AUGUSTA, Maine – Two environmental groups attempted to keep the heat on Plum Creek officials Tuesday by accusing them of ignoring concerns raised about the company’s historic development proposal for the Moosehead Lake region.
A Plum Creek spokesman countered that now is not the time, given the ongoing regulatory review process, to suggest major changes to the company’s housing and resort plan.
During a press conference Tuesday morning, representatives of Maine Audubon and the Natural Resources Council of Maine lashed out at Plum Creek for not scaling back the company’s proposal for 975 house lots and two resorts near Moosehead.
The proposal, which is the largest development plan ever put forward in Maine, is currently in the hands of the Land Use Regulation Commission. LURC hopes to make a decision by late summer or early fall.
The groups were particularly critical of the fact that Plum Creek, in closing arguments sent to LURC earlier this month, did not address what they say are the “dozens and dozens” of problems identified during public hearings, work sessions and letters. Specifically, Plum Creek’s plan still proposes too much development and often in inappropriate locations, the groups’ representatives said.
Brownie Carson, NRCM’s executive director, echoed past criticisms levied by his organization that Seattle-based Plum Creek is not listening to Maine residents. The public comment period on the application closed last week.
Carson predicted that Plum Creek, through its unresponsiveness, may be ensuring the company will walk away from LURC empty-handed.
“These issues and problems … came up over and over throughout the LURC hearings, but you would never know it reading Plum Creek’s most recent filing,” he said.
Luke Muzzy, senior land asset manager at Plum Creek and one of the architects of the development plan, said the company made clear during the technical hearings that it is open to minor changes to improve the proposal.
Right now, Plum Creek is awaiting the LURC staff’s first report — due next month — on potential issues in the current plan, Muzzy said. That report will guide subsequent discussions among the commission, staff and interested parties on future changes.
“At this point in the process, it really isn’t time to introduce major changes,” Muzzy said. “If I was a LURC commissioner, I wouldn’t want a moving target.”
The hundreds of speakers who addressed LURC during four public hearings in December and January were almost evenly divided over the controversial proposal. But opponents outnumber supporters by more than 20 to 1 among the more than 2,000 letters and e-mails submitted to LURC, according to a tally by NRCM and Maine Audubon.
Supporters generally predict that Plum Creek’s housing and resort plan, when combined with more than 400,000 acres of conservation tied to the plan, will create jobs and promote tourism while permanently protecting the region’s natural beauty.
But opponents argue that the luxury homes and vaguely defined resorts would harm wildlife and bring heavy traffic and pollution. Rather than help the economy, critics predict, the sprawl will spoil the very wilderness character that draws tourists.
Jody Jones, a wildlife ecologist with Maine Audubon, said Tuesday that the resulting traffic will fragment wildlife corridors — including habitat of the protected Canada lynx — near Lily Bay and Long Pond.
“The only way to reduce those impacts is to reduce the size of the project,” Jones said.
But Plum Creek’s Muzzy pointed out that the company has already made substantial changes to the plan in response to public feedback. Those changes include relocating hundreds of lots away from the shoreline and proposing a conservation package totaling more than 400,000 acres.
“The time has passed for major rethinking” of the plan, Muzzy said. “The time has come to accept or reject the plan … that has gone through three years of public scrutiny.”