Climate Change, Corporate “Development,” and the Maine North Woods

Climate Change, Corporate “Development,” and the Maine North Woods

Many people are not aware that a respectably sized chunk of wild forest
ecosystem struggles for survival in northern Maine. The Maine North Woods
comprise part of the southeastern edge of the Great North Woods, which
stretch in an arc across the North American continent (mostly in Canada)
from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Great Plains. The Maine North Woods
encompass most of the northern half of the state and provide a home for
rare species—including wolves and Canada lynx. It is the largest wild,
undeveloped area east of the Mississippi River.

Seattle-based Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Corporation—the nation’s
largest private landowner—has proposed a massive development for the heart
of the Moosehead Lake region. It is the largest subdivision ever proposed
in Maine. An initial proposal submitted in April 2005 to Maine’s Land Use
Regulation Commission (LURC) was withdrawn after significant public
outcry. A revised proposal was submitted in April 2006 and withdrawn again
after further significant public outcry. The latest proposal was submitted
in April 2007 and amended in August and October 2007. Plum Creek Timber
Co. is one of the nation’s (indeed, the continent’s) largest private
landowners. Many people in the forest defense movement are depressingly
familiar with Plum Creek’s dismal forest management practices (such as in
Wisconsin, Montana, and Washington states), as well as its propensity
toward “developing” forested wildlands into extravagant, exclusive
playgrounds for those humans rich, white, and callous (or clueless) enough
to afford them. Now Plum Creek has set its sights on northern Maine’s
Moosehead Lake Region for another such resort complex. Fortunately for
this priceless ecosystem, Mainers are far from stupid and have been
tracking these plans very carefully for quite some time now.

Plum Creek purchased this land in Maine back in 1998 for less than $200
per acre, because it is zoned for forestry, wildlife habitat protection,
and remote recreation—not development. The current proposal would rezone
408,000 acres of Maine’s North Woods and change the rules to allow
development.

The Facts-Plum Creek Proposes to:

Convert 20,000 acres now zoned for forestry into subdivisions and
commercial development.

Develop 2,315 house lots and other accommodations (details below). To put
this in perspective, Greenville now has 1,200 existing structures;
Rockwood has about 380. Plum Creek’s proposal would create the equivalent
of two new towns north of Greenville.

Subdivide nearly 1,000 house lots:

* 975 house lots (not changed since the first and second proposals)
scattered throughout the Moosehead Lake region, including 236 shore-front
lots.
* In these same proposed residential areas, an unlimited number of
developments, such as “club houses,” undefined water access facilities,
and asphalt batch plants, are allowed.

Establish two large resorts:

* At Moose Mountain: A 4,446-acre resort with 800 “accommodation units.”
* At Lily Bay: A 777-acre exclusive resort with 250 “accommodation units.”
* The resorts’ accommodation units are in addition to the 975 house lots
and could include more house lots, condominiums, cabins, gated
communities, hotel and motel rooms.
* Both resorts can include buildings that are up to six stories high.
* Both resorts can include widespread commercial development, such as gas
stations, stores, golf courses, beauty shops, restaurants, cellphone
towers, and “club houses” up to 5,000 square-feet.

Establish five new commercial development zones

* Five commercial development zones (outside of the resorts), on 432 acres
of land now zoned for forestry, would allow more gas stations,
restaurants, retail stores, professional offices, 5,000 square-foot “club
houses,” and more–essentially creating five new commercial districts
extending into undeveloped areas north of Greenville.

The Fine Print: What Plum Creek Is Not Telling Mainers

Still more development:

* Six commercial food and lodging facilities are allowed anywhere in the
so-called “conservation areas.”
* An unlimited number of subdivisions to house employees, and on-site
caretakers or managers housing serving residential subdivisions.
* Dozens of acres of critical Deer Wintering Areas mapped by the state are
targeted for development.
* Of the 975 lots, none are proposed on the 8,000 acres Plum Creek owns in
the town of Greenville.

Critical conservation issues skirted by Plum Creek:

Plum Creek is required by law to “balance” development with donated
conservation that is publicly beneficial. The vast majority of
conservation proposed by Plum Creek is part of a separate private $35
million deal that would be paid for (likely with public money).

