By Chris Churchill, Blethen Maine News Service
Responding to critics, the Plum Creek Timber Co. has reworked its controversial North Woods development proposal into “basically a new plan” that would include permanent conservation easements and a less sprawling footprint.
The company also intends to scale back the size of planned resorts, including one planned for a site near Lily Bay State Park.
And it will propose concentrating homes and other development near the largest town in the Moosehead Lake region.
“We’re looking at taking development from outer ponds and moving it toward Greenville,” said Jim Lehner, Plum Creek’s regional general manager. “How and where, we don’t know yet.”>/p>
In its overall proposal, Plum Creek is asking the state to rezone 426,000 acres in Somerset and Piscataquis counties. The Seattle-based company says it would develop about 10,000 acres with two resorts and nearly 1,000 house lots in the remote region.
Environmental groups have blasted the proposal, saying it would cause North Woods sprawl and destroy the character of one of Maine’s most inspiring regions.
Lehner said Plum Creek is taking those criticisms and opinions – offered during a series of public-comment sessions hosted by the Maine Department of Conservation – into consideration as it reworks its plan.
“We’ve gone back to the drawing board,” Lehner said, “and are taking a fresh look at how to submit basically a new plan.”>/p>
Plum Creek previously proposed 30-year conservation easements for much of the acreage included in the rezoning. But critics predicted a new wave of development when those easements expire.
In response, Lehner said Plum Creek is “looking at doing something (with easements) that’s a little more permanent.”>/p>
Lehner also said a resort proposed for Rockville would be moved toward Greenville, and the resort proposed for Lily Bay would be scaled down.
The state’s largest environmental group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, responded cautiously to Plum Creek’s planned revisions.
“It appears they’re moving in the right direction,” said Pete Didisheim, the group’s advocacy director. “But the proof will be in the pudding.
“They did need to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “What they had previously proposed was not acceptable and was out of balance.”>/p>
Didisheim liked the sound of permanent conservation easements.
“That’s one area of the state that really would benefit from protection in perpetuity,” he said.
Plum Creek’s revision ideas were first discussed in a meeting with the Greenville Planning Board on Wednesday.
The board is planning to compile a list of additional recommendations for Plum Creek to consider.
Lehner said the company’s new plan likely will be completed by February.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.