In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (2024)

In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (1)

A mourning dove flies over the Bond property, as viewed from Laite Memorial Beach, a public park in Camden. Amelia and Arthur Bond, a Missouri couple who are seasonal residents of Camden, have paid steep fines for using an herbicide that killed trees, shrubs and grass on the neighboring property overlooking the harbor. Traces of the herbicide, Tebuthiuron, have also been found in the park. The Bonds have since paid more than $1.7 million in fines and settlements to the town, the state and their neighbor Lisa Gorman, the widow of L.L.Bean chairman Leon Gorman. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

CAMDEN — The trees on Lisa Gorman’s property were dying.

Shrubs, too. Even the grass.

It was the spring of 2022, and Gorman, a philanthropist and the widow of L.L.Bean chairman Leon Gorman, called her landscaper for answers.

Weeks later, a professional visited the property just off Bay View Street, which overlooks the harbor of this idyllic Midcoast community, and offered an opinion: The vegetation’s damage was not natural. It looked like a pesticide had been used.

A pesticide had, in fact, been used a year earlier by Gorman’s neighbor Amelia Bond, a seasonal resident of Camden with her husband, Arthur Bond III. The Bonds live most of the time in Missouri, where both are prominent members of the St. Louis business community.

In the time since that discovery, the couple have paid more than $1.7 million in fines and settlements to the town, the state and their neighbor over that ill-fated pesticide use. They also violated town ordinances by clearing too much vegetation from the property and topping trees too close to the shoreline, including some that were on Gorman’s land.

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But that’s not the end of the story.

An investigation by town officials and the state Board of Pesticides Control led to the discovery of traces of the pesticide, a specific herbicide known as Tebuthiuron, in a municipal park and a public beach that border the properties.

Some think the Bonds should be punished further for the lengths they went to improve their ocean view.

The Camden Board of Selectmen voted unanimously in March to request that the Maine Attorney General’s Office review the circ*mstances and perhaps consider additional action.

“This was flagrant,” Chairman Tom Hedstrom said in an interview. “I will be disappointed if (the AG’s office) does not make a strong statement about this.”

In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (2)

A jogger and her dog run along Metcalf Road, the location of Lisa Gorman’s property, center, and Amelia and Arthur Bonds’, right. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The chief of the Natural Resources Division of the AG’s office, Scott Boak, responded to the town last month, saying it “would consider all this information and the underlying situation carefully … as we consider your request related to further enforcement.”

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It’s not certain what will happen next, although the town is closely monitoring the public areas to see if the pesticide spreads or if more environmental damage occurs. Officials also will begin discussing whether the town needs to adopt better safeguards around pesticide use, as some communities have done.

Details of the dispute have now spread through the community and have provided fuel to a broader debate about out-of-staters and how they should behave in Vacationland.

“The word that comes up most often in conversations about this is ‘entitled,’ ” said Margot Hayes, who lives in nearby Appleton but was visiting the town park near the properties last week.

Alison McKellar, also a member of the town Select Board, has heard some of it and said she understands the feeling. She grew up in Camden.

But she hopes the conversation doesn’t devolve into us vs. them.

“It’s always easier to be outraged by the behavior of people you don’t know,” she said.

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***

Gorman would not be interviewed for this story, according to her attorney, Daniel Nuzzi, who also declined to comment on the case.

Similarly, Joseph Mendes, an attorney representing the Bonds, said the couple would not be interviewed or comment on the case.

“But they nevertheless take the town’s allegations seriously and will continue to cooperate with the town, the state and (Ms. Gorman), which they have done since the town issued its first notice of violation,” he said.

In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (3)

This account of what happened, and the aftermath, is built largely from documents obtained by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and interviews with local officials.

In June 2022, not long after Gorman first noticed some of her vegetation was dying, she was approached by Amelia Bond, who suggested the neighbors split the cost of cutting down several oak trees between the two properties.

Bond told Gorman the trees “didn’t look good,” Nuzzi later wrote to town officials.

“Mrs. Bond did not tell Mrs. Gorman during that encounter that she had already applied to the oaks a powerful herbicide,” he added.

At the time, Bond was the CEO of the St. Louis Community Foundation, which managed 800 charitable funds and more than $550 million in assets. She retired in 2023, according to published reports. Her husband is a prominent architect and the nephew of Christopher “Kit” Bond, a former U.S. senator and governor of Missouri.

The couple purchased the four-bed, five-bath, 4,116-square-foot Camden home on Metcalf Road in 2018 for $1.8 million, according to town records, although the deed to the property is in a revocable trust – a tactic sometimes used to reduce tax burden. Recent Zillow estimates put the home’s value at more than twice its purchase price.

