By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
MILLINOCKET, Maine — A mix of Katahdin-region business owners and local leaders hope to pitch the 150,000-acre North Woods national park proposal to the state’s federal delegation.
Their two-page letter was sent Friday to Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine. Its signers seek to meet the trio and ask them to “take a fresh look at an innovative, unique-to-Maine proposal that we believe will help to revitalize and diversify the economy in northern Maine.
“It is not the old plans that were too big and unrealistic,” according to the letter, which is dated Thursday.
Its signatories include East Millinocket Selectman Mark Scally, Millinocket Town Councilor Anita Mueller, former Councilor Gail Fanjoy and several Millinocket-area business owners, including Marsha Donahue and Paul Reynaud.
Mueller said she signed the letter because “the majority of the community realizes that we cannot sustain the kind of population and job losses that we have experienced.”
The Millinocket Town Council voted 6-1 on Feb. 12 to table its own letter to the delegates detailing councilors’ requirements for a park. All but Mueller opposed a federal park, but councilors agreed to hold a forum next month to explore the issue. No dates have been set. East Millinocket leaders also hope to draft a park letter on Monday.
The letter-writing began when Millinocket officials said on Feb. 7 that King had sought input last fall on what they would require of a park should a federal bill creating one be drafted. The delegates have said a park bill would need strong local support.
Park opponents have said they fear a park would bring federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2 million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s.
Proponents said a park, which would be located east of Baxter State Park, would generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills and coexist with existing industries. The letter reiterates those points.
“In our communities, we are seeing a change in attitude and a new openness [to the plan], especially with the current thinking that seeks to balance conservation, recreation and working forests,” the letter states.
Scally, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen, was the only East Millinocket resident to sign. Also signing the letter were Richard and Colleen McLaughlin of Indian Purchase Township and former Millinocket Town Councilor Matthew Polstein who lives in Township 2, Range 8 outside Millinocket.
Scally said he will seek selectmen’s permission to send a park letter when his board meets at 4 p.m. on Monday.
“We want a place at the table,” Scally said.