Plum Creek's Plans for Maine's Moosehead Lake Region
The Facts and the Fine Print
Seattle-based Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Corporation—the nation’s largest private landowner—proposed a massive development for the heart of the Moosehead Lake region. It is the largest subdivision ever proposed in Maine. An initial proposal submitted in April 2005 to the Land Use Regulation Commission was withdrawn after significant public outcry. A revised proposal was submitted in April 2006 and withdrawn again after significant public outcry. Another proposal was submitted in April 2007 and amended in August and October 2007.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine opposed this proposal.
Plum Creek purchased their Maine land in 1998 for less than $200 per acre, because it is zoned for forestry, wildlife habitat protection, and remote recreation—not development. The proposal would rezone 408,000 acres of Maine’s North Woods and change the rules to allow development.
The Facts. Plum Creek Proposes to:
Convert 20,000 acres now zoned for forestry into subdivisions and commercial development.
Develop 2,315 house lots and other accommodations (details below). To put this in perspective, Greenville now has 1,200 existing structures; Rockwood has about 380. Plum Creek’s proposal would create the equivalent of two new towns north of Greenville.
Subdivide nearly 1,000 house lots:
- 975 house lots (not changed since the first and second proposals) scattered throughout the Moosehead Lake region, including 236 shorefront lots.
- In these same proposed residential areas, an unlimited number of developments, such as “club houses,” undefined water access facilities, and asphalt batch plants, are allowed.
Create two large resorts:
- At Moose Mountain: A 4,446-acre resort with 800 “accommodation units.”
- At Lily Bay: A 777-acre exclusive resort with 250 “accommodation units.”
- The resorts’ accommodation units are in addition to the 975 house lots and could include more house lots, condominiums, cabins, gated communities, hotel and motel rooms.
- Both resorts can include buildings that are up to six stories high.
- Both resorts can include widespread commercial development, such as gas stations, stores, golf courses, beauty shops, restaurants, cellphone towers, and “club houses” up to 5,000 square-feet.
Establish five new commercial development zones
- Five commercial development zones (outside of the resorts), on 432 acres of land now zoned for forestry, would allow more gas stations, restaurants, retail stores, professional offices, 5,000 square-foot “club houses,” and more – essentially creating five new commercial districts extending into undeveloped areas north of Greenville.
The Fine Print
- Six commercial food and lodging facilities are allowed anywhere in the so-called “conservation areas.”
- An unlimited number of subdivisions to house employees, and on-site caretakers or managers housing serving residential subdivisions.
- Dozens of acres of critical Deer Wintering Areas mapped by the state are targeted for development.
- Of the 975 lots, none are proposed on the 8,000 acres Plum Creek owns in the town of Greenville.
Plum Creek is required by law to “balance” development with donated conservationthat is publicly beneficial. The vast majority of conservation proposed by Plum Creek is part of a separate private $35 million deal that would be paid for (likely with public money).
- Trail easements for snowmobiles (only 20 feet wide) and hiking (only 15 feet wide) in the proposal can be moved at any time (or multiple times) at Plum Creek’s request. The trail easements allow road building, clear-cutting, and pesticide spraying on and over the trails.
- The proposed donated easement still allows development, gravel pits, and septic tank waste spreading, and it does not guarantee sustainable forest management.
How Does Seattle-based Plum Creek Add Up in Maine?
- Plum Creek CEO Rick Holley’s annual salary: $5 million
- Average salary of Maine resident (three-year average 2001-03): $37,619
- Price Plum Creek paid for land in Moosehead proposal: $200 per acre
- Price Plum Creek will likely receive on sale of house lots: $200,000 per acre (shorefront)
- Assumed single-family residential unit house in proposed development: $280,000 to construct.
