I want to start this post by thanking everyone who came out to the public hearing in Portland on Saturday, and especially those who patiently waited hours for their three minutes of time. Here is one blog post about the experience from the League of Young Voters. The media has been reporting that somewhere around 500 people came to the hearing. I wish I had a more exact figure for you, but I was sitting up front doing my best to keep track of all the testimony and didn’t have a chance to do a head count. I did have a few opportunities to stand up and look around, the room was full of people sporting the “Don’t Mess Up Moosehead” sticker that we were passing out. It was clear to me that the vast majority of people in the room had come to show Plum Creek and the Commission that they were opposed to the development proposal. There has been a lot of media over the past few days about the hearing so I won’t go into what has already been hashed and rehashed in the paper.
What I’d prefer to tell you about is what hasn’t necessarily been reported…
I didn’t even attempt to enter Plum Creek’s “hospitality” room, partially because I was far too busy and partially because the last time I let my curiosity get the best of me, Plum Creek’s private security firm was quick to surround me and send me on my way in the other direction. I’ve really tried my best to be friendly to them, but these are some no-nonsense types. If you’ve been to any of the hearings you may have noticed them. Typically they wear all black, have crew-cuts (what my Marine friends would call a “high-and-tight”) and some have little earpieces in. The Portland hearing was no different. These folks were all over the room but you really noticed them around the Plum Creek executives.
Let me set the stage a bit. After walking through the security gauntlet in the lobby, folks were sent to the hearing room on the lower level of the Holiday Inn by the Bay. The way the hearing was set up, people who wanted to speak were asked to pick up a ticket, one color ticket for those in favor of the proposal and another for those opposed or neither for nor against. Tickets were handed out starting at 9am and the hearing started at 10am. There was a line of fifty to a hundred people waiting in the lobby at 8:45am, the vast majority were opponents. At the beginning of the hearing the Chair of the Land Use Regulation Commission announced that over 300 people had taken tickets to speak, far more than would be able to be heard in the seven hours that were allotted. The Commission called up ten ticket numbers at a time with each person given three minutes to speak. Thirty minutes of proponents followed by thirty minutes of opponents. Estimates by separate media outlets differed, but the general consensus is that about 180 people took tickets to speak in opposition and around 100 took tickets in support.
The real action started as the hearings began. Because I was in the front taking notes, I missed a lot of what was happening in the rows behind me. The reports I received about what happened were not unexpected, but interesting nonetheless. Plum Creek’s public relations firm, Barton and Gingold, and at least one of the company’s contracted law firms, Eaton Peabody, had a small army of paid staff and “runners” picking out people whom they wanted to speak. It appeared that the Plum Creek staffers were working from preplanned lists giving tickets to those they wanted to speak and shepherding them to the front. I’ve received more than one report from people at the hearing that Plum Creek staff were handing prewritten statements along with tickets to people. If this is in fact what was happening, the paid Plum Creek staffers must have gotten in line early to collect tickets so that they could later hand them out and control who got to speak and what they said. In contrast, I know of at least two people who were in line to get tickets to speak against the proposal at 8:45am and didn’t get a chance to give testimony until around 5pm. By the way, NRCM didn’t write anyone’s testimony. Plum Creek’s puppeteering apparently happened throughout the day. In addition to this, one of our staff accidentally stumbled into a Plum Creek “war room” on the second floor of the Holiday Inn (which ironically was across the hall from the room we had reserved for lunch), where more of their staff were working phones and appeared to be passing messages to the floor of the hearing – quite an orchestration, by Maine standards.
I’ve never been one to underestimate Plum Creek, but it was interesting to see and hear the lengths to which they are willing to go to get their development scheme approved.
North Woods Policy Advocate and Outreach Coordinator