MAINE VOICES: Robert Kimber
The scoping sessions that Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission held this past August on Plum Creek’s development plan for the Moosehead Lake region yielded some surprises.
The session in Hallowell was an exception, yielding no surprises at all. About 75 percent of the folks who spoke at that gathering expressed serious concerns about the plan.
You might have expected the plan to draw broad support at the sessions held in Greenville, Rockwood and Jackman, but that was not the case. In fact, Rockwood had a higher percentage of speakers worried about the plan than Hallowell did: 78 percent.
Jackman split down the middle, 50-50; in Greenville, 24 speakers voiced fears of adverse impacts from the plan while only 14 lent it their support.
These figures were telling enough that Greenville’s board of selectmen decided to withdraw their previous endorsement of the plan and retreat for the time being to neutral ground.
So what’s going on here? Did those northern Maine citizens have no interest in promoting economic development in their region? Hardly. What they were pleading for was not only the benefits of a large, undeveloped forest region they themselves enjoy but also the preservation of the qualities of their region that hold the greatest promise for long-term, equitable economic development.
They understood that golf courses, marinas, destination resorts and second homes spread out into the woods, possibly even 116 rental camps the current plan would allow Plum Creek to build on lands the company is calling “no development” zones, are not what they want for themselves. They are not what visitors who come in search of a Maine woods experience want either.
They were worried about the water quality in their rivers, ponds and lakes, about fragmentation of wildlife habitat, about loss of beauty, loss of peace and quiet. Sounds a lot like what the folks in Hallowell were worried about.
And in Hallowell, too, there was no lack of recognition that Maine’s north woods communities need a new economic vision and that they should have it.
But speakers both north and south made the case that the natural beauty and resources unique to the Moosehead region are essential to its economic future. They recognized that Moosehead Lake has a mystique that attracts people from all over the country.
That mystique is both fragile and priceless, an intangible and unquantifiable quality that nonetheless depends on the continuing existence of very tangible resources: water clean enough to drink, large tracts of unbroken forest big enough to get lost in, miles of lake shores and river banks where no electric lights pop on at night.
What nearly two thirds of the folks who spoke in Greenville, Rockwood, and Jackman were saying is that the integrity of the Maine north woods – the largest reach of undeveloped land left east of the Mississippi River – has to be guarded jealously, and they are not about to see it squandered on their watch.
If Plum Creek wants to be a good corporate citizen, it should retire its current plan to the company archives and start all over again. Just making minor adjustments and compromises, just dropping a few house lots here and there, won’t do.
Working together with Maine citizens, the company needs to draft a plan that will concentrate development in Greenville and Rockwood and Jackman where it will indeed help the local economy by bringing clientele to existing local businesses, increasing the tax base, and keeping down the cost of providing municipal services.
And at the same time, such a plan will keep what’s left of the woods as a place where people staying at in-town accommodations can go, employing local guides and outfitters to take them there.
In short, what is truly in the long-term interest of Plum Creek, the Moosehead region and Maine’s north woods is permanent, rigorous conservation for irreplaceable natural resources and development focused in existing communities.
That’s a plan I’ll wager Mainers both north and south will gladly support.
About the Author
Robert Kimber of Temple is a writer who has hunted, fished, canoed and hiked in the woods of Maine for 50 years.