By Kevin Miller
Plum Creek Timber Co. has slashed the number of shorefront houses proposed in its Moosehead Lake development plan and, instead, will seek authorization for a larger resort outside of Greenville, company officials said Friday.
A Plum Creek representative said the company is still completing revisions to its massive development plan for the Moosehead Lake region. But in a sneak peek released late Friday, the company announced significant changes aimed at building support for the largest development plan ever proposed in Maine.
The proposed changes include:
ä A 30 to 40 percent reduction in shorefront development, including elimination of lots on such popular recreation spots as Prong Pond, Big W, and the East Outlet of the Kennebec River.
ä The creation of development clusters surrounded by permanent conservation to prevent sprawl.
ä Construction of a larger resort on Moose Mountain just outside of Greenville.
The number of house lots will remain steady at 975. The total acreage of land protected from development, however, will increase because the company will donate more land for conservation, officials said.
Plum Creek’s Luke Muzzy said the company is responding to suggestions from the Land Use Regulation Commission and comments from groups and the general public. Plum Creek plans to submit its final revisions later this month to LURC, the state agency reviewing the company’s plan.
“I think some people will think we moved a lot, and some people will wish we changed more,” Muzzy said in an interview. “It’s all about balance. And we have to do something that works for the company.”>/p>
Attempts to reach several environmental groups critical of Plum Creek’s previous plan, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, were unsuccessful Friday evening.
Plum Creek’s decision to remove lots from several treasured lakes and ponds likely will please some, but not all, of those critics.
Muzzy said the company has eliminated all lots on Prong Pond as well as all shorefront lots on Big W, Indian Pond, and on the northern peninsula of Brassua Lake near Rockwood.
In addition, the company has eliminated all proposed lots along the East Outlet, removed shorefront lots from the east side of Upper Wilson pond, and reduced the number of lots on the pond’s western side. Some lots on Long Pond also will be relocated, Muzzy said.
To compensate for the changes, Muzzy said, the company plans to add more accommodations to the 500 now proposed for the Moose Mountain resort. Those accommodations likely will be a mix of hotels, condominiums and other rental or owned properties.
“Over the past year, this has been much more of a resort-based plan for us,” Muzzy said. “We and others recognize the economic potential for resorts and, with the 400,000 acres in conservation, the potential to boost ecotourism.”>/p>
Muzzy said the company also is interested in pursuing a comprehensive zoning approach, applicable only to Plum Creek, similar to the prospective zoning plan enacted by LURC in the Rangeley Lakes region.
Seattle-based Plum Creek is in the middle of its third major revision to its 421,000-acre rezoning proposal. The company submitted its original plan to LURC in April 2005 but essentially withdrew the application months later after several public scoping sessions attended by hundreds of people.
In the spring of 2006, the company released a revised plan in which some lots were moved off remote ponds and others were clustered closer to communities. Plum Creek also scaled down a resort on Lily Bay and relocated a second, larger resort close to the existing ski facility on Moose Mountain.
The company also announced a $35 million conservation deal — contingent on LURC approval of the overall concept plan — that would permanently protect 343,000 acres of forestland near Moosehead. That deal with The Nature Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Forest Society of Maine will not change substantially in the new revisions, Muzzy said.
Plum Creek also offered in its second plan to donate about 70,000 acres of conservation land. If enacted, the 400,000-acre-plus conservation package would be one of the largest in U.S. history. Nonetheless, the plan remains highly controversial.
Environmental groups have accused the company, which is the nation’s largest landowner, of seeking to reap enormous profits at the expense of the natural beauty that makes the Moosehead region unique. Plum Creek supporters counter that the plan is needed to revive Greenville and other struggling communities.