By Glen Bolduc, Staff Writer
AUGUSTA — A new Moosehead Lake region development plan proposed by Plum Creek Timber Co. reduces 95 shorefront housing lots, relocates development away from isolated areas and increases conservation land by 600 percent.
The Seattle-based company, the largest landowner in Maine, released the plan Tuesday during a news conference at the Statehouse and plans to file the proposal with the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission April 12.
“We clearly heard that members of the community wanted more permanent conservation in the plan,” said Jim Lehner, general manager for Plum Creek’s Northeast Region.
“I’ll admit it hasn’t been easy at times,” he said.
Opponents said Tuesday they saw little change in Plum Creek’s original proposal over a year ago, and say that the development still threatens the largest undeveloped area east of the Mississippi River.
“Plum Creek totally failed to listen to Maine people,” said Catherine Johnson, North Woods project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “What we have today is the same development in essentially the same places.”>/p>
Johnson said the proposal would still allow development in areas her organization identified as being ecologically sensitive, and that the amount of land earmarked for development now and proposed for development in 30 years is more than three times what Plum Creek said more than a year ago they were going to develop.
The new plan includes:
Plum Creek’s original plan in December 2004 included 975 houses in 30 subdivisions, two resorts, a marina, three RV parks, four sporting camps and 116 rental cabins scattered across 29 townships on 424,000 acres surrounding the lake.
In August, more than 1,000 people attended four hearings held by the Land Use Regulation Commission — the planning and zoning authority over many of Maine’s rural and wilderness areas. More than 5,000 people signed a petition opposing the project — the most ever on a petition received by the commission.
Supporters of the plan released Tuesday say it meets the needs of sportsmen and wilderness lovers and would infuse cash into one of Maine’s most economically depressed areas.
“It provides us with the closest thing to a crystal ball for the area’s future,” said Mark Scarano, executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.
Piscataquis and Somerset counties, which share portions of the Moosehead Lake area, have more than twice the unemployment rate of southern Maine. Piscataquis County, which includes Greenville, ranks last of Maine’s 16 counties in per-capita income.
“If we don’t take advantage of it, we’ll have missed out on an opportunity that may never come back,” said Joe DiAngelo, a real estate business owner in Greenville, volunteer firefighter and father of three.
Charles Colgan of the Muskie Institute at the University of Southern Maine said the development would generate about 1,300 jobs and provide an additional $1.3 million in tax revenue.
In rewriting its plan, Plum Creek worked with three conservation organizations — The Nature Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Forest Society of Maine — to create a framework to protect more than 400,000 acres through conservation easements and land sales.
Bangor-based Forest Society of Maine would own about 330,000 acres. Plum Creek also has offered to sell 27,000 acres east of First Roach Pond and another 45,200 acres on the Moose River to The Nature Conservancy.
“Conservation is something we heard over and over again,” Plum Creek’s Lehner said. “This is possibly the second largest conservation proposal in history, and we’re proud to be part of that history.”
The recent proposal, still the largest development plan in state history, reduces the original 575 shorefront lots by 95. But Plum Creek still intends to develop 975 lots in various areas — including land that is now among the state’s most remote.
“Our region is dependent on those remote areas,” said Diane Guethlen, a retiree living on a Moosehead Lake peninsula called Toe of the Boot. “Those undeveloped areas are where people want to go.”>/p>
The Natural Resources Council of Maine released its own plan earlier this month that would have Plum Creek cluster most of its development near Greenville and Big Squaw Mountain Resort. Based on local input, Land Use Regulation Commission guidelines and the town of Greenville’s 1997 comprehensive plan, the council’s plan proposed 300 to 450 lots in so-called “low environmental impact areas.”>/p>
But Plum Creek has proposed no development in the town of Greenville, Johnson said, and still is proposing to scatter development 10 to 25 miles from the town on now-remote shorelines.
The new Plum Creek proposal would revitalize the Big Moose Mountain area with a four-season resort and a 50-kilometer Nordic ski and bike trail. It also relocates the larger of two proposed resorts to Big Moose Mountain, and scales back a resort at Lily Bay by more than 80 percent.
In 1998, Plum Creek purchased nearly 1 million acres in Maine from Sappi Fine Papers Ltd., including 426,000 acres around Moosehead Lake and 8,000 acres in the Greenville. The land was purchased as forestland for less than $200 per acre, and is currently zoned for timber production.
From 1998 to 2000, the company denied having plans to develop the land.
But in late 2004, Plum Creek announced it would be seeking approval for the largest rezoning proposal to ever come before the Land Use Regulation Commission.