by Don Eno, Reporter
St. John Valley Times news story
ST. JOHN VALLEY, Maine – More than 51,000 acres of land around the Fish River Chain of Lakes in the St. John Valley could be rezoned if the Maine Land Use Planning Commission approves a plan submitted Wednesday, Dec. 24, by J.D. Irving subsidiaries – Allagash Timberlands LP, Aroostook Timberlands LLC and Maine Woodlands Realty Company.
The “Petition for Rezoning” is the formal first step in rezoning lands the company owns in six separate townships, including the community of Sinclair and property along parts of Cross, Square, Mud and Long lakes.
Irving is requesting those acres be rezoned to a Resource Protection Subdistrict for purposes of implementing a Concept Plan. The creation of a Concept Plan provides basic rezoning ahead of any future development.
Those lands are currently zoned under several different designations including General Management, General Development, Residential Development, Wetland Protection, Fish and Wildlife Protection and Shoreland Protection sub-districts, according to the LUPC.
In past years, Irving has leased land in these areas to individuals who have built seasonal or year-round homes on the lakes. As leaseholders, these people own the buildings on their properties and have rights to access their lots, but Irving owns the land on which the structures are built.
The Fish River Lakes Leaseholders’ Association represents more than 400 of those landowners. Cheryl St. Peter, the organization’s secretary, wrote via email that the group has not yet seen a copy of the plan submitted to the commission on Dec. 24. (A “Notice of Filing” was published in the St. John Valley Times on Dec. 24. As of Tuesday morning, Dec. 30, the plan had not yet been uploaded to the Maine government Web site indicated in the public notice. The notice also indicated that the plan would be available at the Fort Kent Town Office for inspection. As of Dec. 30, a copy of the plan was not available there as well.)
The Irving Co. had indicated during this process that getting out of the land-leasing business is its intention. That would mean leaseholders would have to purchase the land on which their homes stand.
In a statement released last year, as Irving began discussing its proposal, representatives with the leaseholders’ association said its past dealings with the company have been good but that it is withholding any further comment until plan details are available.
Some leaseholders, especially those on a fixed income, have expressed concerns about being able to make that purchase, Marie “Cricket” Minet said last year. Her family has had a camp on Cross Lake for almost 100 years, she said.
Irving is looking at things in the “long term,” according to Hollie Umphrey, a consultant working with Irving to develop the plan. That means that the company would not give leaseholders short notice about purchasing the land, she said last year.
The proposed plan is intended to clarify Irving’s long-term intent and indicate areas for development and how natural and recreational resources could be protected, according to the LUPC.
Concept plans are initiated by the landowner and must be approved by the Commission. Irving’s plan would regulate land uses within the plan area for 25 years.
In its pre-application materials, Irving had designated land for possible commercial and industrial development. The Concept Plan, if approved by LUPC, would allow for streamlined commercial permitting in those areas.
Irving also proposed to designate 843 acres of Community / Economic Development Areas, according to materials it supplied to LUPC. Four of these are located adjacent to Long and Mud lakes, with the other two located along Maine Route 161 near Cross Lake.
The Petition for Rezoning, also referred to as the proposed Fish River Lakes Concept Plan, will be available at www.maine.gov/dacf/lupc. Paper copies will also be available to view at the Fort Kent town office.
The Fish River Lakes plan proposal is separate from Irving’s proposed mining project at Bald Mountain in southern Aroostook County.
For additional information contact the LUPC at 287-2631. The LUPC will schedule one or more public hearings to gather public testimony the about the Irving proposal.