By A.J. Higgins
MPBN news story
Plans to preserve large sections of Maine’s North Woods for a future national park could be undermined by a bill advanced by Gov. Paul LePage.
The bill targets efforts by Roxanne Quimby and her son Lucas St. Clair, who have held discussions with federal officials that could lead to President Barack Obama designating nearly 90,000 acres of the family’s land as a national monument, a step opponents say potentially clears the way for a North Woods national park.
Avery Day, the governor’s chief legal counsel, says LePage is concerned that Obama could use his legal authority to grant national monument status to tens of thousands of acres of woods in northern Maine. Just last month, Day says, Obama used that authority to designate three more national monuments that limit commercial use of 1.8 million acres of land.
“In total, the current president has designated more than 265 million acres of land and water, which is more than any previous administration,” Day says.
Quimby and St. Clair have long been pursuing their dream of donating 90,000 acres of their land for a future North Woods national park. St. Clair has been pursuing the idea of having the land designated as a national monument as part of a potential first step toward national park status.
But Day says the governor’s bill to amend the designation process would stop that effort dead in its tracks.
“The amendment would place a condition on the state’s consent for federal acquisition and it would require that land being conveyed to the federal government in that transaction include a reverter clause which says if the president tries to designate this a national monument, the land would revert back to the original holder of the property,” Day says.
That would be just fine with Jim Robbins, a Searsmont businessman whose family operates Robbins Lumber Co. and depends on the region’s Eastern White Pine.
Robbins told the committee that more than 62,000 acres that would be absorbed into a North Woods national park belong to people other than Quimby and St. Clair. And he says that most of them don’t want to lose their land to the feds.
“To me it’s extremely arrogant for somebody to try to give away somebody else’s land for a national park or a national monument,” Robbins says. “I mean how would you like it if you had owned a piece of land that had been in your family for generations, and someone comes along and says they’re going to give it to the national park — it’s absolutely wrong.”
Millinocket businessman Matthew Polstein says obtaining national monument status for the acreage and possible national park designation is critical to advancing the economy of northern Maine.
Polstein says a big factor driving the local opposition to a national park and support for the governor’s bill stems from a lack of understanding about the traditional forest products industry that many would like to preserve. Polstein says it’s an industry in transition and that the former demand for pulp in Maine has declined dramatically.
“We’re in a state that has surplus land, abundant growth and abundant fiber to meet our current and future growing demand as we seek to replace the demand that’s been lost — let’s hope we can do that,” Polstein says.
Other opponents of the bill said the measure is on a collision course with the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which holds that federal laws takes precedence over state laws.