By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — The first hearing on Wednesday on a bill that would effectively bar national monuments from Maine featured 2½ hours of far-ranging debate over the future of the state’s northern woodlands and many of its industries.
The testimony heard by the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government fell along expected lines. Monument opponents said LD 1600 would protect Maine from an unwanted incursion of federal authority that would damage existing forest products industries while following a legal precedent set by Connecticut and Virginia. Monument advocates said the law would set a dangerous precedent and keep Maine from enjoying a powerful economic tool that would preserve precious woodlands.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said a monument could not coexist with the logging industry in the Katahdin region, which while devastated by the loss of two paper mills, still has a woodchip mill and a lively logging industry.
“How do you move 250,000-pound [logging] trucks alongside tourists? It is quite impossible,” Trahan said Wednesday.
Despite the papermaking industry losses, the logging industry increased its state yield from 13.5 million green tons in 2011 to 14.6 million green tons in 2014, one speaker said. It employs about 2,500 workers.
Adam Turner, a resident of Hallowell, said the anti-park and monument movements are based in a “culture of fear around the federal government” that is misguided.
“It is sadly ironic that many who would rally around the flag in war would drop it to the ground when land conservation is discussed,” Turner said.
The debate over President Barack Obama signing an executive order making a national monument of about 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park mirrored that over the same land being turned into a national park. The argument switched from one to the other when leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair, the son of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, disclosed about four months ago that he had discussed with federal officials the idea of designating his family’s land as a monument.
Offered by Gov. Paul LePage and sponsored by State Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, the bill would require landowners transferring property to the federal government to insert a “reverter” clause in the deed that would put the property back in the original owner’s hands if it was designated a national monument.
Jym St. Pierre, director of RESTORE: The North Woods, said the law appears to violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, which holds that the federal constitution and laws generally take precedence over state laws and constitutions.
“We oppose this bill because it is bad policy, poorly written law and apparently unconstitutional,” St. Pierre said. “It is unhelpful to put laws on the books that cannot stand up to constitutional standards. Our governor says he wants us to follow the Constitution; this law does the opposite.”
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association and a leading anti-park advocate, said reverter clauses are common legal tools. A National Park Service official called for the use of one when testifying to Congress in 2014 on the transfer of National Park Service property being used by the town of Tremont.
Meyers called the park proposal a failure and St. Clair’s pursuit of a monument a “move to the plan of last resort.”
Only Congress can create national parks, and northern Maine’s federal delegates have expressed reservations about a monument. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, has submitted a federal bill that also seeks to limit presidential authority, and he seeks a meeting with White House officials.
The Quimby family, meanwhile, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the park campaign, Meyers said.
“What this means is that park proponents, having failed to gain public support through the public process, will simply bypass it” by seeking presidential intervention, Meyers said.