Welcome to the Plum Creek finish line. While we haven’t quite reached the end of the road yet, I think we can see it from here. At the moment I’m in the hearing room at the Bangor Ramada Inn. Just in front of me a row of Plum Creek attorneys are nodding and bobbing there heads as the Commission debates parts of their development proposal. Along with the attorneys, Plum Creek’s private security has returned as well. It’s been fun to see them again as they patrol the hallways and stake out positions at the corners of the room; I feel much safer.
Yesterday more than a hundred people packed this room to listen to the interveners give closing arguments. There were many well spoken and passionate speeches. Our attorney, Russ Pierce of Norman, Hanson and DeTroy (who have graciously represented us pro-bono), delivered a great closing. He focused on the need to protect Lily Bay and talked at length about the more than 1,700 people who provided public comments in opposition to this proposal (less than 10 comments were in support in the last comment period). Several other interveners gave inspiring closings. The comments ranged from detailed critiques of the conservation easements to issues with how the Commission determined there was a “need” for this project. Part of the rezoning process is that the applicant must prove to the Commission that there is a need for a change of zoning. Several of the interveners have argued that Plum Creek hasn’t proved the “need” argument.
Following the closing arguments the Commission had a discussion about the development at Lily Bay. Several commissioners mentioned their concerns about Lily Bay and the LURC staff admitted that adding 404 “units” to Lily Bay would change the character of the area. Despite this, it looks like the Commission is going to approve the development. They won’t vote on the staff’s recommendations until later today but there were no major changes suggested by the Commission. For more information take a look at Cathy Johnson’s blog post here.
The hearing went until 8:30 last night and we started up again at 8:30 this morning. Today the Commission will discuss the easements that are a part of the Plum Creek proposal. The hot topic is likely to be whether Plum Creek should be allowed to double-dip. The Commission requires that developers off-set development with conservation. In every instance in which we’ve been involved, the developer is required to donate the conservation. Because of side deal with The Nature Conservancy, Plum Creek would be paid $35 million for most of the easement lands involved in this process. Recently a group of attorneys, including a former Maine Attorney General, wrote a letter to the Commission expressing their concerns about paying for required mitigation. Allowing Plum Creek to double-dip sets a scary precedent. An op-ed that ran in the Bangor Daily News does a good job describing the issue. You can see it here.
Can You Hear Us Now?
We’ve been convinced that the unprecedented amount of public comment that came in to the Commission on Plum Creek hasn’t been given the attention it deserves. Yesterday morning, before the official deliberations started, an amazing group of folks came to Bangor to make sure that the public comments were heard. Seventeen volunteers, most who had written comments themselves, spent an hour reading excerpts of the public comments. It was amazing to hear the heart-felt comments that came from all over Maine. Reporters from Maine Public Radio, the Bangor Daily News, and all of the Bangor area TV stations were there to record the event. We hope that by reading a small selection of the public comments the Commission will better understand how passionately the public feels about protecting places like Lily Bay from development. We thank all of those who were able to take time out of there day to come to Bangor and read.
North Woods Policy Advocate and Outreach Coordinator