By John Richardson, Portland Press Herald Writer
Jim Lehner, Plum Creek Timber’s regional manager, unveils a revised Moosehead Lake development plan at the State House in Augusta on Tuesday. He says the plan greatly increases the amount of land to be shielded, but critics don’t see big changes.
Plum Creek Timber Co. unveiled a new development plan Tuesday for the Moosehead Lake region, altering the proposed layout for nearly 1,000 house lots and two resorts.
Company officials said the changes – together with a 400,000-acre permanent conservation agreement announced last week – address the concerns of local residents and others who criticized the original plan rolled out a year ago.
It will protect working forests and public access to the woods, as well as providing desperately needed economic development closer to Greenville, said Plum Creek’s regional manager.
“We believe that we have achieved this balance with this new plan and hope that members of the community will, too,” Jim Lehner said.
Critics who have been waiting for the revised plan for several months said the changes don’t appear to go far enough. The company is still talking about the same number of house lots – 975 – and is still proposing development of some important and sensitive shorelands, they said.
“I was disappointed,” said Diane Guethlen, who lives outside Rockwood and attended the State House news conference Tuesday to learn about the new plan.
Details outlined Tuesday include:
The number of planned house lots remains at 975, covering 3,905 acres. Nearly 100 of the lots have been moved from the shorefronts of remote ponds to non-shorefront sites between Greenville and Rockwood, the company said.
A planned resort on the west side of Moosehead has been expanded from 500 acres to 2,600 acres and relocated from a remote lakefront to property next to the ski slopes on Big Moose Mountain, just outside Greenville. The company intends to develop a world-class nordic ski center there to bring winter visitors back to the region, Lehner said. The four-season resort would have 500 accommodations and also would include bicycling, golf and snowmobile facilities, according to the company.
A planned resort on the east side of the lake at Lily Bay was scaled down from 3,000 acres to 500 acres and moved closer to the lake. There would be as many as 250 accommodations at the resort. Plans for a marina there were dropped, Lehner said.
Plans for campgrounds and camps around Moosehead have been dropped, Lehner said. The company intends to sell some land near First Roach Pond that was designated as the site of a recreational vehicle park in the first plan, leaving that issue for others to resolve.
The conservation piece of the plan, first announced last week, includes the donation of a 71,000-acre conservation easement and the sale of easements on 269,000 more acres in the plan area. Another 50,000 acres of forest near Moosehead but outside the plan area also would be preserved, said the company and its conservation partners.
Plum Creek’s descriptions of its new plan Tuesday will be followed by a detailed rezoning application that is expected to be presented to Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission next week. If the rezoning is approved, the plan would unfold over a decade or more, the company said.
Plum Creek is clearly hoping that the reception for its plans will be better this time around. It asked supportive residents, an economic development expert and the head of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to speak in favor of the plan at Tuesday’s press conference.
The easements will protect the heritage of public access to the forests forever, said George Smith, SAM’s executive director.
Mark Scarano, executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, said the plan provides a hopeful future for a region that has high unemployment, low wages and a shrinking population. “This is a part of Maine that desperately needs jobs,” he said.
The company also released an economic impact study by Charles Colgan, a public policy and management professor at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. A fully implemented plan would generate 1,300 jobs over the long term and raise personal income by an average of $66 million a year, the study concluded.
Critics of Plum Creek’s original plan agreed there are improvements, especially the decision to shift the four-season resort closer to the ski area and town.
Diane Guethlen and others said the additional permanent conservation also is a positive step, but doesn’t include some sensitive shorefronts around Moosehead and other rivers and lakes that deserve protection from development.
“They bought the land knowing it was zoned for timber management,” she said. “I think they can make huge amounts of money by developing other areas.”>/p>
Overall, the size of the development plan looks too similar to Guethlen. “I’m sorry they didn’t hear that people wanted less development,” she said.
Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said many details won’t be clear until the state receives the formal plan. But what she saw Tuesday, she said, looked like pretty much the same amount of development in almost the same locations.
“I don’t see a whole lot of change,” Johnson said.