Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission has asked Plum Creek Timber Co. for more information on the resorts, affordable housing and roads proposed in the company’s subdivision plans for Moosehead Lake.
LURC staff also billed Plum Creek more than $141,000 – on top of the $128,000 already paid by the Seattle company – to cover anticipated expenses as the state agency delves into the largest development proposal in Maine history.
LURC officials requested the additional information and processing fees in a June 29 letter to Plum Creek listing the outstanding deficiencies in the company’s application to rezone land around Moosehead. Deficiency letters are not unusual in larger applications. The letter was posted recently on LURC’s Web site.
Plum Creek must correct the deficiencies before LURC staff will officially begin the public review process. That review, which is likely to be LURC’s largest and most controversial, is expected to last well into next year.
“I think it’s a rigorous and vigorous schedule,” LURC director Catherine Carroll said Monday. “I’m counting on Plum Creek to get this application to me by the end of this month so that we can speed up our review.”
Plum Creek is petitioning LURC for approval of a 30-year development plan that could dramatically change the Moosehead region. The plan includes 480 shorefront lots and 495 backwoods lots, two resorts and an industrial park, and more than 400,000 acres of conservation land.
Most of the LURC requests are for more specific information than Plum Creek provided in its application of more than 1,000 pages. They include:
. A comprehensive description of the types of development (commercial and residential) that will be allowed inside resort areas. LURC staff specifically requested clarification on whether residential lots are planned for the resorts on Big Moose Mountain and near Lily Bay.
. Descriptions of the type, amount and location of affordable housing in the plan.
. An inventory of existing telephone and utility lines in the plan area as well as new phone lines, utility lines and roads that will be needed.
. Any variances Plum Creek has requested of LURC’s land use standards and easement models as well as the rationale for those changes.
The commission staff is also seeking the details of several land conservation agreements in which Plum Creek would sell land or conservation easements to several nonprofit groups.
Company officials last week asserted that the privately negotiated agreements, which encompass more than 300,000 acres, should be considered as part of the application. Plum Creek is also offering to “donate” conservation easements on approximately 72,000 acres to offset the development.
Several organizations, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, disagree and are urging LURC to remove the private conservation deals from the application. In a separate letter to Plum Creek representatives, LURC staff said the commission chairman will decide on the relevance of the deals.
In the meantime, LURC is asking for copies of the agreements.
Jim Lehner, general manager of Plum Creek’s Northeast region, said the company fully expected to receive a deficiency letter and that none of the requests appears onerous. Lehner said the company is working to meet the deadlines LURC set for each item.
LURC also is billing Plum Creek a $141,395 “processing fee” to cover part of the administrative costs associated with the application, including for public hearings that have yet to be scheduled, publication of notices, travel expenses and legal counsel. The commission also has hired two outside contractors to provide expert consulting on the application.
Plum Creek already has paid LURC more than $128,000 in processing fees for an earlier version of its development application. Carroll said $141,395 is an initial figure and that Plum Creek will be billed quarterly for any additional expenses.
The commission keeps detailed accounting sheets of all expenses incurred. Leftover money, if any, at the end of the review would be refunded.
Carroll said having a dedicated fund will help ensure that the Plum Creek application receives a thorough and comprehensive review.
“I think everybody would prefer to see it happen that way,” Carroll said.