Gov. John Baldacci expressed concerns about the amount of development Plum Creek has proposed near Lily Bay, an area on Moosehead Lake’s eastern shores that features one of Maine’s more popular state parks.
The governor said he has full confidence in the Land Use Regulation Commission as it reviews Plum Creek’s historic proposal for nearly 1,000 house lots and two resorts in the Moosehead region.
But in a rare, pointed statement on Plum Creek’s proposal, Baldacci said he believes the state must ensure that the need for growth and development in the region is balanced with protections for the natural beauty of Lily Bay and nearby areas.
“We’ve got a lot invested in Lily Bay State Park and in that part of the Moosehead Lake region, and we’ve got a lot of resources” tied up in the area, Baldacci said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m concerned about the level of development in that particular area.”
Officials from Plum Creek have described the Lily Bay developments as essential to the company’s 30-year concept plan for growth in the Moosehead region.
The Seattle-based company is seeking LURC authorization for 154 house lots and a nearly 800-acre resort with 250 “accommodations,” which could be anything from hotel rooms to single-family houses. But the company also has offered to set aside thousands of acres in the area as part of several contingent conservation deals encompassing 430,000 acres.
Without going into specifics, Baldacci said he did not oppose any development on Lily Bay, located about 10 miles northeast of Greenville. But the governor said he wants to see the development done in a “smart, sustainable way.”
“I think we want and need development,” Baldacci said in his State House office. “I’m for that … At the same time, I want to be careful about the scope and the depth of development next to those protected areas.”
Baldacci also said he believes one of the state’s most important responsibilities is to carefully manage Maine’s natural resources for future generations.
“I trust them [the commissioners] to be able to make those decisions,” he said.
Plum Creek officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Luke Muzzy, project director for the company, has said on numerous occasions in recent months that the Lily Bay developments are key to the economic feasibility of the entire proposal.
Plum Creek could develop its land in a piecemeal fashion without going through the current LURC process. The 30-year concept plan Plum Creek has submitted would essentially cap growth on most Plum Creek land near Moosehead.
“Lily Bay has always been a critical piece of the development plan,” Muzzy said last month. “Without it, it’s not viable.”
Officially, Baldacci has little to no role to play in LURC’s review of the largest development proposal in state history. LURC is a part of the Maine Department of Conservation. But the seven commissioners are all volunteers appointed by the governor.
The governor’s statement will undoubtedly please Plum Creek’s critics.
Unable to change the number of total house lots in Plum Creek’s plan, opponents have homed in on the Lily Bay proposal as LURC moves toward a vote, likely this fall.
Public testimony at four public hearings held last winter was divided evenly between supporters and opponents. But many who spoke against the plan urged the commission to scrap or scale back development near Lily Bay.
Opponents claim that more than 85 percent of the more than 1,700 comments LURC received during the most recent public comment period in June and July opposed the development at Lily Bay.
“It sounds like his concerns about Lily Bay State Park are the same as the concerns that people expressed in the public comment period,” said Cathy Johnson, North Woods project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Our hope is that Plum Creek will pay attention to the public comments [and] that they need to make a few more changes.”
LURC director Catherine Carroll said she had not been contacted by Baldacci, but she added that the governor has told the commissioners that he has confidence in their decision-making abilities.
“The governor has expressed all along that he understands the mission of the commissioners,” Carroll said. “He always vowed to keep at arm’s length and he fully trusts that the volunteer board will make an independent decision on this.”