By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation deserve praise for seeking a sensible way forward on the contentious issue of a establishing a national park in northern Maine.
In a letter to President Barack Obama dated Friday, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin outlined conditions the president should incorporate if he plans to designate land near Baxter State Park as a national monument, a potential precursor to a national park. The three did not say they supported such a designation and, in fact, raised numerous objections to it. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, supports the national park plan.
Still, the joint letter offers a reasonable starting point for negotiations on preservation of this land while allowing public access and promoting regional economic development.
The letter is especially helpful because the two Republicans and independent have varying levels of support for the national park proposal from Elliotsville Plantation Inc. It is a major step forward for them to come together with one voice and one vision for the land.
“While we respect the right of [Elliotsville Plantation Inc.] to donate its private property to the federal government, we cannot ignore the serious reservations of our constituents,” the three said in the letter. “We urge you to carefully weigh the views of those who live in the region, as well as the criteria we have outlined in this letter.”
Elliotsville Plantation Inc. has long pushed for a national park and recreation area and hopes to donate its land for this purpose and create a $40 million endowment to pay for its management. But the foundation has recently devoted more attention to the prospect of a national monument, which the president can unilaterally designate, because Maine’s congressional delegation hasn’t sufficiently warmed to the park idea. Conditions such as those the delegation members now seek for a national monument also could be written into legislation calling for the creation of a national park.
In the letter, Collins, King and Poliquin outline nine conditions the president should consider before making a monument designation. Elliotsville Plantation Inc. has already incorporated many of them into the park plan after discussions with local residents, business owners and area leaders over the years.
The first is that the land be accessible for “traditional recreation uses” including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle use. By dividing the land between a more restrictive national park and recreational area, where more uses would be allowed, Elliotsville Plantation Inc. has sought the find that balance. That consideration should continue.
The second condition calls for “forest management” to prevent forest fires and invasive species. Although Elliotsville Plantation Inc. aims to preserve the timber on its land, the foundation understands that some selective cutting may be necessary. If the land is donated to the federal government, it would make forestry decisions, so having an agreed-upon blueprint would be helpful.
Other conditions, such as creation of a local advisory board, a buy-local provision and an emphasis on the area’s history — including its logging roots — are already part of the plan.
“With this list, the delegation is saying that they are open to discussing, in detail, the conditions that could earn their support and make the proposal stronger,” said Elliotsville Plantation Inc. President Lucas St. Clair.
Collins, King and Poliquin also recognize and emphasize the need for economic development in the region, where two paper mills have shut down in recent years and another is likely to soon shutter. In the letter, they ask for federal support for research into developing new uses for wood and wood fibers and for policies to cultivate new markets for wood products. They also request more support from the federal Economic Development Assistance Program.
This should happen with or without a monument designation.
While Collins, King and Poliquin are offering a productive path forward, it is troubling that the three emphasize “the serious reservations of our constituents” in their letter but say little about support for the proposal. Voters in Medway and East Millinocket earlier this year voted against the park proposal in nonbinding referendums. However, recent polling shows that 60 percent of residents statewide and 52 percent of northern Maine residents (those in Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset counties) support the park plan.
By setting out workable conditions, Maine’s delegation has set a solid foundation for negotiations to advance this worthy proposal.