The Plum Creek Timber Co. bought more than 900,000 acres of Maine land in 1998. Since then, it has done two major things: logged much of the land, and filed an application for the largest real estate development ever proposed for Maine.
That proposal asks to rezone 421,000 acres of Maine’s North Woods to allow the proposed development. Included in the proposal are 975 shorefront and back lots surrounding seven ponds and lakes in the Moosehead Lake region; and two resorts, one a 2,600 acre development near Moose Mountain and a smaller, 500-acre proposal on Lily Bay which would include houses, cabins, hotel rooms and commercial development.
It’s a massive proposal that took years to prepare and will likely take at least a year for the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission, or LURC, to consider. Yet while Plum Creek virtually backed up a truck to unload its proposal, the proposal is short on a number of crucial details.
Last week, the Natural Resources Council of Maine — Plum Creek’s No. 1 opponent in its fight to develop its North Woods parcels — revealed a number of troubling instances in which Plum Creek was fined by the state or ignored regulations in its forestry operations. The company repeatedly violated the state’s Forest Practices Act, resulting in the largest fine ever levied for such violations.
It violated water protection laws. It destroyed crucial deer wintering areas despite the objections of biologists for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It ignored a requirement to secure a permit before building a new power line that was more than a mile long.
Here are some representative quotes from internal state documents obtained by the Natural Resources Council:
- “I have a CD-ROM full of pictures showing LURC violations. I have seen such things before, but not such a concentration of them.” — Donald Mansius, Maine Forest Service, on stream pollution in Somerset County
- “They are harvesting in a core area. This was a surprise to me. It was very clear with Plum Creek that MDIF&W needed a written plan for this area … I told them not (to cut) until there was a plan. They agreed.” –Donald Mansius
- “I would like to hear more about the circumstances under which they ‘forgot’ to get a permit.” — Robert McKee, LURC senior compliance investigator, referring to the unpermitted power line construction.
There are many instances of imprecise and broad language in Plum Creek’s application to LURC for its Moosehead development. The description of the proposed resorts contains generalized language about “sustainable tourism guidelines” that are not defined. The amount of residential development in the Moose Mountain resort isn’t capped. The subdivision guidelines aren’t legally binding.
In light of the Natural Resources Council’s revelations, LURC should request greater specificity from Plum Creek for the various aspects of its proposal that remain unclear.
And should LURC ultimately permit the development, it should do so only with ironclad and very detailed commitments from Plum Creek, as well as clear expectations and consequences should those commitments not be met.