Today, Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission is holding what is supposed to be its final deliberation about Plum Creek’s massive development proposal for the Moosehead Lake region.
Although a final vote on Plum Creek’s revised plan is not expected until July 1st, the direction of this proceeding has become increasingly clear.
The Commission appears to be headed toward approving the largest development in Maine history—resort facilities and subdivisions that would be spread out around one of Maine’s most spectacular places – Moosehead Lake.
We are here today to urge the Commission in the strongest possible terms to pause, reconsider, and restructure Plum Creek’s plan so that it does not consume 16,000 acres, but instead concentrates development closer to the existing communities of Greenville and Rockwood.
The world has changed dramatically since September 2008 when the Commission last discussed Plum Creek’s development plan. It has changed even more since December 2004 when Plum Creek first announced that it was going to pursue development at Moosehead – on an unprecedented scale.
Since September, the global economy has fallen into its most perilous condition since the Great Depression. The housing market has collapsed and foreclosures are at an all time high. Credit markets are described as “frozen.” This changed economic context makes Plum Creek’s proposal seem like nothing but pure land speculation – which, by law, LURC is intended to prevent.
One of LURC ’s most important criteria for reviewing projects is whether a “demonstrated need” actually exists for development in the location chosen by the developer. This standard was enacted to help ensure that proposed development is not propelled by the speculative financial interests of the developer. Developers are required to show that a proposed development is “truly necessary and not overly speculative.”
Plum Creek has failed to demonstrate that the scale of this project is truly necessary and not overly speculative. This failure is particularly evident today. There are more than 120 unsold lots sitting on the market right now in the Moosehead Lake area. With prices falling and real estate agents struggling, how can LURC possibly conclude that the Moosehead region needs the equivalent of two or three new towns worth of development? This appears to be pure land speculation on the part of Plum Creek.
Another major change since last summer has to do with energy. Our country’s understanding of the energy picture has completely changed since this concept plan was announced four and a half years ago.
In December 2004, when Plum Creek first announced its development, the price of oil was $36/barrel. Last summer, oil prices spiked to nearly $150/barrel, and gasoline cost more than $4.00 a gallon. Even now, in the midst of a global recession, oil has almost doubled in price, compared with December 2004.
When the global economy recovers, oil prices are expected to soar again – raising two fundamental questions for Plum Creek’s plan. First: If gas prices rise above $4 gallon, will there really be a market for people from southern New England to buy seasonal homes more than 250 miles away?
And second: Why would Maine allow the construction of 2,000 units in the middle of Maine’s North Woods at a time when we are striving as a state to lower our dependence on oil, conserve energy, and reduce global warming pollution? Plum Creek’s model of large-scale subdivision development in remote rural areas is completely out of synch with the direction of energy policy for our state and our country.
Throughout this proceeding, Plum Creek has said time and again that the development on the table was its final offer – yet the company has been forced back to the drawing board several times, changing the proposal on multiple occasions.
We believe that the plan still contains serious flaws, particularly the resort at Lily Bay– where no resort should be allowed. Plum Creek has failed to show that this resort is necessary, leaving us to conclude that its only “need” relates to the speculative financial interests of Plum Creek shareholders. That “need” is not what LURC’s evaluation criteria are about.
Given the enormous changes in our economy and in our understanding of energy and climate issues since this development was proposed, we are urging the Commission in the strongest possible terms to pause, reconsider, and restructure Plum Creek’s proposal into a much smaller development plan, focused closer to Greenville and Rockwood.
Thousands of Maine people have followed this proceeding and weighed in with thoughtful comments calling for scaling back Plum Creek’s plan. They know, as we all know, that Maine has only one chance to get this right.
Plum Creek will eventually leave our state, but we will live with LURC’s decision on this permit application forever. For the benefit of our state and future generations, we are calling on the Commission to take decisive action to scale this proposal back, and to make sure that any development that is approved for Moosehead fits with its spectacular landscape, and meets the real needs of the people of the region.