Over the past month, the staff at the Natural Resources Council of Maine has carefully evaluated Plum Creek’s 1,000+-page revised proposal for development around Moosehead Lake. We have met with many residents of the Moosehead Lake region to hear their reactions to the new plan. We have visited almost every single location that the company would like rezoned for development. And we have listened carefully to Plum Creek’s television ads and public presentations.
Our conclusion is that Plum Creek’s plan has not changed nearly enough. Plum Creek still wants to put too much development in the wrong places, development that would damage the fundamental character of the region, drive up property taxes, and fail to create the type of future economic growth that the area needs.
Although Plum Creek’s revised proposal includes some improvements, the plan has actually changed far less than the company would like the people of Maine to believe. The number of house lots – a staggering 975 – remains unchanged. More than 90 percent of the development is still in the same locations. And the risks posed to the fundamental character and natural resource values of the area remain serious – with 58 separate subdivisions scattered across the lakeshores and uplands of the Moosehead Lake region.
We support the proposal’s plan for a cross-country ski resort near Big Moose Mountain. This is an appropriate location for resort development, near Greenville and the existing downhill ski area.
We also welcome removal from the plan of 30 lots on five remote ponds, a similar number on the Moose River, and 28 lots in the Roach Pond area. We believe it is unlikely, however, that LURC would have given approval for the remote pond lots. In addition, the Moose River is home to two endangered dragonflies that may have precluded those house lots. And, finally, the Roach Pond lots were slated for land that Plum Creek has planned on selling to a conservation buyer all along.
In addition to the proposed 975 house lots and two resorts, Plum Creek also has set aside 32,000 acres of prime real estate for future development in 30 years. Within a generation or two, Moosehead Lake could lose the essence of what makes it different from places like Lake Winnipesauke.
In its public relations campaign, Plum Creek asserts: “You Spoke, We Listened.” But the details of its plan reveal that the company did not listen to the issues raised by thousands of Maine people who have spoken out about Plum Creek’s development ambitions. The company engaged in selective listening, ignoring completely the many voices that urged it to refrain from developing house lots at places including Lily Bay, Prong Pond, Upper Indian Pond, western Brassua Lake, and the far north shore of Moosehead Lake in Big W Township.
These are places that help define the character of the region. These are among the most important destinations today, and in the future, for nature-based tourism. Over the past year, Maine people have communicated loudly and clearly that these places are not appropriate for development – but Plum Creek didn’t listen. If they had listened, then the revised plan would not have included the following:
• For Lily Bay – 164 house lots and a 250-accommodation resort, and most of the rest of the peninsula is targeted for development in 30 years. This level of development would destroy the serene qualities of Lily Bay State Park and permanently alter the remote eastern shore of Moosehead Lake.
• For Prong Pond – 51 lots on one of the most popular, accessible tourism locations near Greenville for boating, fishing, and moose watching.
• For Brassua Lake – more than 200 lots on the western and southern peninsulas, which would forever destroy the pristine qualities in these parts of the lake.
Maine people urged Plum Creek to put its proposed house lots near existing communities, but the company refused to listen. Plum Creek owns more than 8,000 acres in Greenville, but it has not proposed a single lot for Greenville.
We believe that the company could have appropriately sited up to 200 house lots in Greenville, but it chose not to. Instead, it is still putting forward a sprawling plan that would drain business away from the service centers of Greenville and Rockwood – creating new demands for emergency, fire and road services and driving up property taxes, but providing no additional tax base to cover new infrastructure and service costs.
More than 200 of Plum Creek’s proposed lots would be so remote that they would not have access to electricity from the grid.
We conclude that Plum Creek’s proposal has little prospect of attracting year-round residents, or families with children who would bring new life to the schools. Plum Creek has its eye on high-end seasonal homes with shorefront views that are likely to start at $200,000 or more just for the lot – far beyond the reach of most Maine people.
Plum Creek purchased this land in 1998, knowing that it was zoned for forestry and taxed at the subsidized tree growth tax rate. The company paid less than $200 per acre for the land, and now is requesting approval for the largest rezoning in Maine history in order to maximize profits through real estate sales. But as LURC recently stated in its decision on another Moosehead Lake proposal, at Burnt Jacket Peninsula: “Rezoning is not an entitlement.”
We have carefully examined Plum Creek’s revised plan, and conclude that the environmental, economic, and cultural damage would be too great. The revised plan needs substantial further revisions before this Seattle-based company can honestly say that it has listened to, and actually heard, the people of Maine.