Promises Made and Broken

by Phyllis Austin

The first lands Plum Creek acquired in New England were the 905,000 acres it bought from SAPPI Fine Paper. SAPPI had owned the land only four years, after purchasing it from S. D. Warren, part of the old Scott Paper domain. The acquisition was part of a recent cascade of timberland deals. In the last six years, seven million acres of Maine’s commercial forestland have been sold, much of it to short-term financial investors and wealthy individuals

In mid-December of 2004 Plum Creek announced its plans for the largest subdivision in Maine’s history on an array of high quality lakes and ponds. Photo © Frantisek Staud.

When news got out that SAPPI was selling, a spokesman reassured the public that the company had no intention of selling the land to a developer but soon inked the deal with Plum Creek, whose meteoric rise was based on cutting its timberlands hard, then subdividing them. Rod Chandler, a Republican congressman from Washington, once characterized Plum Creek as a "Darth Vader" of the forest industry because of its rapacious forest practices.

But Plum Creek officials professed to be interested only in timber management on its new Maine lands. Rick Holley, Plum Creek’s president and CEO, told the Portland Press Herald on Oct. 7, 1998, that the company had no plans to sell land for vacation homes, camps or other types of development. In the Maine Sunday Telegram four days later, Bill Brown, Plum Creek’s vice president of business development, reiterated that Plum Creek wasn’t really in the development business. The Western shorefront lots listed on its website for sale had "no other use" than for vacation retreats, he explained.
Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited and a longtime Plum Creek observer, says Brown was brought into the Plum Creek operation from Texas to use his real estate experience to further the company’s fortunes. With Brown on board, Plum Creek became "far more savvy" about development than timberland management, according to Farling, and greatly expanded the real estate side of the business in Montana and elsewhere. Before putting up parcels for sale, Farling says, Plum Creek does a lot of homework determining what neighbors’ reactions will be and what the value of the land is to the public.

Plum Creek’s first development undertaking in Maine turned out to be plenty valuable to the company, as lots went like hotcakes. The quick success of the 89-lot subdivision on First Roach Pond in Kokadjo, a logging and fishing outpost 18 miles north of Greenville, stirred up latent fears about Plum Creek’s real game plan for Maine. "They’re doing exactly what we feared – slicing and dicing the best of Maine’s North Woods into second home development," commented Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

First Roach was the largest development ever to go before LURC. Plum Creek’s director of land management, Mike yea Yeager, stated there were no more First Roaches on the horizon, despite the fact there were more than 100 lakes and ponds and sizeable rivers in the company’s ownership. Yet the Wall Street Journal reported that Plum Creek intended to accelerate its subdivision pace.
In 2003, Plum Creek representatives began meeting with LURC staff to talk about a comprehensive development/conservation project. The company hired planner Brian Kent of Gardiner to come up with a design. (He did the First Roach plan.) Also joining the Plum Creek team were consultant Elizabeth Swain, a former LURC chairperson and once on the staff of Maine Audubon and realtor Luke Muzzy, who had handled the lot sales on First Roach Pond.

Despite Plum Creek’s contradictory statements about developing its Maine lands, company spokeswoman Budinick says Maine conservationists should feel confident that the company will do the right thing.

"People in Maine should trust Plum Creek because we have carefully considered them in our plans," says Budinick. "The company is developing a comprehensive plan that takes into account the important community values and needs of the area. "Our plan – which ensures that 95 percent of the land the company owns in the plan area will be retained a a working forest – will help maintain the economic viability of the forest products industry, preserve lands with significant conservation values, promote permanent recreation access to key trails, and stimulate job creation and economic development."

This article,originally published in the Fall 2006 edition of The Maine Woods, a publication of the Forest Ecology Network, is excerpted from an article posted on the Maine Environmental News website in February 2005. The full article can be read at:

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