By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders decided on Monday to let residents vote in June whether to support a proposed North Woods national park, but not before they tell Maine’s federal delegates what they want from the plan.
The Board of Selectmen informally agreed during its meeting Monday to hold informational forums and draft a letter to Maine’s federal delegation detailing the town’s requirements to accept a park. Selectmen said they want residents to be well informed about the controversial proposal before they vote during the annual town meeting on June 11.
“There’s still a lot of misinformation out there,” board Chairman Mark Scally said Monday. “This is a different proposal than was offered in 2011 and I am concerned that many people don’t know that.”
East Millinocket’s government is the first to schedule a referendum and the third to take on the park question since Feb. 7. That’s when Millinocket officials said that U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, had asked them last fall how they could contribute to a federal park bill should one be drafted. Millinocket’s letter is pending.
Bangor’s City Council delayed taking a stance in support of the park on Monday. Councilors said they wanted to wait for towns closer to the park area to state their positions.
Councilor Sean Faircloth, an advocate for the proposed national park, said Bangor would benefit from the formation of a park, pointing out that the city would be a key transportation hub between the new park and Acadia National Park and would provide many jobs for the region.
Bangor councilors have not drafted a bill on the proposed park.
“I’m afraid we don’t have the full story, and I’d like to make sure that we do have the full story,” council Chairman Nelson Durgin said.
“From what I understand, it’s the feeling of the people proposing this that that kind of support, with all the cities in the [Katahdin] region, should help push the congressional delegation to support it as well,” said Councilor Gibran Graham, who voiced tentative approval of the proposal.
East Millinocket’s selectmen had similar concerns.
Lucas St. Clair proposes to donate family lands east of Baxter State Park to create a 75,000-acre national park and a same-sized multiuse recreation area as a gift to the nation. His proposal follows a similar plan his mother, millionaire industrialist Roxanne Quimby, offered in 2011.
That year, East Millinocket residents voted 513-132 against supporting a feasibility study of her proposal.
Park opponents have said they fear a park would bring federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2 million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s.
Proponents said a park would generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills and coexist with existing industries.
St. Clair’s spokesman, David Farmer, said he was encouraged at the uptick in park talk since King’s letter. He and St. Clair have maintained that support for the park is growing. The Penobscot Indian Nation recently endorsed it, as has a group of Katahdin residents who seek to meet with the state’s federal delegates.
“We believe that the jobs and opportunities the proposal will create will revitalize the area without” harming the forest products industry, Farmer said Monday.
East Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston reiterated most of the opposition’s arguments and quashed Scally’s notion of writing an endorsement of the park plan. Such a letter would be “unethical” given voters’ rejection of the plan four years ago, Marston said.
Scally said that he understood that the park’s management would be divided between the National Park Service and a board of local residents and stakeholders. This would alleviate at least some concerns about federal overreach, Scally said.
It is too early to say whether such a joint board would be created, Farmer said.
“We do believe there is a way to accomplish the local input but I don’t know that this would be the mechanism,” Farmer said. “We just haven’t worked out that level of detail yet.”
BDN writer Evan Belanger contributed to this report.