The LePage administration plans to rebuild roads across part of Roxanne Quimby’s land in the Katahdin region to re-establish access to 2,500 acres of state-owned land for timber harvesting.

By vowing to “preserve public access to public land” in the Millinocket area, Gov. Paul LePage is escalating his already vocal opposition to Quimby’s proposal to create a national park or national monument in the region. The LePage administration said it plans to “re-establish its crossing rights and harvest timber” on publicly held land that is largely surrounded by acreage owned by Quimby’s company, Elliotsville Plantation. The public can currently access the land for recreational purposes on foot.

In the process, LePage once again blasted Quimby and her company for pressing forward with what the administration decries as “a federal takeover” – a proposal to donate more than 100,000 acres of her land to the federal government to create a national park or national monument. The proposal, which is being reviewed by the Obama administration, has deeply divided the local community, with some viewing it as a rare opportunity for economic development in the distressed region and others condemning the prospect of federal ownership.

Opponents of a park or monument designation fear that the federal government would prohibit traditional recreational uses of the property, such as snowmobiling and hunting, in the name of wilderness preservation – although those activities are allowed in some national parks elsewhere.

“Despite lack of local support and lack of support from members of Maine’s congressional delegation, this proposal has now changed direction,” LePage said in a statement. “Through the use of high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., the Quimby family has focused its efforts on lobbying the Obama administration, seeking to have the president use sweeping authority granted to him under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally designate this area a national monument.”

The LePage administration did not name the 2,500-acre parcel and administration officials did not respond to several telephone calls or emails seeking more details about the specific piece of property.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands manages two pieces of land in the Katahdin region that abut Elliotsville Plantation property: one parcel just north of Katahdin Lake on Baxter State Park’s eastern border, and a second parcel farther east that borders the Seboeis River. Neither of the parcels is entirely surrounded by Elliotsville Plantation land, although there are no roads to access the property north of Katahdin Lake from Baxter State Park.

A spokesman for Elliotsville Plantation, David Farmer, said “the state absolutely has the right to access those lands,” but that under the terms of the “crossing rights” the state will have to pay to rebuild the road and a bridge that was removed because it was in poor condition. But Farmer questioned the timber value of the land north of Katahdin Lake, which he said was harvested heavily by a previous landowner.

“What the governor is trying to do is he is willing to spend public resources because he doesn’t like a proposal that a private landowner had made for their property,” Farmer said. “Clearly this is politically motivated. It’s not in the interest of timber harvesting. It is in the interest blocking an idea that he doesn’t like.”

LePage made the announcement roughly one week after the director of the National Park Service sent a letter to three members of Maine’s congressional delegation discussing the possibility of a national park or national monument in the Katahdin region. Although national parks require congressional approval, presidents can create national monuments to preserve historic or ecologically significant land through executive order.

Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis did not state in his letter whether the Obama administration would accept Elliotsville Plantation’s offer of donated lands, and he thanked the delegation members for outlining “the contrasting views on the proposals.” But Jarvis, who was responding to an earlier letter to President Obama from the delegation members, also wrote extensively about the economic benefits that parks and monuments create for local communities.

“As a park professional with 40 years of experience, it was important for me to see if these lands had the potential to draw new visitors to the area, generate local economic benefits, and accommodate a range of recreational uses,” Jarvis wrote of his 2014 tour of Elliotsville Plantation lands. “I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the area and its recreational potential, and I was intrigued by the rich history of Native Americans, early conservationists and the timber industry.”

The letter did not sit well with the three members of Maine’s delegation – Republican Sen. Susan Collins, independent Sen. Angus King and Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin – because they said Jarvis did not address the “serious reservations and significant concerns” expressed in their Nov. 20 letter to Obama. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, supports the creation of a national park or monument in the North Woods.

LePage, meanwhile, has stepped up his vocal condemnation of Elliotsville Plantation’s proposed donation to the federal government, arguing it would harm the forest products industry and bring additional federal regulation.

During a town hall-style meeting in Farmingdale on Tuesday night, LePage said he is “death against” the creation of a national park or national monument in the North Woods when asked about the issue.

“We are going to raise holy heck,” LePage said. “I already am. I’ve written to the president. I’ve written to the Interior secretary. I’ve written to the delegation.”

Instead, he said, Quimby should donate her land to Baxter State Park, the wilderness park located adjacent to some of the Quimby land. LePage said it would be a “bad idea” to put the land into federal ownership because it would no longer be managed as a working forest with active timber harvesting.

LePage pointed to Acadia National Park, Maine’s only national park, calling it a beautiful place but “completely, completely poorly maintained.” More than 2.5 million people visited Acadia in 2014.

“It burnt down in the 40s and at some point in the future it will burn down again because there is so much dead wood and nobody is fixing it or taking care of it,” LePage said.

LePage suggested that “you can visually see” a difference in land management when flying over Baxter State Park near Mount Katahdin and Acadia National Park. Contrary to LePage’s suggestion, however, timber harvesting is not allowed in the area of Baxter State Park surrounding Mount Katahdin under the strict deeds of trust governing management of the park. Timber harvesting is only allowed in the northernmost 30,000 acres of the 209,000-acre park.

 

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