It would be naive to think that a proposed advisory council for the Allagash Wilderness Waterway will end the decades of disagreement, which has gotten more heated in recent years, over the river. Instead, the advisory council will provide a forum to express, and in some instances, resolve disagreements while allowing waterway management to operate the Allagash without the distractions and delays caused by trying to accommodate differing views of how the 92-mile river should be run.
Earlier this month, the Allagash working group presented its recommendations to Gov. John Baldacci, who created the group last year to seek ways to calm the controversy surrounding the waterway’s management. A key recommendation of the group is to create an advisory council that would hear public concerns and recommend ways for addressing them to the Allagash’s superintendent. The governor plans to submit legislation to create such an advisory council.
Other recommendations, such as boosting the Allagash’s status by making it a special region with the Bureau of Parks and Lands, should wait until the advisory committee is in place. If the committee works well, other changes may not be necessary.
The working group’s report makes it clear that such a council won’t end controversy. It also warned that improved management of the Allagash depends on “the achievement of a common sense of purpose and direction by the several constituencies that have a strong interest in the Allagash.”>/p>
There have been advisory councils and stakeholder groups for the Allagash before. However, they all included waterway managers or Department of Conservation officials, which meant policy decisions became paralyzed by disagreement among the group’s other members. By separating the advisory council from the waterway’s management, its day-to-day operations won’t be hampered by deliberations on issues such as how many access points there should be or what bridges should be repaired. It also has the advantage of removing the Department of Conservation and governor as scapegoats for unpopular decisions on the Allagash.
Appointing advisory council members who do not represent groups on one side or the other of the Allagash debate is key to ensuring it is a help rather than a hindrance. A past advisory committee tried to balance wilderness advocates against the interests of timber companies and Allagash
area residents. Most meetings were spent arguing without progress. That group’s significant accomplishment — an agreement on access and management — ultimately collapsed and was superseded by legislation that is now being challenged in court.
That’s why the working group admitted it was being optimistic when it called for “a new beginning of careful listening, respectful communication and energetic collaboration” among interested parties. That, however, is what is needed to ensure the management of the Allagash is not bogged down
in endless debate over what it is supposed to be.