- Maine median value of owner-occupied housing units in 2000: $98,700
- Plum Creek’s net worth (Hoovers, 2005): $4.8 billion
- Amount of corporate income tax Plum Creek pays to the state of Maine: $0
- Amount of corporate income tax Plum Creek pays to the federal government: $0
- Amount Plum Creek was fined for violations of laws protecting Maine forests (largest in Maine history): $57,000
About Seattle-based Plum Creek
- Nation’s largest private landowner: owns 8.2 million acres in 18 states
- Acres owned in Maine: 928,000
- Number of people who live within a day’s drive of Moosehead, many of whom can afford expensive vacation houses: 70 million
Plum Creek’s Development Proposal for Moosehead Lake: A Timeline
June 3, 1998 Sappi Fine Paper North America, a subsidiary of South African Pulp and Paper International, announced that they were selling nearly a million acres of Maine timberland, including lands surrounding Moosehead Lake.
Sappi said they would not sell their lands to a developer:
- “Sappi says it has no intention of selling to a developer. It says vacation condominiums do not coexist with the road building operations and heavy logging machinery that characterize the industrial forest.” Kennebec Journal, Associated Press story, 8/23/98
- “Sappi is exploring the sale only with companies with a commitment to the practice of sustainable forestry and the ability to comply with the Maine forest practice law.” Bangor Daily News, 6/3/98
October 6, 1998 Plum Creek Timber Company of Seattle, Washington purchased 905,000 acres of Maine timberland from Sappi for $180 million – less than $200 per acre. The land was zoned for timberland and backwoods recreation uses.
In the years following their purchase, Plum Creek said they had no plans to develop the lands:
- “Holley (Plum Creek president and CEO Richard Holley) said the company has no plans to sell off any of the Sappi lands for vacation homes, camps, or other types of development. He said Plum Creek would discuss selling land to the state for conservation.
“‘Maine has a lot of special places,’ he said. ‘They should probably be in public ownership.’
“At the same time, however, Holley would not rule out future sales to private developers. ‘You never say never,’ he said. ‘At this point in time, it’s not our plan that we would move in and develop the properties.’” Portland Press Herald October 7, 1998
- “‘We’re not in the development business,’ Brown [Bill Brown, Plum Creek’s vice president of business development] insisted. As for those website listings, he said, they’re simply the only option we have left for properties that ‘have no other use’ than to be developed into private, exclusive vacation retreats.” Maine Sunday Telegram, 10/11/98
- “Holley says the company is willing to discuss the sale of other land for conservation and has no immediate plans to peel off sections of lake or mountain holdings for development.” Maine Sunday Telegram 10/11/98
- “Lehner said assertions that the company will soon sell land for development in Maine are untrue…. ‘In Maine we have no land sale plans to date.’”Bangor Daily News2/26/99
- “We will be taking a look at conservation easements or conservation buy outs when we can.” [said Jim Lehner, general manager of Plum Creek Timber Co, LP]…”We are committed to working with the states to get state management of publicly valuable lands either by easement or fee sale.” MaineBizFeb. 1999
- “Lehner said the sale [of 7,500 acres around Spencer Lake] to Malone was ‘a special deal — a conservation sale. Our greatest fear is that people [upon learning of the sale] will be afraid that we are going to be chopping up our land,’ he said. ‘That’s not the case.’” Maine Times June 29, 2000
2002: Plum Creek sought rezoning and developed 89 lots on relatively remote First Roach Pond, 20 miles North of Greenville.
- “Yeager [Mike Yeager, Plum Creek’s director of land management for the northern division] said that Plum Creek has no plans for another First Roach-type development. He said that while the company’s Maine land base is large, ‘it doesn’t have many First Roach ponds’ that would be attractive for development.” Maine Environmental Policy Institute, June 12, 2002
April 2005: Plum Creek announced its proposal to build the largest development ever proposed in Maine including 975 house lots, two resorts and three RV parks.
- “Lehner said the company has … no immediate plans for development on its other Maine timberlands – more than 400,000 additional acres – although the company at some point will consider sales there, too, he said.” Maine Sunday Telegram, Oct. 30, 2005
April 2006: Plum Creek announced it had revised its proposal to build the largest development ever proposed in Maine. The proposal still included 975 house lots and two resorts scattered in 58 subdivisions around Moosehead Lake.