In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (4)

The home of Lisa Gorman, the widow of L.L.Bean chairman Leon Gorman, as viewed from Metcalf Road in Camden. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Gorman, meanwhile, has owned the adjacent property, which faces the harbor, since 2002. She and her husband lived full time in Yarmouth, one town removed from the flagship outdoor retailer responsible for their wealth. When Leon Gorman died in 2015, he was Maine’s richest resident, with a net worth north of $800 million.

That part of Camden – Bay View Street and its offshoots – is filled with quintessential New England coastal architecture, shingle-sided cottages with water-facing windows and manicured lawns.

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Lisa Gorman was cordial with the Bonds but was not interested in sharing the cost of cutting any trees.Already that spring, her landscapers had stopped a crew hired by the Bonds from attempting to cut trees on Gorman’s property.

By July, Gorman’s arborist, Bartlett Tree Experts, was back on site to assess the damaged vegetation. They quickly suspected a pesticide was used but collected samples from four different tree species to be sure.

The samples were sent to Pacific Agricultural Laboratory in Sherwood, Oregon, a pesticide specialist.

All four came back positive for Tebuthiuron, which is manufactured primarily by Dow Chemical and sold under a variety of brand names, including Alligare. It is not used widely in Maine but is popular in pastures and croplands in the Midwest.

Gorman was concerned and contacted the Board of Pesticides Control, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry that’s responsible for responding to all inquiries and complaints regarding pesticide use and distribution in Maine.

A board representative made a site visit to Gorman’s property in November 2022 and collected soil and vegetation samples near the property line to the Bonds. Each of those samples tested positive for Tebuthiuron.

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The town then sent a notice saying the Bonds had violated zoning ordinances by using a chemical clearly labeled “not for residential use” and by cutting trees not on their property.

“We had to look at it as a shoreland zoning violation,” said McKellar, the Select Board member. “Although you’d think there would be a law that says you can’t poison your neighbors’ trees.”

The Bonds faced a fine of between $100 and $2,500 for each day of the violation for what code enforcement officer Jeremy Martin called “a serious and willful act that has the potential to harm the natural environment.”

“The town of Camden is alarmed at such blatant disregard for the environment and for an abutter’s property, and in such close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean,” he wrote.

Martin said he’s been involved in consent agreements before – but nothing like this.

“We really had to do our research, because if the Bonds rejected the agreement, we would have had to go to court to make our case,” he said.

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***

In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (5)

Lisa Gorman’s house, foreground, can be seen in this drone photograph. Behind her house, visible through a row of dead trees, is the house owned by Amelia and Arthur Bond. Amelia Bond admitted to using an herbicide that killed trees between the two properties on Metcalf Road in Camden. Photo courtesy of town of Camden

By this point, lawyers were heavily involved.

A month after sending notice to the Bonds, the town received a letter from Aaron White, a Boston-based attorney. In it, he acknowledged that Amelia Bond did use the herbicide in 2021 and that she brought it to Maine from Missouri. The explanation for the use of the chemical was vague, but there was some reference to a browntail moth infestation.

“Our clients take these allegations seriously and intend to cooperate with the town’s full investigation,” White wrote.

The next step was a remediation plan that would involve removing contaminated vegetation and soil on Gorman’s property down to the bedrock, as well as more tests. The remediation started on April 19, 2023, and concluded on July 17.

In between, the Bonds settled with Gorman privately on May 10. Details were not public, but Martin said in documents that the settlement was north of $1.5 million.

In a letter dated July 20, 2023, Gorman’s attorney said it was clear what had happened and why.

“It is my client’s position that the cutting the tops off numerous trees and applying a strong herbicide on her property was admitted to have been done by the Bonds to improve their view of Camden Harbor. There should be no misperception concerning a browntail moth problem with Mrs. Gorman’s property, as none existed. “

Also in July, the state Board of Pesticides Control voted unanimously to fine the Bonds $4,500 for unauthorized use of a pesticide; use of a pesticide in a careless, negligent or faulty manner; and violations of pesticide labeling and label use restrictions.

During that hearing, the board’s manager of compliance, Alexander Peaco*ck, said cases of tree poisoning were unusual but not unprecedented. He shared a story about a University of Alabama football fan admitting to poisoning oak trees on the campus of rival Auburn University in 2010. Several trees died, and the man responsible spent time in jail.

In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (6)

A woman and child swing in the Laite Memorial Beach park in Camden. Traces of the herbicide Tebuthiuron were discovered in the park. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Kerry Bernard, a pesticide safety education professional with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has followed the story out of Camden.

“I’ve never heard anyone using a pesticide to vandalize someone else’s property,” she said. “And they picked a pretty bad chemical to do that.”

