By Anita Mueller, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Opponents of the proposed national park and recreation area east of Baxter State Park are fear mongering and using several ridiculous and unsubstantiated scare tactics.
For example, I am not buying the “black cloud” theory. It goes something like “everything would be wonderful in the Katahdin region if we did not have to worry about the feds taking over the North Woods — it is keeping real investment away.”
To these people, I say, “you don’t have to worry because the national park and recreation area combined can’t be larger than 150,000 acres, which is less than 1 percent of Maine’s wood basket. The maximum size will be set by the acquisition boundary defined in the legislation setting up the park and recreation area.”
The fact that not all the land within the acquisition boundary is owned by Elliotsville Plantation Inc. should be a relief to the anti-federal government folks, but instead they have chosen to accuse EPI of lying to them. However, I have been handing out the same maps to tourists who visit my gallery for the last two years, and the amount of land owned by EPI clearly is noted and has not changed, nor has the proposed acquisition boundary.
And as far as “real investment” goes, I don’t think you will find anyone else investing more than $100 million of his or her own money in the Katahdin region’s economy any time soon. We all know the Cate Street Capital-Great Northern Paper saga. The state and federal governments supported Cate Street, but at the end of the day there was little to no private investment in the mill. Now Maine taxpayers are on the hook to pay out tax credits over the next seven years.
I also am not buying the false choice between manufacturing and tourism jobs — as though the Katahdin region cannot have both. There are plenty of examples throughout the country where industry and national parks co-exist nicely. Just look at Glacier National Park in Montana, Congaree National Park in South Carolina or Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. They all have vibrant forest products businesses around them.
This begs the question, why can’t the Katahdin region enjoy this kind of economic diversity and prosperity?
Patrick Strauch, paid staff from the Maine Forest Products Council, recently told a group of Katahdin residents not to give up hope on future investment in his sector, even though he could not cite any examples of looming forest products industry developments in the Katahdin region. As if looking into his crystal ball, he stated, “I know in this region you have had tough times, but I see a future where it can come back in a big way.”
In a big way for whom?
I understand the Maine Forest Products Council and its members prefer the current model of using state and federal monies to subsidize their businesses through the sale of development rights as Jim Robbins, a saw mill owner from Searsmont and major landowner, did several years back.
However, the proposed national park land purchases, combined with the endowment of $40 million, are an actual $100 million private investment in the region. This also begs the question, how could any reasonable person sit on his or her hands and wait for some other unidentified, hypothetical “real investment” while the economy of the Katahdin Region collapses further?
Contrary to the fear mongering and scare tactics, this is not a forest products industry versus tourism industry, liberal versus conservative or even Democrat versus Republican proposal. It simply is a different and new model for public and private partnership in job creation.
This brings me to Sen. Susan Collins, our senior senator. It is past time for her to provide the leadership necessary to create a more diversified economy in these rural areas. By supporting a national park, she could take credit for creating jobs, stemming population decline and growing our rural economy.
She can be hopeful the forest products industry will have resurgence in the region, but betting on it as the only option is creating a false choice. As other states have shown, we could have a national park and a forest products industry.
I call on Sen. Angus King to show some independence and leadership.
As for Rep. Bruce Poliquin — who, I thought, understood business — the national park is all about business in northern Maine.
And Rep. Chellie Pingree, who supports the park, should speak up even though she doesn’t represent the Katahdin region in Congress. This is an issue that affects the entire state.
Anita Mueller is co-owner of Moose Prints Gallery in Millinocket and serves on the Millinocket town council.