By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
In late November, three members of Maine’s congressional delegation — Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin — sent a letter to the president laying out reasonable conditions for him to consider if he is to declare land in Maine a national monument. Just days later, Poliquin introduced legislation to essentially stop the creation of national monuments across the country.
This is an unfortunate turnaround that highlights the stumbling blocks faced by preservation efforts for more than a century, including a proposal for a national park and recreation area near Baxter State Park.
Elliotsville Plantation Inc. has long pushed for a national park and recreation area east of Baxter and hopes to donate its land for this purpose and create a $40 million endowment to pay for its management. But the foundation has recently devoted more attention to the prospect of a national monument, which the president can unilaterally designate under the Antiquities Act, because Maine’s congressional delegation (other than Rep. Chellie Pingree, who supports it) remains leery of the park idea.
In the Nov. 20 letter, Collins, King and Poliquin say they have “serious reservations” about a monument but outline nine conditions the president should consider before making a monument designation. Elliotsville Plantation Inc. has already incorporated many of them into the park plan after discussions with local residents, business owners and area leaders over the years.
The conditions, which are already part of the plan in some form, include that the land be accessible for “traditional recreation uses” including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle use and “forest management” to prevent forest fires and invasive species. Other conditions include creation of a local advisory board, a buy-local provision and an emphasis on the area’s history, including its logging roots.
Poliquin is emphasizing “constituent voices” in his Preserving States Rights Act, which would require that a state’s governor and Legislature approve a presidential national monument designation.
“This is a common-sense solution to ensure that local voices are heard and considered,” the 2nd Congressional District representative said in a press release.
Poliquin, apparently, favors voices of opposition over those of support.
While there is vocal local opposition to a national park in the Katahdin region, these residents should not have veto power over a project with statewide significance. Recent polling shows that 60 percent of residents statewide and 52 percent of northern Maine residents (those in Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset counties) support the park plan. It has been endorsed by the Houlton Chamber of Commerce, Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce, Bangor City Council, Medway Board of Selectman, East Millinocket Board of Selectman and many others. It is unclear why Poliquin feels these constituent voices aren’t worthy of the same — or more — consideration as those that condemn the park plan.
He — and Collins and King — also are wrong about the level of opposition. Poliquin’s office incorrectly says that 76 percent of Medway voters and 71 percent of East Millinocket voters voted against the park proposal. In fact, only 25 percent of registered voters in these towns cast ballots in opposition to the park plan in nonbinding referendums in June.
Poliquin’s tactics aren’t new or unique. Members of Congress have, for more than a century, fought the creation of national parks, some of which have become national icons. The Grand Canyon, for example, was first considered for national park status in 1882. Legislation was rejected by Congress three times. Local park opponents, fueled by mining interests, argued that the land should be used exclusively for mineral extraction. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the area a national game preserve in 1903 and a national monument in 1908. It finally became a national park in 1919 with a vote in Congress.
When he sought to create a national park on the coast of Maine, philanthropist George Dorr was advised to bypass Congress because lawmakers were unresponsive. He went to President Woodrow Wilson and what was to become Acadia National Park was designated Sieur du Monts National Monument in 1916.
Fast forward 100 years, and the arguments — and lack of congressional motivation — are much the same. In another 100 years, will future generations look back and see a treasured national park’s difficult creation or a missed opportunity?