FAIRFIELD – A protester who took part this week in a demonstration at Plum Creek headquarters denied the demonstrators’ involvement in the vandalism to the company’s building and instead suggested that Plum Creek defaced its own property.
The group of 25 protesting development in the Moosehead Lake region were surprised on Tuesday when they arrived at the timberland company’s headquarters and saw anti-development slogans and statements painted on the building, according to Will Neils of Appleton, one of the protesters.
Local police, however, think the protest and the damage were carefully orchestrated and likely related.
“There is no doubt there is a connection between the protesters and the vandalism,” Fairfield Police Chief John Emery said Wednesday.
The protest was launched against Plum Creek’s plan, announced last December, to develop 427,000 acres in the Moosehead Lake region.
Local media – television, radio, and newspapers – had been notified two days ahead of time that the protest was going to happen.
Several hours before the 25 protesters arrived on Tuesday at Mountain Avenue, a rural dead-end road off Route 201, police were called to investigate vandalism to the headquarters building and signs, Emery said. Police arrived at 6 a.m., and the protesters arrived at 8 a.m., the police chief said.
He said the group chanted the same slogans that had been painted on the building, such as “Leave our state,” “Go away,” “Maine is not for sale,” and “2nd growth not 2nd homes.”
Fairfield police are continuing their investigation into the vandalism. “This was obviously well thought out and planned,” Emery said. “The investigation is continuing and we are getting tips.”
Speaking directly about the vandalism, Neils said, “[Plum Creek] might have done it themselves.”
“That’s ludicrous,” Paul Davis, a Plum Creek spokesman, responded Wednesday.
Davis said that the company had no indication, such as threats, that the vandalism was going to occur.
Plum Creek, based in Seattle, is the second largest private timberland owner in the country, and the protesters were objecting to the state’s largest development proposal ever, planned for the Moosehead Lake area.
The plan includes setting aside 6,000 acres for two high-end resorts near Lily Bay, allowing 1,000 acres at Greenville for economic development, creating protective easements around 55 undeveloped ponds, and supporting 6,000 acres of residential development around ponds already developed.
Davis, Plum Creek’s senior resource manager for the northeast region, said the plans for the company’s Gateway Lands limits development in the state’s pristine woods and lakes.
He said the company is guaranteeing that 95 percent of the 427,000 acres would remain working forest, accessible to the public and undeveloped for at least 30 years.
Although the protesters on Tuesday unfurled a banner from Earth First, an environmental watchdog group, no link could be found between the vandalism, the protesters and Earth First, except that a few protesters claimed to belong to the environmental group.
The group’s Web site did not post any information on either the Plum Creek development or the protest. Efforts made Wednesday to reach anyone from Earth First were not successful.
Earth First was one of many groups represented at Tuesday’s action, Neils said. “By and large, we were a group of concerned individuals,” he said.
Neils said the Plum Creek plan would cause Maine residents “to lose a valuable part of our culture and history. It’s our way of life.”
He maintained that “the real vandalism is what Plum Creek is proposing for our state. All their development will do is import out-of-state yuppies that will contribute to our state what they have always contributed: drunk teenagers and SUVs.”
Neils, who was born and raised in Appleton, said, “I feel a sensibility about Maine. Our communities are much more important than the profits of an affluent, out-of-state corporation.”