* Trail easements for snowmobiles (only 20 feet wide) and hiking (only 15
feet wide) in the proposal can be moved at any time (or multiple times) at
Plum Creek’s request. The trail easements allow road building, unchecked
clear-cutting, and pesticide spraying on and over the trails.
* The proposed donated easement still allows development, gravel pits, and
septic tank waste spreading, and it does not guarantee sustainable forest
management.

Many people across the state of Maine (and around New England as well as
elsewhere in the Northeast) adamantly oppose this proposal. Maine’s Land
Use Regulatory Commission is holding both public and party hearings during
December,2007 and January, 2008-and many hundreds of people are voicing
opposition to this corporate capitalist Earth-trashing debacle. And the
resistance hasn’t been limited to legal forums. Since the first proposal
was announced in 2005, Plum Creek has sustained vandalisms to its offices
as well as to the homes of its officials. One office was broken into, and
logging and other equipment has been sabotaged. When LURC conducted
“scoping sessions” to solicit public input regarding the first proposal,
Maine residents turned out en masse to register their outrage, including
one individual who threw mud and dirty water to symbolize the impact on
watersheds. According to the local paper, Plum Creek’s regional general
manager had his tires slashed while he was inside at one of these
meetings.

Rising Tide North America is allying itself with local resisters against
Plum Creek, bringing into the debate the (largely overlooked) fact that
ecosystem destruction and so-called “development” imparts direct,
immediate and decidedly detrimental impacts to local, regional, and global
climate stability. Such arguments have yet to be tested in court or other
official public forums but are (and should be) a critical issue in
land-use debates the world over. Plum Creek’s response to climate change
references has been to relegate them to the status of
“irrelevance”—claiming that such inferences are an opportunistic maneuver
on the part of environmentalists to capitalize on the “global warming
fervor” that “seems to be” gripping the public.

On December 13th, 2007, two RTNA activists testified in front of the
state’s Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) in the capital city of
Augusta, skillfully presenting scientifically-backed arguments elucidating
the critical links between wilderness ecosystem integrity and climate
stability. These arguments were very well-received by LURC’s staff and
commissioners-as well as by many other interested individuals and parties
who attended and/or participated in the hearings. RTNA and NFN has
produced or participated in numerous radio, television, and press
interviews, call-in shows, and panel discussions-bringing more and more
people into the debate on the side of the wild, free, and independent.
Plum Creek’s public-relations hacks spent much time, money, and energy in
portraying environmentalists involved in stopping this fiasco as
“extremists” and “terrorists” throughout this process; these spins are
falling increasingly flat on more and more people around the
state-including among state law enforcement officials, lawyers, and many
otherwise conservative citizens who don’t necessarily agree with us but
don’t trust Plum Creek either. In November of 2007-2 NFN activists and 1
RTNA activist were aggressively accosted, threatened, and cited by
security goons and local law enforcement officials for shooting video
footage of Plum Creek’s office in Greenville, Maine (at the edge of the
Moosehead lake North Woods) in broad daylight during business hours. The
three activists were issued “criminal trespassing” citations-charges that
the video footage itself indicates as utterly ridiculous.

One of the greatest contributions that the people of Maine can make to the
global fight to mitigate and survive anthropogenic climate change is to
keep intact—and then work to restore—the Maine North Woods complex. Should
LURC go against their better judgement and cave in to corporate pressure,
direct action is a certainty-and a call will likely go out for support and
participation. After painstaking efforts at diligent participation in the
official public process asset forth by LURC, it is anticipated that-should
LURC falter in its obligations to the land, wildlife, and the people of
Maine-activists will garner widespread support from the public-at-large
for such direct action.

Issues such as climate change, water quality and testimonies from people
outside Maine regarding Plum Creek’s equally egregious land-use policies
in other states—along with the possible precedents set when rulings are
handed down—make this an issue that extends far beyond the borders of the
state of Maine. We all need to be paying close attention to this story as
it unfolds amid the backdrop of a beautiful and precious landscape, a host
of wild creatures, and a culture of proud, fiercely-independent people.

Storm Waters
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