The Bangor Daily News
Thursday, October 8, 1998

Many relieved with purchase of Sappi lands by Plum Creek

By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff -- GREENVILLE - Moosehead Lake region residents seemed to give a collective sigh of relief Wednesday with the announcement that Sappi has sold its timberlands in Maine to a Seattle-based timber company. Although most of the people in the region contacted Wednesday said they were relieved that a state or national park wouldn't be part of the package, some expressed fears that the new owners, Plum Creek Timber Co., might prohibit access to parts of the land in the future or might sell some of the land for development.


Sappi employees, on the other hand, are somewhat apprehensive about their future.


''Well, I'm still working,'' Mahlon Ryder of Greenville said when asked how he felt about the sale.


Ryder, a heavy-equipment and truck mechanic who has spent 28 years with Sappi and S.D. Warren in the forest industry, said although he and his co-workers were relieved about the sale, many were worried about the possibility of losing their jobs. He said company officials were expected to meet with employees sometime this week to explain the sale.


News of the sale Wednesday dominated discussions in coffee shops, job sites and stores throughout the region.


At the Boon Chain Restaurant in Greenville, owner Earl Richardson said patrons there favored the sale to the Seattle-based company because they believe it will be good for the area. Richardson said it was a relief to know that the land was not going to be turned into a park.


Down the road from the restaurant, Luke Muzzy of Century 21 Real Estate said the sale eventually will bring some stability to the region. Uncertainty has prevailed since Sappi announced it would sell 905,000 acres, including prime forest and shore front property in the Moosehead Lake region.


''I think a lot of people up here just want it to be like [Monica] Lewinsky and [President Bill] Clinton, they just want it to be behind them,'' Muzzy said.


The national publicity about the property has actually been a boon to the region's tourism. Since the property was first advertised for sale, Muzzy said, his telephone has rung more than ever from people inquiring about property in the region.


''It actually brought more tourism to the area because it told the world how attractive this area was,'' he said.


Muzzy was optimistic that the new owners might even consider opening a sawmill in the region and adding jobs to the local economy.


Businessman Paul Fichtner, like Muzzy, also is pleased that the property will remain in private hands. The owner of Big Lake Equipment on the shore of Moosehead Lake, Fichtner said private landowners have been pretty good stewards of the land in the past. He isn't convinced, though, that the entire western shoreline of the lake should be part of a state easement.


''I'd like to see some more development on Moosehead Lake,'' Fichtner said. ''I think the lake could certainly stand the development, and, given our economic climate, we need to have that development.''


He said this type of development usually brings the more affluent and retired folks to the region, helping the local economy.


Local guide Frank Altimore of Bullwinkle's Guide Service said he has two concerns about the sale. Since he uses the land for his business, he wants to make sure the traditional access that has been available for centuries is maintained and that the property is protected in some way so Moosehead Lake doesn't end up being another Lake Winnepesaukee, overdeveloped with homes and recreational businesses.


''We'd like to see it end up with somebody that has a long-term plan so that we're dealing with the same people with the same regulations, so we can have some type of continuity in the rules that govern the use of the land,'' Altimore said.


Should the company close access to some of the land, businesses in the region could be affected, according to Stuart Watt, proprietor of Indian Hill Trading Post, the Moosehead Center Mall and the Village Food Mart. Fewer tourists would flock to the area if access were restricted, he believes.


Watt's son, Craig Watt, who is the trading post store manager, said he was glad the land went to another forestry-based business.


''I'm glad they're going to continue to work the land and hope they do it in a conscientious way,'' he said.


Dave Cota, Greenville town manager, said the sale ''appears to be good for the area.''


''We're not familiar with the company, but all indications we've had are that the land will be maintained much the same as it's been in the past,'' he said.


Business owners who rely on lumber for production were optimistic about the sale.


Reuben Lumbra of O&R Lumbra Inc., a sawmill in Milo, said his company had purchased little wood from Sappi, so the sale wouldn't affect his company that much. The sawmill produces hardwood lumber for furniture making, pallets and flooring.


''I think it is a positive arrangement,'' he said, adding that he believes environmentalists are criticizing the sale too much.


John Wentworth, vice president of Moosehead Manufacturing of Monson and Dover-Foxcroft, which produces furniture, said his company, too, hadn't purchased much from Sappi in the last few years. However, the sale could possibly affect the business, he said, depending upon how it affects the company's log supply.


The not-for-profit Sebasticook Farms in St. Albans does rely on logs from Sappi for operation of its sawmill. Larry Ross, executive director of the agency that provides services for developmentally disabled adults, said the sawmill cuts about 8,000 feet of lumber a day.


''I would like to think that from all the indications that we've heard from the people of Sappi so far that it will continue as business as usual,'' said Ross. He was optimistic that Plum Creek would be a business partner with which the agency could develop a positive relationship and work well.


There are also skeptics in the region, who believe the sale isn't what it's touted to be.


Greenville businessman Mike Boutin thinks the sale isn't as rosy as Gov. Angus King has depicted it. The owner of Greenville Northwoods Outfitters and the Hard Drive Cafe, Boutin believes the state got the short end of the stick with the easement.


''I feel like that's a cookie, they're just feeding us something to appease us,'' he said, adding that ''it kind of sounds like the governor sold out.''


Boutin said he secures a permit each year to use the land for recreational purposes, such as moose safaris and canoe trips.


Despite his skepticism about the sale, Boutin said it really doesn't matter who owns the land as long as they follow good forest practices and preserve it. The tranquility of the lake and forest is why so many people live and visit the region, he said.

Copyright © 1998, Bangor Daily News Inc.