In less than one month, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission will begin hearings on the largest development proposal the state of Maine has ever seen.
Plum Creek’s massive development plan for the Moosehead Lake region has been the focus of attention for the past three years, and now finally will be considered during hearings set to begin December 1st.
The decision by LURC on the Plum Creek proposal will not only determine the future of the Moosehead Lake region, but also will set an important precedent for Maine’s unorganized territory – a landscape of remote ponds and lakes, free-flowing streams and rivers, and vast forests. At stake is a very important piece of Maine’s natural heritage that we all share.
The Moosehead Lake region is a treasure. It is a place of breathtaking beauty and ecological diversity. It is a magnet for anglers, hunters, wildlife watchers, and all who love the great outdoors. It’s also an area steeped in history and rich cultural traditions that have nourished residents and visitors for generations.
Over the past six months, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon have engaged experts in nature-based tourism, wildlife, land use planning, water quality and other key fields to help us understand the implications of Plum Creek’s proposed development.
The results of that analysis are in this binder; more than 1,000 pages of expert testimony. This notebook contains the fact-based analysis and scientific conclusions that we will use to urge LURC to deny Plum Creek’s plan as currently proposed.
This 12-member team of experts has developed a deep, independent understanding of the impacts that Plum Creek’s plan would have for the Moosehead Lake region. According to these experts, the magnitude of the potential impacts of Plum Creek’s development plan would be staggering.
The development would fundamentally damage what people most love about the Moosehead Lake region – its natural beauty, wildlife and undeveloped character. Plum Creek’s plan also would cause irreversible harm to the economy of communities in the area, as a wave of new development crashes over special places such as Lily Bay.
We would like to share some of this analysis with you today.
A team of scientists from Kleinschmidt Associates, a Pittsfield-based engineering firm, evaluated water quality impacts from the proposed development. They found that development of this magnitude would substantially harm pristine streams and ponds on both the east and west sides of Moosehead, violating Maine water quality standards.
Terrence DeWan, founder of one of the state’s leading land use and planning firms, took a close look at Plum Creek’s plan to build a resort and accompanying house lots on the Lily Bay peninsula.
At present, the Lily Bay area is largely undeveloped – with only a small number of modest cottages along the shoreline, but that would change completely if Plum Creek’s plan were approved.
This is what it could look like if Plum Creek is allowed to develop the area: A central resort, golf course, marina, view lots, boat traffic. The result would be the equivalent of creating an entirely new town, sprawling outward along the east side of Moosehead Lake.
Plum Creek’s proposed Lily Bay resort and house lots would cover more land than the town of Greenville. This level of development would completely overwhelm the area, causing traffic, lights, noise, and habitat fragmentation right near one of Maine’s premier state parks: Lily Bay State Park.
A resort of this scale would dramatically change the character of the eastern side of Moosehead Lake. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
A leading expert in sustainable tourism, Costas Christ, analyzed Plum Creek’s plan and concluded that it is not consistent with a sustainable tourism approach, would cause too much harm to key attractions in the area, and would reduce the likelihood that people who currently enjoy Lily Bay State Park would return in the future after the experience has been harmed by Plum Creek’s plan.
Development on Lily Bay, according to Costas Christ, would cause the “wilderness frontier” to move farther and farther away from Greenville, isolating Greenville economically, with sprawl likely to follow as services and amenities march up the eastern side of the lake to be closer to the subdivision residents and resort populations.
Because Plum Creek has decided to provide Maine people with no details about what the developments would look like, Costas Christ concludes that Plum Creek’s rezoning request is “akin to asking for a blank check.”
It is important to remember that Plum Creek is a temporary owner of this property, extracting windfall profits through rezoning and selling its land, then moving on. But the people of Maine will live with LURC’s decision forever. That is why any rezoning must be done right or not at all.
Over the past few weeks, Plum Creek had an opportunity to make serious improvements to its plan. Hearings were delayed, in fact, so that the company could do so. But Plum Creek failed to make the type of changes that Maine people have called for. The location of development is unchanged. The number of housing units – 2,300 – is unchanged. The size of the resorts is unchanged. And the company has refused to move proposed development closer to Greenville – which would reduce the risk of sprawl and increase the prospects for economic and population growth in Greenville.
The experts who will testify will not only describe the substantial, harmful impacts of Plum Creek’s proposal. They also will make the case that Plum Creek could have proposed a very different plan that would have dramatically reduced the development’s harmful effects.
Plum Creek could have put forward a plan that would have avoided damage to world-class brook trout streams in the Moosehead watershed. Plum Creek did not need to propose building a golf course and marina-oriented resort in the middle of high-value habitat for the threatened Canada lynx. And Plum Creek could have presented a plan that respected the region’s natural character, and helped build on the existing foundation of nature-based tourism.
Plum Creek’s plan does none of these things. The team of experts who delved into the current plan found that the harms are too great, and the costs for the future of the region are too high. The Natural Resources Council of Maine remains opposed to this massive plan as proposed, and we will urge the Land Use Regulation Commission to deny Plum Creek’s request.