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Bernard said Tebuthiuron is problematic because it’s extremely mobile in water and doesn’t break down easily. Also, it doesn’t take much to do a lot of damage to vegetation.

“Thankfully, it’s not that toxic to people. It’s not nontoxic, but there is no evidence that it’s a carcinogen, and it’s not connected to developmental or reproductive effects.”

Still, Camden officials were disappointed with the state for levying such a small fine, although they still had a chance to hold the Bonds accountable.

By the fall of 2023, officials prepared a detailed consent agreement – the result of more than a year of investigations and negotiations between attorneys.

The Bonds were penalized for violating the town’s zoning ordinance at $1,000 per day per violation, which lasted 90 days. That’s $180,000.

The consent agreement also included a clause requiring soil testing of Laite Memorial Beach at the Bonds’ expense at an estimated cost of $30,700.

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“Should any evidence of the specific herbicide be found on the beach property,” the agreement said, “the Bonds shall be held liable and responsible for any clean up actions as may be required by the town.”

The Bonds were on the hook for at least $1.7 million – roughly as much as they paid for the house.

***

Testing and monitoring of the public park and beach continued through the winter.

By early March, samples came back positive for Tebuthiuron. It was the outcome town officials both feared and expected.

“We’re very concerned about this poison, as it has now gone from private property to the beach, the park and the harbor,” Hedstrom said.

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A more detailed analysis and risk assessment are ongoing, but the town voted to elevate concerns to the attorney general’s office. Hedstrom even called for criminal charges. At the very least, the Bonds could have to pay more for any remediation based on the consent agreement they already signed.

In a letter to the attorney general’s office, Camden Town Manager Audra Caler said this may be the first known instance of someone intentionally poisoning trees.

“I am afraid it will not be the last if those of us with the responsibility of protecting the public and the environment do not enforce all applicable laws to the greatest extent possible,” she wrote.

In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (7)

Jeremy Martin, planning and development director for the town of Camden, stands in his office at the quaint, seaside village’s town hall. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

One detail that has been unclear is exactly how Amelia Bond applied the pesticide near Gorman’s trees. The consent agreement with the town alleged that she trespassed, but police were never called.

“It’s a trespass issue,” said Martin, the town code officer. “You don’t have the right to apply an herbicide that affects someone else’s property.”

Martin said the Bonds haven’t been seen around town since this matter came to light, although they are still members of the Camden Yacht Club.

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In Camden, a story of wealthy neighbors, ocean views and over $1.7 million in fines (8)

Alison McKellar, a Camden Select Board member, stands on Laite Memorial Beach – a public park along Camden Harbor where traces of the Tebuthiuron were discovered after a Missouri couple, who are seasonal residents at a home on nearby Metcalf Road, were found to have used the herbicide. The chemical killed trees, shrubs and grass on their neighbor’s property overlooking Camden Harbor. Since then, the couple have paid more than $1.7 million in fines and settlements to the town, the state and to their neighbor, Lisa Gorman, whose property is located among the trees at right. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

McKellar said the case may never have been brought to light if Gorman didn’t have the resources to get answers.

“A lot of people might not have the confidence to challenge something they know isn’t quite right. It’s too intimidating for the average person,” she said.

Bernard, the pesticide expert with UMaine Cooperative Extension, agreed.

“Most of us, if we have dying trees outside, we might not even contact an arborist,” she said.

Bernard said the case is a good reminder for people to be more mindful of the chemicals they use on their property. Farmers and other professionals are trained and certified to use certain products, but homeowners need only follow the instructions on a label. Many don’t.

It’s true that the Board of Pesticides Control is responsible for investigating violations, “but they aren’t going around looking for people causing trouble,” she said.

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A spokesman for the board could not provide any data to the Press Herald on how often complaints are submitted or how many result in violations, but they happen. Last year, a farm in Aroostook County was ordered to destroy its broccoli crop after state regulators found an illegal pesticide was used.

There has been broader awareness in recent years about the use of chemicals and pesticides, particularly as land across the state deals with the effects of PFAS, or “forever chemicals.”

If nothing else, Hedstrom said, the ordeal prompted town officials to have deeper conversations about how to protect town land. He wants to draft a pesticide ordinance to put out to referendum. The timing is good, too. Just last month, the Maine Legislature passed a bill that gives municipalities more authority to enforce shoreland zoning laws and levy stiffer penalties.

In Camden, the dispute is still a topic of conversation, although it’s not divisive. Most seem to agree that the Bonds were in the wrong, and they are glad to see them being held to account.

“A lot of people in Camden and even beyond have seen sometimes really wealthy people get away with doing things to trees for their own perceived benefit,” McKellar said. “And that’s just the things we hear about.”

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browntail moth, camden maine, maine department of agriculture, pesticides, shoreland zoning ordinance

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