by Bill Nemitz
He’s spent most of his life representing – and fighting for – his fellow northern Mainers. So state Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, knows how to draw a battle line.
“This hearing should be in the woods of Maine,” Martin groused Saturday morning as the Land Use Regulation Commission set up for yet another day of testimony on Plum Creek Timber Co.’s development plan for the Moosehead Lake region.
For the record, LURC already has held one hearing on the proposal in Greenville, and plans to hold another. Still, the fact that the seven commissioners would travel all the way to Portland clearly did not sit well with Martin.
“If they’re going to have a hearing about northern Maine in Portland,” he said, “then they should have had a hearing about the (redevelopment of Portland’s) Maine State Pier in Aroostook County.”
Martin, who later testified in support of Plum Creek’s proposal for two resorts and 975 prime house lots overlooking Moosehead and nearby lakes, speaks for many in his neck of the woods when he says that folks in southern Maine have no business meddling in what many call “the other Maine.”
Try telling that to the crowd that by 9 a.m. had swelled past 500 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay – by far eclipsing the turnouts at the two previous hearings, in Greenville and Augusta. Or to the 300 among them (177 against Plum Creek’s plan, 107 for it and 16 neither for nor against) who stood en masse to be sworn in as witnesses.
“It’s an issue for everyone in this state because we need to save these remote places,” said Barbara Field of Saco, an opponent. “They’re chopping them up piece by piece – and when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Field, who for the past 38 years has spent at least a week each summer with her family at a rented camp on First Roach Pond, near the village of Kokadjo, brought pictures taken from her doorstep: a moose, a huge flock of ducks, a pristine sunset.
Flipping through them, she paused to recall the one time in all those years that she looked out and saw a pair of Jet Skis tearing up and down the lake.
“That week,” Field said, “we saw no wildlife at all.”
Hasket Hildreth, who operates the day-sailing sloop Frances from – of all places – the Maine State Pier, said he came to point out to LURC that much of the land Plum Creek wants to develop is the same land that attracts people to the Moosehead Lake region.
Lose that, he said, and you lose the tourism business.
“My interest?” Hildreth said. “It’s in keeping all of Maine an attractive place for tourists.”
It’s too soon to tell how LURC will rule on all this. In addition to the four public hearings, the commission is taking four weeks of testimony from Plum Creek and the many organizations that have intervened in what is essentially a rezoning proposal – the kind of thing local zoning boards deal with all the time.
With all due respect to Sen. Martin and our other northern neighbors, however, LURC is not a local zoning board. It watches over the unorganized territories – including Plum Creek’s vast tracts – on behalf of all Mainers.
Thus, although Martin might not like it, Saturday’s turnout spoke volumes about who in Maine has a legitimate stake in Plum Creek’s proposal: every last one of us.