April 2007: Plum Creek announced it had once again revised its massive proposal, still the largest development ever considered in Maine. The proposal continued to feature 975 house lots and two resorts for a total of 2,315 house lots, condominiums, gated subdivisions, cabins, hotel rooms and other accommodations. It also included five commercial development zones outside of the resorts where gas stations, stores, offices, restaurants and more would be permitted.
September 23, 2009 Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission approves Plum Creek rezoning application for more than 2,000 new residential units, including three resorts and other development in 10 different development zones around Moosehead Lake.
October 22, 2009 NRCM and two other intervenors appealed LURC’s decision to the Maine Superior Court. In our appeal, we argued that LURC improperly failed to deny Plum Creek’s application following the close of the public hearing. At that time, LURC found that Plum Creek’s proposal failed to meet the requirements of the law. However, instead of denying the application as it should have, LURC created a brand new process wherein it asked its own staff and consultants to rewrite Plum Creek’s plan for them so that it would meet the requirements of the law. We believe this is illegal and sets a terrible precedent.
Shortly after we filed our Motion to Appeal, the Moosehead Messenger revealed that Plum Creek had paid for the lawyers and some of the witnesses of the many parties who intervened in the application proceeding in support of Plum Creek’s proposal. At the same time that these intervening parties were claiming to be independent parties, their bills were being paid by Plum Creek.
NRCM filed a request to include this new information in the record of the court proceeding. When the Judge held the hearing on this request, he gazed around the courtroom and noted that there was one lawyer each there for NRCM and the other two opposing intervenors. He also noted that, in addition to the lawyer for the State of Maine, there were eight or more lawyers representing Plum Creek and other so-called independent parties supporting Plum Creek. (He wondered, out loud, if he should care who was paying for all those lawyers.)
Next, we filed our formal briefs setting forth our arguments about why LURC’s decision was unlawful. Our brief, prepared by Russell Pierce, pro bono, from the firm of Norman, Hansen, and DeTroy, was filed in July. Read the full brief here
July 27, 2010 NRCM’s brief was filed in our appeal of the Plum Creek decision made by LURC. Read the full brief here.
Attachments to the brief:
October 18, 2010 NRCM filed our reply brief in response to the Maine Attorney General’s brief filed earlier this fall. The State, representing LURC, filed its brief a month later. We read the State’s brief in near disbelief. The State challenged our right to appeal, ignoring the fact that NRCM had participated in every step of the Plum Creek proceeding since late 2004. Despite that, plus the fact that LURC itself had determined that NRCM had a legitimate interest (“standing”) in this proceeding, the State argued that NRCM had no standing to challenge the decision through an appeal. We filed a very strong rebuttal of the State’s argument based on 30 years of settled law in Maine and nationally.
February 24, 2011 Oral arguments in our appeal of LURC's decision were heard in court. Read a blog post from Cathy Johnson, NRCM's North Woods Project Director and Senior Staff Attorney about the day's proceedings. January 10, 2012 The Law Court heard oral arguments on Plum Creek and the State’s appeal at the Courthouse in Portland.
April 7, 2011 Justice Thomas Humphrey agreed with NRCM and rejected LURC’s approval of Plum Creek’s permit to build three resorts including 2,000 resort units and vacation homes in the Moosehead Lake region. This decision sends the issue back to LURC to do it right. You can read the full Court decision, news stories, and a statement from NRCM Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann here.
January 10, 2012 The Law Court heard oral arguments on Plum Creek and the State’s appeal at the Courthouse in Portland.
Since 2012 The major conservation measures required by the plan have been put into place:
- 29,500 acres have been transferred to the Appalachian Mountain Club for permanent protection
- 363,000 acres are now protected from future development through a conservation easement held by the Forest Society of Maine and by the State
- A trail easement allowing the establishment of 121 acres of hiking trails in the Moosehead region and a $1 million fund for construction and management of those trails has been donated to the State.
