Chairman Harvey and Commissioners,
Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments on the Hammond Ridge rezoning proposal (ZP 710). My name is Cathy Johnson and I am the North Woods Project Director and Senior Staff Attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. NRCM has worked on a broad range of issues affecting the Unorganized Territories since 1959. NRCM currently has about 10,000 members and supporters, and I am speaking on behalf of their interests in the future of Maine’s natural resources.
In legislative parlance, NRCM is speaking “neither for nor against” this application. We have not identified any significant adverse environmental impacts from the proposed resort, and thus we find no reason at this time to oppose the project. At the same time, we are pleased to see that the applicant has made some very significant efforts to design the resort to high standards of environmental performance and sustainability.
We are encouraged by many of the development features of the “Ktaadn Resorts,” as described in the application, but we note that what is before you today is simply the rezoning decision. There is no binding obligation at this juncture for the applicant to fulfill all of his proposed ideas for how the resort would fit harmoniously into the environment. As such, NRCM will continue to monitor the project assuming it moves into the subdivision phase.
We believe that the economy of communities throughout LURC jurisdiction depend upon sustainable management of forest resources, conservation of places with special recreation and natural resource values, and a growing emphasis on nature-based tourism. Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue put it well in his letter of support for this project. Speaking on behalf of the Town of Millinocket, he said:
“With assets like Baxter State Park and the North Maine Woods at our doorstep, tourism and recreational activities are a natural piece of our economy that is ripe for expansion.”
Several recent studies have noted the importance of carefully designed development in Maine, aimed at protecting and enhancing our distinctive “brand” and our “quality of place.” The 2006 Brookings Institution report, Charting Maine’s Future, notes that Maine’s communities and our natural environment are our strongest assets for future economic growth. The 2004 Fermata Study, Strategic Plan for Implementing Maine’s Nature Tourism Inititiative, provides a master plan for building economic prosperity around nature-based tourism. Of special significance in relation to today’s hearing, the Fermata study concluded that: “There is great opportunity to make Millinocket a tourist destination.” (Fermata, p. 9)
NRCM believes that the location of the Hammond Ridge proposal is generally appropriate. It is adjacent to multiple general development and residential development subdistricts. However, it is further from the Millinocket service center than is ideal. In order to minimize adverse impacts of sprawl and maximize benefit to the town, we believe commercial resort development should be located as close as is feasible to a service center. The closer the development is to Millinocket the more likely it is that the resort will directly contribute to economic activity within the town, and will not weaken existing businesses. Each additional mile from the service center further dilutes the potential economic benefit and increases the adverse impacts caused by sprawl.
We appreciate the level of detail that the applicant has provided in terms of what a future resort on Millinocket Lake would look like. By providing this level of detail at the rezoning stage, the public has been provided with a good understanding of what the developer has in mind. There is no guarantee that the development plan will include all of the environmental features described in the rezoning petition, but we hope that it does.
Among the positive aspects of this proposal, the applicant appears to have placed a substantial focus on stewardship, energy efficiency and sustainability. Some of the specific commitments include: meeting or exceeding LEED silver certification for the Lodge, acquiring Energy Star for Hospitality certification, development of a recreational trails system to encourage healthy lifestyles, a goal of recycling and composting 75%-90% of waste, a ban on utilizing jet skis from the resort, and a fund that would be used for wildlife habitat and trail development.
The applicant says that he will not be pursuing the typical development pattern of chopping up the high-value shoreline with subdivisions and house lots. Instead, the plan calls for protecting the shoreline of Millinocket Lake by siting significant development at 500 feet or more from the lake front, and by using clustered development approaches.
Other significant design features are described in Exhibit H (Environmental Goals and Objectives) of the application. The applicant has stated that he intends to “break new ground in balancing the creation of an amenity-rich facility with environmental stewardship and sustainability.” If the design features in the application are fulfilled, he will be well on his way to meeting this goal – and Hammond Ridge could set a good example for other developers.
We have a few suggestions for the developer to consider as the design of this project moves forward. We encourage the applicant to seek Energy Star certification for all of the residential and commercial buildings in the proposal, not just the Lodge. We also encourage the applicant to consider a larger commitment to trail development.
The developer has volunteered to establish a one time, one-quarter-of-one percent contribution of real estate sales value into a trail-building and maintenance fund. We encourage the developer to consider a larger commitment toward this purpose, perhaps including a percentage of ongoing annual revenue – so that an ongoing fund would be in place to provide for ongoing maintenance of trails and to respond to future pressure on recreational and wildlife resources. We also would encourage the applicant to focus these funds on trails for people-powered recreation and remote recreation experiences, consistent with the theme of the resort.
We observe that LURC Staff have identified several issues that merit close attention. A credible feasibility study for the resort should be submitted to the Commission during the rezoning phase to better address the issue of “demonstrated need.” In conjunction with this, additional information should be provided with estimates of the total number of people that are expected to be on-site, and the volume of on-site recreation.
Because this proposal abuts significant conservation lands including rare areas set aside for remote backcountry experiences, we believe that the applicant should provide projections of the total volume of off-site recreation that will be generated by this project. Such projections should include a breakdown of expected increases in motorized and non-motorized recreation in the region. This data will provide a better understanding of the off-site impacts, so that management approaches can be implemented to help ensure protection of remote recreation experiences in the region.
A traffic analysis should be provided that looks not just at the impacts to the proposed resort area and the Town of Millinocket, but also at impacts to the Golden Road. As we all know, the Golden Road serves as main arterial for recreation in the region—essentially bisecting two blocks of conservation land immediately West of the proposed site area. Significant increases of traffic on the Golden Road and major ancillary roads like the Telos Road are a concern. These are not only the gateways to Baxter and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, but also major timber hauling roads. A traffic analysis is necessary to understand how the proposal may affect these areas.
In sum: We commend the efforts by the applicant to locate and design this proposal in a fashion that would provide as harmonious a fit into the landscape as possible. We are encouraged by the design features described in the master plan for the site, with a heavy emphasis on energy efficiency, sustainability, and habitat protection. We believe that this resort could be a very significant development for the Millinocket area. We will be monitoring the project as it moves to the development plan phase, and we encourage the developer to stay focused on achieving a development that sets a very high standard for stewardship and sustainable design.
Thank you for your time. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Charting Maine’s Future: An Action Plan for Promoting Sustainable Prosperity and Quality Places, Brookings Intitution
Strategic Plan for Implementing the Maine Nature Tourism Initiative – September 2005; Fermata