Plum Creek Timber Co.’s revised plan for the Moosehead Lake region eliminates development on remote ponds, proposes a cross-country ski resort next to an existing downhill area and includes permanent conservation easements – all positive changes and all requested by the public.
The development plan still includes nearly 1,000 house lots and is still spread across a huge area. But the new plan better balances Plum Creek’s financial interest in developing its land with land conservation and local economic growth.
Last year, Plum Creek applied to the Land Use Regulation Commission to rezone about 10,000 acres around Moosehead Lake to allow for a major development plan. In a series of sessions to gather public sentiment about the plan, common themes were that the proposed development was too spread out and that the required conservation was too weak.
In the company’s initial plan, “permanent” land protection was a 30-year ban on development. The company rectified this by working with conservation groups – The Nature Conservancy, Forest Society of Maine and Appalachian Mountain Club – to come up with what they call a “conservation framework.”
It includes conservation easements on 330,000 acres on either side of Moosehead Lake. A smaller parcel, 27,000 acres, would be sold to the conservancy, as would 45,200 acres near Number Five Bog, far from Moosehead Lake.
Details of the easements are so far vague and some of the lands are far from the lake, so LURC must be careful to ensure that the proposed conservation truly offsets the proposed development. It is also worth asking if Plum Creek receives millions of dollars for the easements and land sales whether this counts as compensatory conservation.
Further, much of the company’s development is on shorefront land, but little of the conservation is. It seems fair that shorefront development be offset by shorefront conservation.
In response to the criticism that the development was too spread out, Plum Creek eliminated shorefront lots on remote ponds and two of the lake’s outlets and scrapped plans for a resort on Brassua Lake and for three campgrounds. The proposed resort at Lily Bay would also be much smaller and won’t be built for at least seven years. Instead, the company would focus on a resort near the existing Squaw Mountain ski area. Working with the Maine Winter Sports Center, Plum Creek developed plans for a resort based around Nordic ski touring.
The new plan calls for the same number of house lots – 975. This is not surprising according to the Open Space Institute, because the company can already build between 447 and 800 lots under current LURC rules. The re-zoning request, therefore, must yield more lots and, hence, more profit for the company. Under the revised plan, Plum Creek would make even more money from the sale of conservation easements and lands, so it is worth asking if the company could develop less.
LURC will not consider the company’s financial gains. Instead, it must decide whether the plan meets its criteria, which include a demonstrated need for the development and that it will have no adverse impacts on existing uses and resources. Conservation must also offset development.
Plum Creek has heard public critiques and revised its plan. Now, it is up to LURC to decide if the new plan is good enough.