PORTLAND — Maine’s largest environmental organization released a development plan for the Moosehead Lake region Tuesday.
The plan, written by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, is being pushed as an alternative to a large development proposal by the Plum Creek Timber Co.
“Some people have said that the only game in town is the Plum Creek plan. We believe that there is another way,” said Brownie Carson, the council’s executive director.
More than a year ago, Seattle-based Plum Creek, one of the largest land owners in the nation, announced a major development proposal for Maine’s signature region that included 975 houses in 30 subdivisions, two resorts, a marina, three RV parks, four sporting camps, and 116 rental cabins scattered across 29 townships on 424,000 acres around the lake.
Environmentalists say it’s the largest development proposal in Maine history, in the largest undeveloped area east of the Mississippi.
“We believed then, and we believe even more strongly now, that it’s the wrong development in the wrong place,” Carson said at a news conference Monday in Portland City Hall.
In August, more than 1,000 people attended four hearings held statewide by Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission — the planning and zoning authority over many of Maine’s rural and wilderness areas. More than 5,000 people signed a petition opposing the project, the largest number of petition signatures ever received by the commission.
“Everyone else wants what we have,” said Ruth McLaughlin, owner of the Blair Hill Inn in Greenville. “We cannot afford to risk losing what makes the Moosehead Region such a special place.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine worked with Yarmouth-based planners Terrence DeWan & Associates to analyze portions of the Moosehead Lake region and construct a development plan they feel is more responsible than Plum Creek’s.
Carson said its plan was based on local input, Land Use Regulation Commission guidelines and the town of Greenville’s 1997 comprehensive plan. Greenville considered is the gateway to the Moosehead region.
The council said its plan would control sprawl by locating development near existing communities — not undeveloped space — in order to expand, rather than compete with, local growth. The council said its plan also differs from Plum Creek’s original draft by ensuring permanent conservation across most of the region, protecting wildlife habitats and cultural heritage. It also would preserve working forest to ensure timber jobs vital to the region, the plan’s backers said.
Jim Lehner, general manager for Plum Creek’s Northeast region, said the council’s plan is similar to a redraft proposal that Plum Creek intends to unveil in April.
“We really did go back on the drawing board with this,” he said.
Plum Creek’s original proposal met a lot of opposition, and company officials decided to take the views expressed during public hearings over the summer as a basis for restructuring its plan.
Similar to the council’s proposed development plan, Plum Creek now envisions permanent conservation easements, a less-sprawling footprint and resorts that are scaled back in size and location.
It also now proposes to concentrate homes and other development near Greenville, the largest town in the Moosehead Lake region.
Still, Plum Creek’s revised plan would contain a larger number of development lots than the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s proposal, Lehner said.
Lehner, who said Monday that he had read the council’s plan, believes the group’s effort is another way to help give Plum Creek direction.
“We’ve got to listen to everybody on this thing,” he said.
In 1998, Plum Creek purchased nearly 1 million acres in Maine from South Africa Pulp and Paper International, including 426,000 acres around Moosehead Lake and 8,000 acres in Greenville. The land was purchased as forest land for less than $200 per acre and is currently zoned for timber production.
From 1998 to 2000, the company denied having plans to develop the land. But in late 2004, Plum Creek announced it would be seeking approval for the largest rezoning proposal to ever come before the land-use regulators.
“They have no right to develop this land unless they put a persuasive case in front of the people of Maine,” Carson said.