FORT KENT – Local residents widely praised the work of an Allagash Wilderness Waterway task force Monday and proposed several options for improving management of the public resource.
Several dozen people attended the second of two public hearings held in Aroostook County in recent days by the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Working Group.
The seven-member panel is examining alternative ways to run the waterway that would balance the interests of visitors seeking a “wilderness” experience, local residents wanting access to the river, and the timber companies that are key to the northern Maine economy.
Members of the group Friends of the Allagash suggested that the panel recommend creation of a 12-member management board that would work with the Department of Conservation to operate the waterway.
The board’s 12 members would be nominated by the Legislature’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and appointed by the governor. Five members would come from north of Bangor and five from south of the city, with the remaining two seats filled by forest industry representatives. All members must have previous experience on the Allagash or complete a multiday trip soon after joining.
Unlike past advisory boards on the Allagash, the management board would have the power to implement changes and even override decisions made by the commissioner of the Department of Conservation. But the Legislature would have ultimate say over issues, said Melford Pelletier, who was speaking on behalf of the Friends group.
“The Legislature is not left out of this. They are number one. Anything that happens in Maine should go through the Legislature,” said Pelletier, who estimated membership in the Friends group at 225 to 250.
Tenley Bennett of Eagle Lake urged task force members not to forget that the Allagash is a “working waterfront” and has been so for about 200 years. Others urged the group to find ways to help educate visitors about the unique culture and history of the region.
Many of the speakers praised the panel, which on Monday wrapped up a three-day visit to Aroostook County that included more than 24 hours on the river.
That gave Monday’s meeting a much different tone from other public hearings this year on waterway-related issues. During those meetings, Allagash-area residents often criticized the state’s management of the waterway and clashed with environmentalists and conservationists over day use of the river, which is designated as a federal “wild and scenic” waterway.
Henry Carbone, a former teacher, commended the board for its professionalism. But he echoed comments made by several panelists throughout the visit that one of the biggest challenges facing the waterway is lack of funding.
“You need to spend money to keep things in repair because if you let them slide it becomes impossible to get them back,” Carbone said.
The panel is expected to present a list of recommendations to Gov. John Baldacci later this year.