by Keith Edwards, staff writer
AUGUSTA — Opponents of Plum Creek’s extensive development plans for the Moosehead Lake area got their audience with state officials Tuesday, one day after four Earth First! protesters locked themselves together and were arrested at Land Use Regulation Commission’s headquarters.
All four protesters — who said they felt compelled to commit their act of civil disobedience because they said their voices, and the voices of the Maine people, weren’t being heard — made bail and were released Monday night.
They were protesting LURC staff’s recommendation in favor of Plum Creek’s plans to develop nearly 1,000 house lots and two major resorts in the Moosehead Lake area.
Two environmentalists not arrested in Monday’s protest met with LURC Director Catherine Carroll and state Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan on Tuesday to talk about Plum Creek’s plans. The officials had offered to meet with protesters Monday, but the protest continued for hours, until police had a locksmith cut the locks that held the four women together.
The meeting went forward, nonetheless, today, lasting between 45 minutes and an hour.
“It was very civil. We brought forth our concerns that money is speaking louder than the voices of Maine citizens,” said Emily Posner, of the Native Forest Network, who was outside LURC’s offices with other protesters Monday but didn’t enter the building. “Did they listen to us, the human beings? Yes, of course. But when you look at the power, clearly, the residents of Maine are being disempowered in this situation.”>/p>
Posner said the state officials, while attentive, noted the public record regarding Plum Creek is essentially closed.
Ethan Miller of the Native Forest Network also attended, as did Jeanne Curran, public information representative for the Department of Conservation.
“Both sides were very articulate, very congenial” Curran said. “There was a discussion about the process, the application. (Miller and Posner) said it was not a democratic process. The commissioner pointed out this is a citizen board, confirmed by the Legislature, and it was a democratic process.
“Clearly there was disagreement, but people were cordial to each other.”>/p>
That’s a marked contrast to Monday, when Emily Paine, 22, of Portland, Kayla Hershey-Wilson, 26, of Thorndike, and Megan Gilmartin, 24, of Searsmont, as well as Megan Wilson, hometown unknown, locked themselves together with U-shaped bicycle locks around their necks in the fourth-floor offices of LURC, within the state office complex on the former grounds of Augusta Mental Health Institute.
The four — joined by about a half-dozen others who were not locked together and left before being arrested — chanted, pounded their feet on the floor and sang songs, disrupting and even frightening some state workers, Curran said.
Curran said officials were not concerned that meeting after the protest could encourage other future disruptive behavior.
“Not at all. The issue was, we wanted to give them as much opportunity as possible to say what they wanted to say,” Curran said.
“It would be a courtesy extended to anyone who wanted to make an appointment and talk to their government officials.”>/p>
The four Earth First! protesters each made $500 bail and were released Monday night, according to Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty.
The four initially refused to give their names to police, but gave their names after about two hours in jail, Liberty said. Earth First! representatives had provided the protesters’s names to the media during the protest.
All four were charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.
Liberty said the protesters each had to be carried into jail because they refused to walk. Otherwise, he said, they were cooperative and polite.
Gilmartin said Tuesday they were treated fairly well at the jail.
She said she felt the group’s message had finally been heard as a result of the protest, though she still didn’t feel their concerns about LURC’s Plum Creek process have been answered adequately.
She plans to attend a LURC hearing today in Bangor, at which the Plum Creek plan could be finalized.
“We will continue to remind them the people of Maine need to have their voices heard,” Gilmartin said.
Thousands of people have testified in person or in writing regarding the controversial Plum Creek proposal to rezone thousands of acres of land in the Moosehead area.