By Alan Crowell, staff writer
AUGUSTA — For the second time since submitting a controversial plan to allow development in the Moosehead Lake region, Plum Creek is making changes, this time only four months before hearings were scheduled to begin.
The announcement comes about two months after the Land Use Regulation Commission said Plum Creek’s application was complete. It comes less than a year after the timber and land management company submitted a revised plan. The first, submitted in April 2005, was met with widespread opposition.
Thursday’s announcement means that public hearings on the concept plan, scheduled to begin in mid-May, will be delayed indefinitely. Opinions differed, however, on the significance of the fact that Plum Creek was making the changes only months before the hearings.
Plum Creek’s plan, which calls for rezoning thousands of acres and creating almost 1,000 house lots and two resorts, has drawn wide interest because the Moosehead Lake region has long been a magnet for people interested in outdoor recreation, including fishing, hunting and snowmobiling.
The plan is also seen as potentially precedent-setting, with land in Maine’s unorganized territory changing hands at an accelerating rate, creating the potential for sprawl in an area largely untouched by development.
A Plum Creek spokesman said the company is simply responding to comments from the public and state agencies, and will try to submit the changes in two or three weeks.
Catherine Carroll, director of the Land Use Regulation Commission, the state agency that acts as the planning board for the unorganized territories, said it is not unusual for applicants to make changes even after a hearing schedule has been announced. Nor does it necessarily signal anything radically new, she said.
“You don’t want to go to a public hearing until you have a definitive proposal on the table,” she said.
A spokeswoman for state’s largest conservation organization said Thursday, however, that it was encouraged the timber and land company recognizes its plan is a failure.
Cathy Johnson, North Woods project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the changes are a “very big deal.”>/p>
“We are hopeful that Plum Creek will listen this time to all the Maine people who have spoken and said that it calls for too much development in all the wrong places,” said Johnson.
Johnson said that while Plum Creek did alter its initial plan, the revised document called for the same number of house lots in 90 percent of the same places.
Luke Muzzy, senior land asset manager for Plum Creek, said his company decided to alter the plan after listening to feedback.
He said Plum Creek would be working day and night to get the plans back into the commission’s hands as soon as possible.
“That is our aim — not to slow down the process,” he said.