PLUM CREEKS REVISED MOOSEHEAD PLAN
IS MORE OF THE SAME -
Statement of Jym St. Pierre, Maine Director of RESTORE: The North Woods, Concerning Plum Creek's Revised Moosehead Lake Region Plan
April 27, 2007
There has been an outpouring of public concern in recent years in Maine about our forests. Misplaced development, unsustainable forest practices, and unstable ownerships threaten the ecological integrity, traditional recreational access, economic viability, and scenic beauty of Maine's North Woods.
In April 2005, Plum Creek corporation submitted a proposal for the largest residential real estate development in Maine history. It included 975 subdivision lots, a 3,000-acre destination resort at Brassua Lake, a 500-acre resort at Lily Bay on Moosehead Lake, and other developments. After more than 1,000 Mainers turned out at public meetings to voice their concerns about the ramifications of such sprawling development, Plum Creek said they listened and reworked their proposal.
In April 2006, Plum Creek presented a revised plan. It still included nearly 60 subdivisions with 975 subdivision lots, two resorts, and associated development. Plum Creeks Moosehead plan 2.0 raised even more concerns than the first version.
Today, one year to the day since the last plan was unveiled, Plum Creek has offered plan 3.0. There are a few improvements; some of the development has been moved around. However, the plan still presents a lot of problems. Plum Creeks newest plan includes just as many subdivision lots, just as many resorts, more residential units in total, and twice as many acres of development zones as before.
Plum Creeks proposed development is still overwhelming. Plum Creeks proposed conservation is still underwhelming. Plum Creeks plan still represents the largest residential real estate development in Maine history. Plum Creeks plan still represents a wholesale change in the wild character of the Moosehead region. Plum Creeks plan is still the wrong kind and amount of development in the wrong place.
PLUM CREEKS PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT IS STILL OVERWHELMING
Plum Creeks 2007 Moosehead development proposal calls for:
- 22,000 acres of development zones
- up to 2,025 residential units, including at least 975 subdivision lots
- 3,553-acre resort/residential zone at Big Moose Mountain and Burnham Pond
- 800-acre resort/residential zone at Lily Bay on Moosehead Lake
- miles of new roads
- miles of new utility lines
What is wrong with this? Plum Creeks plan still includes hundreds of misplaced subdivision lots scattered across the landscape. While there is a need for more tourist facilities in the GreenvilleRockwood area, the proposed resort and subdivision lots at Lilly Bay, across from a popular state park, is the wrong place for development. A resort at Big Moose Mountain could be a valuable tourist destination. However, the details about the development there are extremely vague and sacrificing pristine Burnham Pond is just plain wrong.
PLUM CREEKS PROPOSED CONSERVATION STILL FAILS THE TEST
The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) has rules in place governing development in the wildlands of Maine. Plum Creek is seeking approval to create more development faster and to concentrate it more than LURC rules normally allow. To win that approval Plum Creek must offset the accelerated and intensified development with conservation. The legal test is whether the development-conservation mix strikes a reasonable publicly beneficial balance.
Plum Creek is proposing two conservation ideas. The first is comprised of a package including a 90,000-acre working forest easement, similar working forest easements on 60 ponds and undeveloped shore areas on 6 other lakes that will be subdivided, and deed restrictions on undeveloped lots. The second conservation component is a conservation framework covering 340,500 acres. Only the 90,000-acre easement can be considered by LURC as part of the offset.
The so-called conservation lands in the first component are actually working forests where commercial logging, road construction, and gravel mining would continue and where, in many areas, large, new energy facilities would be allowed.
I question whether that represents a meaningful conservation improvement compared to what is already happening on those lands. First, virtually all the lake and pond shorelands in the areas that would be covered by the easement are already protected or undevelopable anyway. Second, the 90,000-acre easement encompasses commercial forestlands where the ecosystems will never recover as long as the cycle of industrial logging continues, which will be perpetuated under the working forest easements. Third, the 500-foot wide working forest easements interspersed among the subdivision developments would mostly benefit house owners, not wildlife or the public.
