After a few weeks of preparing for the upcoming public hearing in Greenville tomorrow, I’ve finally been able to come up for air and return to the intervener sessions. We know that many of you rely on this blog to help you keep up with what is happening. We’ll do our best to keep this blog up to date for the remainder of the intervener sessions.
The intervener sessions started back up on Tuesday of this week and will continue on Tuesday of next week and hopefully finish up on Friday the 25th. I’ve been stopping by the intervener sessions to help out briefly over the past three days. I think the first thing I noticed was the ever evolving revolving door of lawyers that Plum Creek has brought in. I’m looking now at a team of what appears to be five attorneys at Plum Creek’s front row table. Three of them are faces I haven’t noticed before and still more of their lawyers are sitting in the back of the room. It’s hard not to wonder what the price tag is on this type of legal assault. I can’t help at times but to envision spinning wheels of numbers over their heads with the billable hours increasing by the second.
This week has focused on scenic impacts, traffic impacts, and wildlife and habitat issues. At the moment, the Commission is cross examining state agencies about the potential impacts Plum Creek’s proposal would have on the federally listed Canada lynx.
The agencies are talking about the importance of the north shore of Long Pond as habitat for various species including the lynx. Plum Creek has proposed two development zones in that area. NRCM and Maine Audubon have asked that development be removed from the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) have also said the area is not appropriate for development.
IF&W staff also went through their concerns about the resort development zones Plum Creek is proposing in critical deer yards around Burnham Pond in the Moose Mountain area. You might remember that Plum Creek got fined for illegally harvesting timber in deer yards not long ago in this same area. You can find out more about that here. IF&W told the Commission that Plum Creek should remove the development from the deer yards and from the shoreline of Indian Pond. IF&W also said that the easement Plum Creek is required to donate to off-set development was not enough in itself to off-set the potential impacts of the development proposal on wildlife.
The Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP) was also at the witness table today. Under questioning from the Commissioners, they said that Plum Creek has not adequately dealt with the potential impacts of exotic species and that there was significant potential for impacts on plant resources but that that analysis had not yet been done. There seems to be a lot of concern about invasive aquatic species like milfoil being introduced to the region through new boat launches and increased use from extensive development. It’s a serious concern in part because of the rare high quality habitat that could be impacted. MNAP would like to see Plum Creek pay for an inspection and monitoring program to mitigate potential problems.
Another interesting piece from today’s session was the testimony of a Plum Creek expert on certification. While being questioned by one of the Commissioners he said that there had never been an instance that he was aware of where a sustainable forestry certification program had revoked a landowner’s certification. This was after Plum Creek’s record fines for violating forestry laws in Maine was brought up. Plum Creek participates in the forest industry-run “Sustainable Forestry Initiative” (SFI). Plum Creek’s CEO, Rick Holley, also serves on the board of SFI. Even after Plum Creek racked up the largest fine in Maine history for violations of the Forest Practices Act the company remain “certified” under SFI. You have to wonder what it would take to actually get kicked out of this program. It plays a role here because Plum Creek is insisting that strong forestry provisions should not be required in the easements because they are certified.
Next week should be very interesting. On the agenda is a panel of witnesses focused the proposed easements. Several newspapers ran stories today about the limitations of the easements. The Maine Attorney General’s office actually released a memo in mid-December that stated that they had significant concerns about the easements. Since the state would potentially be a backup holder of the easements, they are required to review the easement terms. One of the major concerns of the Attorney General’s office is that the easements wouldn’t be enforceable. Unlike LURC’s model easement, the proposed Plum Creek easement does not allow financial penalties for violations of the easement but would allow Plum Creek to be reimbursed for any unsuccessful enforcement attempts. It’s interesting that Plum Creek doesn’t want to be liable for fines but is happy to impose enforcement costs others.
Thank you for your encouragement and support!
North Woods Policy Advocate and Outreach Coordinator