AUGUSTA – Federal and state conservation agencies are weighing in against a huge development proposed by Plum Creek Timber Co. for the Moosehead Lake region.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department and other agencies have submitted formal written comments in which they conclude that the plan’s drawbacks outweigh the benefits.
The agencies say habitat will be lost for loons, bald eagles and Canada lynx; fishing quality will be lowered; and recreational access to the woods will be reduced. Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled for November.
“The anticipated increase in development and its associated demands will forever change the characteristics of the region,” read the joint comments submitted by Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Natural Areas Program. “We are not aware of mitigation or conservation measures that can fully offset the permanent changes that will result from the full build-out of a proposal of this magnitude.”
Those comments are outlined in written testimony submitted to the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission in late August. They are among the large number of comments that have been submitted both for and against the development.
The plan has come under intense scrutiny since 2005 when Plum Creek first proposed rezoning more than 400,000 acres around Moosehead Lake, the gateway to the North Woods.
If approved, the plan would create the largest subdivision ever in Maine, with close to 1,000 house lots as well as two resorts. About 20,000 acres would be developed, with the company donating a conservation easement of 90,000 acres and selling conservation easements on lands totaling 341,000 acres.
The written comments include support for Plum Creek’s plans.
Supporters say the plan carries significant benefits for the state and a region that is in desperate need of jobs and people. They further say Plum Creek’s long-range plan would be less destructive to the region’s natural resources than if it were rejected and the land was gradually divided and developed over time.
But the comments from government agencies are drawing attention because it marks the first time they have put detailed concerns about Plum Creek’s plans on the record.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands all recommended changes in the plan.
The agencies have not recommended that Plum Creek’s rezoning application be denied, and they credit the company for presenting a long-term regional plan instead of piecemeal development. But they say some development zones should be scaled back or eliminated, and that conservation and public access agreements be strengthened.
Luke Muzzy, project manager for Plum Creek, said the company is reviewing the comments and considering its response.
The comments are part of the ongoing process and will lead to some changes, but they won’t set the project back, he said.
“Up until the time we got the comments, we never really had it all laying right there in front of us,” he said.