The negative reaction by Gov. LePage and members of Congress is the wrong response.
By The Editorial Board
Portland Press Herald editorial
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis should be applauded for the open-minded and constructive letter he sent to three members of Maine’s congressional delegation. Instead Maine officials are acting as if he threatened to invade.
Gov. LePage has predictably overreacted, and is preparing to seize private property belonging to Elliotsville Plantation Inc. to build roads that Maine doesn’t need in an attempt to spoil the organization’s plans to donate the land to the federal government for a park.
And even Maine’s normally sensible Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King responded negatively to the letter, issuing a joint statement last week saying that they were “dissatisfied” because Jarvis did not specifically address all of their concerns.
This is the wrong response for Maine all around. A federally run park made up of donated land could be a gift for the state to treasure, not a theft that needs to be prevented. Maine officials should be actively engaging the Park Service, not shutting down dialogue.
This latest exchange started in November, when the senators, along with 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, wrote a letter to President Obama presenting their concerns about a potential national monument in the Katahdin region.
Even though national monuments – unlike national parks – are created by a president and don’t need congressional approval, Collins, King and Poliquin still outlined nine conditions that would have to be met for a monument designation to be acceptable in their eyes. The conditions included maintaining the right to hunt and use motorized recreational vehicles on the land, and a commitment not to interfere with the forest products industry.
Jarvis responded for the president, and while he did not run down the list of the conditions, he didn’t reject them either. Instead he conveyed an openness to explore them all.
“The (Department of the Interior) looks forward to the opportunity to better understand these and other issues as you continue to solicit public input and lead this open dialogue about how to best protect important resources within your communities, while recognizing the economic needs in the region,” he wrote. “We also appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what you believe would be critically important considerations ranging from public access to private property rights … if the Federal government received a land donation for a park or similar use.”
In their statement, Collins and King said that wasn’t enough. “We continue to believe that the voices of those who call the Katahdin region home are most important in this discussion and that those voices must be heard.”
That’s a strange response, since Jarvis’ letter was an offer to keep talking, not stop listening. And while the voices of the people in the region are important, they are not the only voices that need to be heard.
In a recent poll, 60 percent of Mainers supported a national park. And in addition to the people who live in the Katahdin region, officials should also pay attention to the voices of people who have had to leave the area to look for work as well as the people who would want to move to the region if they could find a job.
Maine’s members of Congress were right in their November letter to lay out a path by which a significant natural resource could be preserved and a local economy boosted without disrupting traditional uses of the forest. Maine should accept Jarvis’ invitation for dialogue and keep working toward that goal.