I served on the LURC staff for 11 years. Based on my experience, I believe that the conservation component of Plum Creeks proposal fails to meet LURC's legal test of striking a reasonable publicly beneficial balance with the proposed development. Thousands of acres of wildlands would be developed in the near term (22,000 acres are in proposed development zones). Moreover, the shadow effect of development means that large additional areas could be indirectly adversely affected by Plum Creeks sprawling development.
The second conservation piece is a so-called conservation framework. Plum Creek says, if its proposed development rezoning is approved by the Land Use Regulation Commission, the company will allow conservation groups to purchase two parcels outright (totaling 74,500 acres) and development rights on another 266,000 acres. The fee properties that might be bought outright are significant, but I question buying easements on the other lands. How is paying millions of dollars in scarce public and private conservation funds to a landowner to continue to do what it can already do (industrial logging, roading, gravel mining and energy development) meaningful conservation? If the idea of protecting the lands in the framework has value, then Plum Creek should complete such a deal apart from the plan before LURC.
The framework should not be part of Plum Creeks proposal before LURC. It cannot be considered as part of the legal balancing act LURC must undertake. Nor should it not be held hostage. Plum Creek is saying the framework represents additional conservation that will happen only if LURC gives Plum Creek everything it wants. That sounds like blackmail.
PLUM CREEK HAS A RECORD OF BREAKING THE RULES
Under a court order, in 2005 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designation of critical habitat for Canada lynx, which is listed under the national Endangered Species Act. Maine has the only breeding populations of lynx in the entire eastern United States. The USFWS habitat proposal included lands in northwestern Maine that are essential to the survival of lynx in this part of our country.
Plum Creek lobbied senior officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior for an exemption from the critical habitat designation for its lands in Maine. That is no way to demonstrate a commitment to protecting wildlife and the environment.
Shockingly, Plum Creek got its way when the Bush Administration granted an exemption from the critical habitat designation for lynx on private lands in Maine. We believe the decision was a serious error. A lawsuit is expected to challenge the exemption.
Blocking habitat protection for threatened lynx is not the only wildlife problem Plum Creek has caused in Maine. Plum Creek has paid the largest fine in state history for forestry violations, illegally cut down an eagle-nesting tree, damaged important deer wintering areas, and installed utility lines without a permit. Plum Creek has a habit of breaking the law. How can the company be trusted on its Moosehead plan?
WE STILL NEED MEANINGFUL CONSERVATION OF THE MOOSEHEAD REGION
In the heart of the Maine Woods, we need bigger and better conservation actions to hold habitats together, not wildlands sprawl that fragments the homes of our native wildlife with invasive houses, roads and powerlines. We need sustainable development phased into gateway communities to support local jobs for the long term, not the boom-bust business of constructing trophy second homes in the outback, which will hurt our growing eco-tourism businesses. We need to nurture an economy that brings solid prosperity, not a skewed economy where a few people make a bundle and the local towns get little more than solid waste from suburbanites heading home
Despite gains in recent years, Maine is still near the bottom of the list of states with one of the smallest proportions of publicly protected land. We cannot rely on private groups to do the job our public agencies should be doing. Even at their best their scale will always be too small. Nor does the State alone have the financial or technical ability to protect and restore big wilderness. We have seen that demonstrated with the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
It is time to seriously evaluate our options, including the proposed Maine Woods National Park and Preserve, and to act on a grand scale befitting the grandeur of our wildlands. The Moosehead region is unquestionably of national significance. The threats it faces are of national concern. It will take national action to preserve the pubic interest at risk. But it must start here.
Plum Creeks revised concept plan is being pitched in a way that downplays the damaging development aspects and inflates the weak conservation aspects. We still need meaningful, large-scale conservation in the Moosehead region. But Plum Creeks Moosehead plan is about development. It is not a plan to provide permanently protected wildlands.
SAVE MOOSEHEAD P.O. Box 2118, Augusta, Maine 04338 phone: 207-628-6404 fax - 207-628-5741 email: firstname.lastname@example.org