* Natural Resources Council of Maine * Maine Audubon *
AUGUSTA—At a State House news conference today, the executive directors of Maine’s two leading environmental organizations were joined by Moosehead Lake-area business owners and residents in detailing their serious concerns about Plum Creek’s revised development plan.
Seattle-based Plum Creek, a Real Estate Investment Trust and the largest private landowner in the nation, has petitioned Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) to rezone 421,000 acres around Moosehead Lake to make way for development that includes 975 house lots in 58 subdivisions scattered across the region, a 2,600-acre resort near Big Moose Mountain, a 500-acre resort on Lily Bay peninsula, and at least 750 additional residential accommodations within the resorts.
“We think Plum Creek needs to listen harder to what people in Maine have said,” said Kevin Carley, executive director of Maine Audubon. “We recognize that Plum Creek has made some positive changes to the plan, but have significant concerns that overall, the plan does not adequately balance widespread permanent development with enough permanent conservation in a region where people are deeply dependent on woods, waters, and wildlife for their livelihood, their recreation, and their way of life.”
Wildlife watching and recreation is already over a $1 billion industry in Maine that involves 53% of residents and far exceeds economic output of other recreation industries like downhill skiing, snowmobiling and white water rafting. Across the nation wildlife-watching is growing rapidly as a tourism driver.
“Plum Creek still wants to put too much development in the wrong places, which would threaten the fundamental character of the region, drive up property taxes, and fail to create the type of future economic growth that the area needs,” said Brownie Carson, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Plum Creek’s proposal reveals that the company did not listen well enough to the concerns of thousands of citizens who spoke out on this issue. The company still seeks to subdivide and develop at Lily Bay, Prong Pond, Upper Indian Pond, western Brassua Lake, and Big W Township. These are places that help define the remote character of the region and are among the most important destinations today, and in the future, for nature-based tourism.”
After Plum Creek submitted its initial plan in April 2005, LURC received more than 5,000 comments from Moosehead residents and others deeply concerned about the development’s impact in the heart of a region with a nature-tourism-based economy and culture.
The company submitted a revised plan one year later, and is promoting it through an extensive public relations campaign that includes television commercials, radio sponsorship, and public presentations statewide.
“Our conservation biologists are evaluating in detail the plan’s potential impact on the region’s wildlife,” said Dr. Sally Stockwell, conservation director for Maine Audubon. “In particular we’re analyzing how development on the Lily Bay peninsula would affect the threatened Canada lynx, whether shoreline development would harm waterfowl and wading bird habitat, common loon nesting and chick rearing habitat, and riparian habitat; and if the proposed conservation is adequate to support current and future opportunities for nature-based tourism.”
“Plum Creek didn’t even bother to hold one public meeting in Rockwood to get feedback on their plans, but the company proposed 319 house lots in 22 subdivisions within five miles of here” said John Willard, owner of The Birches in Rockwood, the largest nature-based tourism business in the area. “Plum Creek calls that listening?”
“Brassua lake is the most unspoiled body of water in the area,” said Willard. “The Moosehead Lake region needs to save places like northern Brassua for the nature-based tourism that has been, and will continue to be, the backbone of our economy. Plum Creek has proposed development would take these remote places and change them forever. There is room for limited development at the southern end of Brassua. This would preserve the special northern areas for generations to come.”
“I wish Plum Creek had listened to the many people who had hoped they would move some of their development plans into the town limits of Greenville,” said Ruth McLaughlin, owner of the Blair Hill Inn in Greenville. “Plum Creek owns 8,000 acres in Greenville, some of which would be quite desirable to build upon. This would provide some tax relief to the Town which will shoulder the cost of providing services to the new housing developments.”
“Plum Creek has proposed putting 51 houses on the shores of Prong Pond, a lovely, pristine pond that visitors and residents use daily for paddling, fishing, and moosewatching,” said Jim Glavine of Beaver Cove, a native of Beaver Cove whose family goes back four generations. “If Plum Creek puts 51 house lots on Prong Pond, our area would lose a prized ‘wild-feeling’ experience that does not require specialized equipment or abilities.”
“We were excited that Plum Creek said it would move the development near to existing towns, but instead they have proposed 35 house lots on the remote northern shores of Moosehead Lake, an hour from the closest town,” said Diane Guethlen of Big W Township on the northwest side of Moosehead Lake.
“Traditional guiding businesses depend on the existence of quiet, undeveloped places, and they are becoming rarer every year,” said Kevin Slater of Mahoosuc Guide Services. “If Plum Creek’s development plans are approved, traditional guiding services like ours will be one step closer to extinction.”
Over the past month, staff members at the Natural Resources Council of Maine have carefully evaluated Plum Creek’s more than 1,000-page revised proposal. Staff members have met with many residents of the Moosehead Lake region to discuss the plan, conducted site visits to almost every single location the company seeks to develop, and listened carefully to Plum Creek’s television ads and public presentations. We are continuing to evaluate the proposal’s potential impacts on the region.
Plum Creek, a Seattle-based Real Estate Investment Corporation with $5 billion in assets, purchased their Maine 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 approval of the largest rezoning in Maine history would allow Plum Creek to maximize profits through real estate sales. LURC, in a recent decision on another Moosehead Lake proposal at Burnt Jacket Peninsula, has stated: “Rezoning is not an entitlement.”