Wildlife, Water Quality, and Character of Moosehead Lake at Risk
AUGUSTA, November 8, 2007—Today, Maine’s two leading environmental organizations described the potential harm to the Moosehead Lake region that could occur as a result of Plum Creek’s proposed development plans for the area. The adverse impacts were identified by a 12-member team of environmental, wildlife, tourism, traffic, and water quality experts who will be testifying in opposition to Plum Creek’s plan at the hearings now scheduled to begin December 1.
At press conferences in Falmouth and Bangor, the executive directors of Maine Audubon and the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) said that the testimony of these experts will demonstrate that Plum Creek’s massive rezoning and development proposal would fundamentally and permanently harm the region’s beautiful natural character and important wildlife habitat.
The two groups believe that Plum Creek’s plan for 2,300 housing units, two resorts, commercial centers, other proposed developments and increased traffic on 550 miles of roads would cause too much harm and that the company missed an opportunity to redesign the project so that it would greatly reduce impacts to the region. NRCM and Maine Audubon believe that Plum Creek’s rezoning application to Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission should be denied.
“The magnitude of the potential impacts of Plum Creek’s plan remain staggering,” said NRCM executive director Brownie Carson, “Experts in tourism, wildlife, water quality and land use planning have shown that Plum Creek’s plan would fundamentally damage what people most love about the Moosehead Lake region – its natural beauty and undeveloped character.”
“The harm to wildlife and wildlife habitat would be both extensive and permanent,” said Maine Audubon executive director Kevin Carley. “The sprawling development located directly within high-value habitats and increased traffic through prime wildlife travel corridors would destroy and degrade wildlife resources, threatening populations of rare and treasured species like Canada lynx, bald eagles, brook trout, wood turtles, and common loons.”
Today’s press conference included a visualization of what Plum Creek’s proposed resort at Lily Bay could look like. Prepared by Terrence J. DeWan & Associates, a leading land use planning firm based in Yarmouth, the image shows a sprawling complex that would cover more land than the town of Greenville.
According to Terrence DeWan, the proposed Lily Bay resort would completely overwhelm existing development, with ten times as many people utilizing the Lily Bay area. DeWan predicts that 1,000 people would occupy Plum Creek’s proposed 250 resort accommodations, 154 accompanying house lots, and 40 employee accommodations. Plum Creek also is requesting permission to include a central resort, marina, commercial development, and a golf course at Lily Bay. Presently, Lily Bay has about 40 cottages along the shoreline, mostly modest “camps” built over the past several generations. The state’s premier state park is just across the bay.
Sustainable tourism expert Costas Christ conducted a detailed analysis of Plum Creek’s plan, compared it with sustainable tourism models from around the world, and completed a detailed survey of 585 visitors of Lily Bay State Park. From this analysis, Christ concludes that the Plum Creek’s proposal “is not consistent with a sustainable tourism approach and the plan as it stands does not ensure that the Moosehead Lake Region’s key attractions for visitors and residents alike will avoid negative impacts.”
According to Costas Christ, the Plum Creek plan will result in an estimated 76,586 people traveling in 38,292 vehicles on outdoor activity trips to wilderness destinations in the Moosehead Lake region annually. This would cause “general deterioration of the quality of the primitive wilderness outdoor recreational experience in the Moosehead Lake Region, which will have a long-term negative impact on Moosehead’s ability to remain a competitive nature-based tourism destination at a time when the tourism market is shifting to a sustainable tourism model.”
Christ also describes the harm that could be caused by pushing developments into undeveloped areas, far from the town of Greenville. “In essence, this would create a new wilderness frontier farther and farther away from Greenville, isolating it economically, with likely sprawl to follow the growth trend as services and amenities seek to be closer to the subdivision residents and resort populations.”
Experts also have concluded that Plum Creek’s plan could have major impacts on water quality and fish populations. Jonathan Quebbeman, from Kleinschmidt Associates, determined that the scale and distribution of Plum Creek’s proposed resorts at Moose Mountain and Lily Bay “will likely cause detrimental impacts on water quality sufficient to cause violations of water quality standards through potentially low dissolved oxygen levels, increased thermal pollution above what may be considered natural, and excessive phosphorus loadings to ponds and streams.”
Brandon Kulik, a fishery biologist at Kleinschmidt, concludes that Plum Creek’s proposed development “will likely harm and potentially eliminate native brook trout populations in streams in the development areas.” Kulik notes that Maine is one of the only remaining areas with native brook trout populations, because brook trout require very high water quality and have been wiped out in other watersheds that have experienced the type of development proposed by Plum Creek.
Threatened and endangered species that inhabit the Moosehead Lake region will also face increased risks as a result of habitat loss and increased traffic. Maine Audubon wildlife ecologist Barbara Charry, with assistance from transportation engineer Thomas Errico of Wilbur Smith Associates, concludes that Plum Creek’s proposal “will significantly increase traffic intensity on 550 miles of roads.”
According to Charry, the increases in traffic from the development would eliminate wood turtles from some areas and will increase the number of deaths among American martens, wood frogs, and woodland birds, many of which are already in decline. The proposed development is also likely to dramatically increase moose-vehicle crashes and the number of human and moose injuries and deaths.
Wildlife biologist Margaret Struhsacker concludes that Canada lynx will be one of the most seriously imperiled species as a result of Plum Creek’s proposal. “The project area is in the heart of critical habitat for Canada lynx,” says Struhsacker, “and will directly and indirectly cause the death and displacement of the current lynx population as a result of direct habitat destruction and road mortality.”
The project also poses a significant threat to common loons. According to BioDiversity Research Institute executive director Dave Evers: “The loss of habitat and its degradation from increasing shoreline development and recreational activities will have a strong undue adverse impact on breeding loons in the Moosehead Lake project area.”
Several of the experts who will testify for Maine Audubon and NRCM believe that Plum Creek could pursue alternative development scenarios that would dramatically reduce negative impacts. Recommendations from these experts include:
- Move more of the proposed development closer to Greenville;
- Shift some of the development onto Plum Creek’s 8,000 acres of land within Greenville;
- Increase development at the Moose Bay location from a proposed 110 single family lots (in Plum Creek’s current plan) to 200 single family house lots and 50-75 condominiums;
- Ensure that Plum Creek adheres to sustainable tourism development standards;
- Eliminate the Lily Bay resort;
- Eliminate the development on the north shore of Long Pond;
- Scale back the Moose Mountain resort so that less development occurs in the Burnham Pond watershed; and
- Reduce overall development so that traffic increases pose less of a threat to wildlife.
These suggestions are consistent with A Vision for the Moosehead Lake Region, issued by NRCM in Spring 2006.
“Although Plum Creek made some recent changes to its plan, regrettably they do not address potential impacts for wildlife and the character of the region,” said Kevin Carley. “The company did not drop a single house lot nor has it proposed any development in Greenville. For these reasons, our opposition remains unchanged.”
“We have engaged the best experts in nature-based tourism, wildlife, land use planning, water quality and other key fields. They have developed a deep, independent understanding of the impacts that Plum Creek’s plan would have for the Moosehead Lake region, and the message coming back is clear: this plan would cause harm to what is most special about the area,” said Carson. “Plum Creek had an opportunity over the past month to make one last set of changes, but they didn’t meet the test.”