There was plenty of public outreach prior to the Katahdin designation, and polls of Mainers show strong support for it.
By James Talbott, owner of the Millinocket radio station WSYY and a resident of Millinocket
Portland Press Herald op-ed
MILLINOCKET — As a longtime business owner in the Katahdin region, I am shocked by the few people doing everything they can to tear down our communities and destroy the economic progress already made since the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
Katahdin Woods and Waters is under an Interior Department review ordered by President Trump to ensure what his executive order called “adequate public outreach” was part of the designation process. However, our monument is in a class by itself regarding public outreach. We’re on the review list only because Gov. LePage traveled to Washington and misrepresented public opinion in Maine, saying the majority of Mainers were opposed to the monument.
That clearly isn’t true, but even if it were, how could the governor make that claim if there hadn’t been adequate public outreach? In fact, multiple polls showed the vast majority of Mainers supported federal land protection initiatives in the Katahdin region. A survey done shortly after the national monument designation found that support for Katahdin Woods and Waters had reached 72 percent statewide and two-thirds of Mainers in the 2nd Congressional District, where the monument is located, support the designation.
The notion that there was insufficient outreach is a fallacy. Before the designation, there were years of meetings, presentations and local forums for people to state their views on the land’s future. I know because, as the owner of WSYY, the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes Region’s radio station, we announced many of these forums on air.
There were countless opportunities in the Katahdin region and throughout Maine for public input into the creation of the monument. Besides polls, presentations, forums and meetings, there have been hundreds of letters in the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram (not to mention the regional papers), as well as op-eds and editorials; letters of support from businesses, city councils and trade associations, and news coverage on television and radio.
This discussion has been going on for years. Just because a small, vocal minority doesn’t like what the vast majority of the input was, that doesn’t mean the input didn’t happen. And just because a politician has never visited an area or met with local business leaders to find out how the monument is benefiting the economy and communities, that doesn’t mean benefits aren’t accruing.
They are. After decades of decline and strife, the monument has given our communities hope and early signs of economic growth. Now those investments and jobs are in doubt. I want to grow my own business, but WSYY’s planned expansion will not proceed if the national monument designation is rescinded or changed – or, frankly, if the shadow cast by our governor isn’t lifted.
If the designation is rescinded, banks have no reason to lend and I’ll have little choice but to sell to a national religious broadcaster. Just as with Lincoln’s WLKN years ago, this would mean that Red Sox broadcasts would never return, and there would be no local music, DJs, sports or CBS News. Another local station gone.
Donald Trump certainly doesn’t seem to have any plans to help our region recover from the loss of our mills. Gov. Le-Page has not helped create any jobs here. The governor, to the best of my knowledge, has never visited the monument, as he considers anything other than Maine’s coastal region to be “the mosquito area.” Our businesses need the monument to stay and help the area stabilize and prosper. We cannot live in the past and dismiss every opportunity that is not what was here before. We must move forward.
Despite being less than a year old, Katahdin Woods and Waters is already creating jobs and business expansion. The international exposure for the monument is bringing us something that no state park has, or could.
With the governor offering nothing but complete disregard for rural Maine, our long struggles and the opportunities the monument creates, our congressional delegation must defend Katahdin Woods and Waters, our local businesses and our communities. They must protect Mainers from this direct assault on our future prosperity, not to mention insults to the beautiful interior portions of Maine.
Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree have come out strongly against this attack. Sen. Susan Collins has mildly opposed efforts to harm the monument. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has done nothing and says it’s up to the executive branch. That’s not how representation works. The people and businesses of the Katahdin region want Sen. Collins and Rep. Poliquin to protect our monument, our small businesses, our communities and the image of northern Maine.