HALLOWELL – The distance from Moosehead Lake made no difference Wednesday night, as more than 70 people turned out in this Kennebec County town 80 miles away to comment on Plum Creek Timber Co.’s plan for development in the Moosehead region.
The last of four such “scoping sessions” designed to gauge public opinion before Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission formally considers the proposal, Wednesday’s meeting was identical to earlier sessions: some rabid opponents, some fervent supporters and a whole lot of regular people who aren’t sure what to make of the largest development ever proposed for rural Maine.
Abby Holman of the Maine Forest Products Council thanked Plum Creek for its plan, calling it a “wonderful gift.”
“Maine is changing and will change for the worse if we don’t choose to support our working rural landscape,” she said. “The environmental position should be supporting PC’s long-range plan because it stops sprawl.”
A small amount of planned development in a large land area is the best future for the area, preserving “what makes Maine wonderful,” and offering local people the chance to make a living, she said.
Supporters of the plan constantly repeat that the area of the 426,000-acre project set aside for development is just a tiny percentage.
Ken Spaulding of RESTORE: The North Woods, the organization that supports a Maine Woods National Park in the area of the Plum Creek proposal, took a different view.
“Foxwoods [Resort Casino] is 4.7 million square feet – about 108 acres. We could put five of these in Baxter State Park … one on the summit, one at Chimney Pond … and it would still only be one-fifth of 1 percent of the area of Baxter State Park, but I submit that it would still have a huge impact,” he said.
“I’m fearful that if we don’t have smart development [no matter how small the acreage] that we still risk losing traditional values,” agreed David Ladd of Oakland. “These lots may be small, but you still have to have a road to get there.”
But others feared that regions that traditionally have depended on forest industries need projects such as this to survive.
“We need a diverse economy,” said Steve Mason of Greenville. “It isn’t going to keep the school open, or the hospital open, or the grocery store open all by itself. But it isn’t going to hurt them.”
“Maybe there are things that need to be tweaked, but to me, as a business owner, to know what’s going to be happening 30 years from now … to have that down on paper [is important],” said Caroline Ouellette of Jackman.
That long-term impact was critical to many who spoke Wednesday night.
The worst outcome would be “a nightmare of sprawl and fragmentation” as small developments in the region increase exponentially in the coming decades, said Kevin Madsen of Hallowell.
A well-vetted Plum Creek plan including permanent conservation and forest stewardship could be the best possible solution, he said.
“Development is coming and we have to decide how we’re going to deal with it,” Madsen said. “Simply saying no is not an option.”
Others see a very different future.
Steve Swift of Vassalboro called the sight of a north woods shoreline with no light fracturing the darkness a “religious experience.”
Without development, the Moosehead region has the potential to become a “mecca for ecotourism,” said Barbara Winterson of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“What is the monetary value of that? How many jobs are worth losing that?” Swift asked.
If Plum Creek is permitted to change the zoning rules for hundreds of thousands of acres, what’s to stop all those other developers from doing the same? asked several speakers, accusing the state of abdicating its planning responsibility.
“It’s not just Plum Creek. It’s the whole ball of wax,” said Betty Ryder, who has a summer home on Lower Wilson Pond in Greenville, right near the boundary of the land affected by the plan.
No more public scoping sessions have been scheduled. However, written comments on the project may be submitted. Send comments to the Department of Conservation, Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, 22 State House Station, Augusta 044333-0022.