March 2014 The plan approval that Plum Creek received was only a rezoning approval. Prior to any actual development, the company will have to obtain various types of development permits. As of early 2014, Plum Creek has not submitted any applications for any of the development activities. If and when this happens, NRCM will be tracking and taking actions as necessary to protect the region. As a result of the work of NRCM and other opponents to Plum Creek’s plan, the final plan approved by the Land Use Regulation Commission removed development from many of the most remote sites proposed for development by Plum Creek and required significantly more conservation measures in mitigation of the proposed development.
More Issues with Plum Creek
Over in Vermont, Plum Creek overcut on 129 acres of land subject to Vermont’s current use tax program. Similar to Maine’s Tree Growth Tax Program, this program lowers a landowner’s taxes in return for a promise to manage the forest sustainably. As a result, in July, Plum Creek’s 56,000 acres were expelled from Vermont’s program. That land is also subject to a conservation easement, and it appears that the cutting violations also violated the easement. As the legal case continued to move forward, Plum Creek’s cutting was hardly sitting still. And, not surprisingly based on the company’s track record, in May, the Maine Forest Service determined that Plum Creek had been cutting illegally on Prong Pond Mountain, on the east side of Moosehead Lake. The company was fined $38,675 in violation of Maine’s Forest Practices Act. This is the third fine Plum Creek has received for violations of Maine’s Forest Practices Act.
Back in Maine, Plum Creek announced its intention to cut an area within the conservation easement land on the west side of Moosehead Lake. This land had been identified in 2001 as a potentially important natural area. Only quick action by the staff at Maine’s Natural Areas Program ensured that the area was visited and determined to be appropriate for cutting.
Natural Areas at Risk
From there it was revealed that 17 other sites had previously been identified as potentially significant natural areas. In keeping with its record of careless disregard for Maine’s forests, Plum Creek had never bothered to include them on its maps and inventory of biologically important areas in the conservation easement lands. Therefore all of these lands were on the chopping block without further biological evaluation. After a public review and tough questioning by LURC Commissioners of Plum Creek and the Forest Society of Maine, the group charged with monitoring the easement, these areas are now included in the inventory.
Unfortunately, Plum Creek was not done ignoring important natural areas. In August, the Forest Society of Maine announced that Plum Creek had cut in an officially recognized natural area designed to protect lesser wintergreen (Pyrola minor), a rare plant found in Maine in just seven towns in only four counties. In November, the Forest Society of Maine formally found the cutting to be a violation of the Moosehead conservation easement. The Forest Society of Maine is currently “formulat[ing] recommendations with respect to appropriate remedies in response to this violation.”
Watering Down the Rules
As if all of that weren’t enough, Plum Creek attempted to get LURC to water down the requirement that it monitor for the federally protected Canada lynx before beginning development. LURC believes, and NRCM agrees, that we need a better understanding of where lynx are currently located, so that an accurate assessment of development impacts on the species can be made later.
In a stunning display of arrogance in the absence of any data whatsoever, Plum Creek asserted that there were no lynx in the area along the Lily Bay Road south of the proposed resort. Plum Creek requested that LURC lift the requirement for monitoring here. Fortunately, LURC denied Plum Creek’s request, saying that if there were no sign of lynx after Plum Creek has actually monitored for several years, they would be willing to reconsider the issue.
All was not bad news, however. Immediately after receiving its permit from LURC (and as required by the permit), Plum Creek sold almost 30,000 acres in the Roach Pond area east of Moosehead Lake to the Appalachian Mountain Club. While NRCM strongly disagreed that Plum Creek should be able to use the sale of that land to convince LURC to give them their huge development permit for Moosehead Lake, we strongly support the conservation of this land and are very pleased that this land is now permanently protected for backcountry recreation and sustainable timber management.
Plum Creek also sold 15,000 acres of land near Jackman, called Number 5 Bog, into conservation. This area has been of interest to conservationists, including NRCM, for years, and its permanent protection is a positive step for Maine’s North Woods.