By Edgar Allen Beem
On Saturday morning, Dec. 15, I attended the Land Use Regulation Commission’s public hearing in Portland on Plum Creek’s mammoth development proposal for the Moosehead Lake region. I went with my daughter Tess, who was interested in writing a letter to LURC urging defeat of the monstrous resort/summer colony plan.
What I saw and heard in the packed conference room of the Holiday Inn by the Bay saddened me deeply and convinced me that Plum Creek’s Wal-Marting of the Maine woods will probably be approved, albeit with a few mitigating conditions.
Over and over again I heard folks from northern Maine express the opinion that we in southern Maine shouldn’t have any say in the matter. Whatever happens around Moosehead is none of our business. The most prominent person voicing this parochial opinion was Sen. John Martin of Eagle Lake, which, for the record, is just as far from Greenville as Portland is.
One benighted individual even went so far as to suggest that only folks in Greenville should have a say about what happens around Moosehead, overlooking the simple fact that none of Plum Creek’s proposed development is actually in the town of Greenville. The fact of the matter, however, is that residents of southern Maine actually have no voice on LURC, because none of the seven commissioners are from Cumberland or York counties.
Proponents of Plum Creek’s proposed corporatization of the unorganized territories insisted that planned development was preferable to unplanned development, essentially arguing that Plum Creek’s atomic bomb was preferable to a guerrilla insurgency by piecemeal developers.
The essential point that seemed to be missed at the hearing is that Plum Creek is seeking permission to do something that is not currently allowed under land use regulations. That’s why LURC is holding rezoning hearings on their gross-concept plan in the first place. The planning has already been done. It’s just that swanky resorts and upscale summer colonies weren’t part of the plan.
Proponents seemed to think it was wonderfully generous of Plum Creek to be willing to trade 400,000 acres of conservation land for permission to build two huge resorts, a golf course, marina, 975 house lots and unlimited servants’ quarters. But Plum Creek, the nation’s largest land owner, isn’t voluntarily giving away anything. It is required to balance development with conservation as part of the LURC approval process and is selling the conservation lands for $35 million.
Environmentalists who oppose Plum Creek’s grand scheme are justly upset about individuals and groups they term “turncoat environmentalists.” I saw plenty of them at the LURC hearings.
Forest Society of Maine board members Sherry Huber, Rob Gardiner and David Flanagan all spoke in glowing terms of the conservation benefits of the Plum Creek plan without bothering to mention that the Forest Society is in line to hold the Plum Creek conservation easements and to gain from the stewardship endowments that usually accompany such easements.
Parke Burmeister, identified in the Maine Sunday Telegram only as a law student, called the Plum Creek proposal “a dream come true,” but Burmeister is an associate at Barton & Gingold, the Portland consulting firm that has been thumping the tub for Plum Creek since the boys from Seattle came to town. The president of Barton & Gingold is former LURC Chairwoman Elizabeth Swain.
Sad. Very sad. While I’m sure these erstwhile environmentalists have convinced themselves that the conservation gains are worth the development losses, I am even more certain that you don’t accomplish true conservation by selling out to out-of-state land barons. Had all of the major environmental groups in Maine presented a united front in opposition to the Plum Loco plan, a better way to preserve the natural treasures of the Moosehead region might have been found.
As it is, the Forest Society and The Nature Conservancy have thrown their lots in with Plum Creek, though the Appalachian Mountain Club has backed off this deal with the devil. To their credit, Maine Audubon and the Natural Resources Council of Maine remain resolutely opposed. Their experts will testify against Plum Creek in January. We can only hope they are persuasive enough to, at the very least, win a pardon for Lily Bay, some permanent (as opposed to 30-year) conservation easements, and clustering of development in and around Greenville instead of all around the lake.
Come 2008, everyone who still thinks it makes sense to turn wild Moosehead into suburban Sebago in order to gain a handful of low-wage, seasonal service-sector jobs can turn their environmentalist credentials in at the nearest Wal-Mart.