By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King say northern Maine accepts the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and so should Gov. Paul LePage.
In separate statements released Wednesday and Thursday, the senators said LePage was wrong to ask President Trump to reverse an executive order that created the monument and return the land to private ownership or state management.
“The monument has already begun to yield real economic benefits to the region and has done so with no negative impact on Maine’s forest products industry,” King, an independent, said Thursday. “Rather than reignite controversy in a region that is beginning to heal and move on, I hope we can allow the monument to continue to serve as one important part of a multifaceted economic revitalization strategy which is already underway.”
An opponent of the national park that Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby’s has proposed since at least 2011, the Republican Collins told a Maine Calling public radio program audience Wednesday that LePage’s letter was irrelevant.
“At this point I think that many of the towns that are being affected have started to work together to make the best of this situation,” Collins said. “So I don’t think the president has the legal authority to rescind it based on work that we had the Congressional Research Service do on that very issue. At this point, I think the majority of the people in the area — not everyone, by any means — but former opponents have said to me, ‘At this point, let’s see if we can put it together.’”
LePage and his spokespersons did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
In a two-page letter dated Feb. 14, LePage asks Trump to enact the reversal “before economic damage occurs and traditional recreational pursuits are diminished.” The Bangor Daily News obtained a copy of the letter Wednesday.
Calling President Barack Obama’s executive order creating the monument “a grave injustice to the people and our forest economy,” LePage attached a letter from April 22, 2016, detailing his objections to the order.
LePage sought state management of the land “to ensure it can benefit all Maine people and accommodate the region’s economic and regional needs” if private ownership was unfeasible.
LePage’s letter to Trump was more moderate than his bitter response immediately following Obama’s issuance of the executive order. LePage said of the monument designation, if “average Mainers don’t realize by now that the political system is rigged against them by wealthy, self-serving liberals from away, this is a serious wake-up call.”
Noteworthy since LePage’s letter was made public has been the lack of publicly expressed enthusiasm for it by the monument’s many opponents. Governing boards or residents of East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket and Patten declared their opposition to the monument through resolutions or public statements in the months leading up to Obama’s announcement.
And in a May 2016 meeting in East Millinocket that King and then-National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis held with leaders from East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket, Mount Chase, Patten, Sherman and Stacyville, opposition to the monument was stark and pronounced. Out of the approximately 75 people in attendance, only two spoke in favor of the monument.
The state Legislature also opposed the monument with a bill, LD 1600, that LePage signed into law in April 2016.
Collins said Wednesday that President Barack Obama should not have issued the Aug. 24 executive order creating the national monument, “particularly in light of the opposition of the state Legislature and several of the towns in the area.”
However, now that it has happened, she and King said this week that instead of fighting the monument, LePage should join their joint effort to revitalize a northern Maine economy decimated by paper and pulp mill closures.
“What I think is far more important is an effort that Angus King and I have led to have an economic development assessment team come to Maine and work with all the stakeholders, from landowners to loggers to mill owners to recreational business owners, to come up with a plan for our forest products industry to help in this transition where we’ve lost so many of our pulp and paper mills in the last five years,” Collins said.
King and Collins announced the federal assessment team’s collaboration with industry players last March. Calling the mill closures “a natural disaster,” they successfully lobbied for several federal agencies to visit Maine last summer, to provide aid in much the same way they would an area devastated by a tsunami.
That effort culminated with an announcement at the American Forest Management wood yard in Passadumkeag last month that Oak Ridge National Laboratory — the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest research center — will help University of Maine researchers tackle the future of bio-based materials, including nanocellular technology, biofuels and additive manufacturing, as part of a multi-pronged plan to guide and repair the $8.5 billion state forest products industry.
The laboratory has a staff of 4,559 and an annual budget of $1.5 billion.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, declined to comment Wednesday on LePage’s letter, saying only that he would continue to work to improve northern Maine’s economy.