part of Penobscot Bay, Maine.

Amelia Bond brought a powerful chemical that kills plants, an herbicide, from Missouri in 2021. She placed it near tall trees on the waterfront property of Lisa Gorman. Gorman’s home is downhill from the Bonds’ home.

To make matters worse, the chemical began to spread into a neighboring park and the town's only public seaside beach. The highest level of law enforcement for the state is now investigating.

Paul Hodgson is a resident of Camden who, like his neighbors, feels angry about the event. "Anybody dumb enough to poison trees right next to the ocean should be prosecuted, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

'Helpful neighbor'

When the trees and other plant life began dying, Amelia Bond told Gorman in June 2022 that the trees did not look good and offered to share the cost of removing them, Gorman's lawyer wrote in a document.

Instead, Gorman had the trees tested. Soon, she called on lawyers to take action.

The Bonds have paid more than $1.7 million in fines and payments to the town and neighbors. The trees are now gone and the harbor view from the Bonds’ home is improved.

Lasting damage

Bond used a chemical named Tebuthiuron. It stays in the soil for a long time where it continues to kill plants.

Scott McElroy is an Auburn University professor specializing in weed science and herbicide chemistry. He said it could take six months to two years for rain to dilute the chemical, so it no longer endangers plants.

Tom Hedstrom is a local government leader in Maine.

"Wealth and power don't always go hand in hand with intelligence, education and morals," he said. "This was atrocious and gross and any other word you want to use to describe abhorrent behavior."

Paying a price

The Bonds have paid a price for their actions, which they admitted in legal agreements.

The money they paid included fees for testing damage to the environment and for using an herbicide illegally. They also paid more than $1.5 million to Gorman in a legal settlement.

Hodgson said it is not just wealthy summer visitors who break the rules. He said some residents in the community have been known to cut down trees, knowing that it is illegal.

"They just pay the fine because they have plenty of money," Hodgson said. "That's the town we live in."

I’m Jill Robbins.

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