By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
We get it.
Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t like the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which President Barack Obama designated by executive order in August. But, it exists and is already drawing people to northern Maine and spurring local economic activity. It’s past time for the fight over this monument to end.
LePage, of course, is not ready to move on. He told a radio station on Thursday that he was traveling to Washington, D.C., in the next couple months to testify before a congressional committee about why the monument near Patten should be undone.
It is far from the first time he has called for its elimination. Last month, LePage sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to undo the monument designation “before economic damage occurs and traditional recreational pursuits are diminished.”
First, a president has never undone a monument designation, and it doesn’t appear that the president has this authority. Several attorneys general dating back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s have issued opinions finding that presidents lack the authority to abolish national monuments, according to a 2016 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
Congress has the power to abolish national monuments, but has done so on only a couple of occasions. That’s because as national monuments, which often later become national parks, prove their economic benefits, local opponents become supporters.
After President Jimmy Carter designated the Kenai Fjords National Monument in 1978, residents of nearby Seward, Alaska, burned him in effigy. “We weren’t too enthused to start with, but it didn’t take us long to realize that it was a great opportunity for our area. We became staunch backers of it,” Willard Dunham, president of Seward’s historical society told the BDN last summer.
Although the Katahdin Woods and Waters monument, which came with a $40 million endowment from the Quimby family that donated the land to the National Park Service, has only existed for seven months and little infrastructure has been built, thousands of people have already visited to hike, canoe, cross-country ski and snowmobile. Many spend days in the region, pumping money into the local economy, which has been hard hit by mill closures.
“Since the designation of the monument, homes are selling, investors are spending, businesses are enjoying new customers, wounds are healing and hope is growing,” according to the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce.
The biggest development planned so far is a $5 million outdoor education facility that millionaire philanthropist Gilbert Butler, founder of the Butler Conservation Fund, hopes to open next fall. It is expected to use outdoor trails near the national monument. Butler’s interest in the area predates the monument by about five years, but the monument’s presence adds to the area’s allure.
Last year’s Millinocket Marathon and Half drew 550 runners to the community — on a frigid day in December. Next year’s race has already drawn more than 1,700 registrants, making it one of the country’s fastest growing marathons.
State Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, was long an opponent of the monument. Now, he worries what would happen to the new investment in the region if it went away, as the governor wants. He’s concerned there is too much activity in motion to scuttle the project now.
“The only concern I have now is when it became a monument, people started investing money in the area,” Stanley said. “What do we do with all these people who are investing on projects right now?”
Is the governor listening? People are investing in the Katahdin area, something his administration failed to deliver. Local residents and businesses don’t want that investment to go away.
If LePage really wants to help the region, he’ll work with local leaders to attract more businesses and jobs to the region, not try to kill its one new economic bright spot.