By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders have drafted a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation detailing conditions they would require in order to support a North Woods national park in a move that could jump-start negotiations with park proponents.
The council would back a proposed park and recreation area if it were no larger than 150,000 acres, included an access road to Millinocket, Maine residents got free admission passes and if the region’s federal air-quality standards remained unchanged, according to the three-page letter Town Manager Peggy Daigle wrote.
Councilors “want to clearly state their requirements for enabling legislation should a national park be slated for consideration,” Daigle wrote in the draft, which was released Friday.
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King sought the list when he met town officials last fall, Daigle said. The park’s creation begins with Maine’s delegation introducing a bill to Congress authorizing one. The delegates have said they need to see strong local support for the proposal before that will happen.
Town Council Chairman Richard Angotti Jr. declined to comment Friday on the letter. Councilors are due to review and decide whether to mail it to the delegates when the council meets Thursday, he said.
David Farmer, a spokesman for park advocate Lucas St. Clair, said the eight-point list “shows some things that we are already committed to and have been working to accomplish.”
“We see it as a positive sign that Sen. King is talking about the idea and asking for input,” Farmer added Friday. “We are going to continue to have this conversation with members of the council interested in talking to us, as well as with the community.”
The conditions imposed by Millinocket or other interested parties would be enforced by legislation that the federal delegation would propose, St. Clair said Sunday. Beginning in 1916, Acadia National Park was the first of many parks donated to the federal government — in Acadia’s case, by John D. Rockefeller Jr. — by legislation written in accordance with donors’ stipulations.
“A law is a law,” St. Clair said. “We do it [create a national park] by passing it through Congress, and that’s what makes it happen. And it is the National Park Services’ role to ensure that those laws are upheld.”
In 2011, entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby proposed donating by 2016 more than 70,000 acres of her land to the National Park Service for a national park and recreation area. St. Clair, her son, proposed a 75,000-acre park and a 75,000-acre multi-use recreation area east of Baxter State Park. Endowments and fundraisers totaling $40 million would help maintain the park, which would create 400 to 1,000 jobs, St. Clair has said.
Several recreational groups and Maine’s political establishment, from its federal delegation, governor and state and county government to Millinocket’s council, have resisted the proposal. They have said a park would bring unwelcome federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries with strict air-quality laws, create only low-paying jobs and grow far beyond 150,000 acres.
The Penobscot Indian Nation, Medway and Patten leaders, plus Katahdin region businesses and many environmental groups, have supported it or a study examining its feasibility. They see the proposal as a catalyst to preserve the woods and revitalize a Katahdin region economy devastated by paper industry losses.
King told the New York Times he was “opposed and skeptical but listening.” Through a spokesman, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, said Friday he understands “the importance of outdoor traditions and appreciating” national parks and opposes proposals “that could limit the access to hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and have an impact on Maine jobs.”
St. Clair has said the park initiative is gaining ground. Several opponents, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have complimented his low-key work addressing their concerns.
Daigle’s letter stipulates that areas around the park should remain open to timber harvesting. Millinocket officials would want the recreation area connected to Millinocket’s multi-use trails north of town, and present park land agreements and easements must remain intact. Millinocket’s access road would run west along Route 157, she wrote.
St. Clair already agrees with limiting the proposal to 150,000 acres and keeping it open to forestry practices and recreation. He will review the other stipulations, Farmer said.
Councilors would want a national park board to help oversee park operations. It would consist of surrounding town and local sporting group representatives, Daigle said.
The board’s “primary goal is to provide the regional communities a strong position to positively impact use, availability and other modifications related to this park,” she wrote.
Councilors will meet at the town office 4:30 p.m. Thursday.