Commentary

Mainers Now Look to Washington to Find out What’s Happening in Their Own Back Yard

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If you have been living under a rock, or you haven’t been following Maine politics for the past week or so, you may have missed a contentious news story involving a voicemail.

But even if you have been following politics, that voicemail-related event may have caused you to miss another important development – President Obama created a nearly 90,000-acre national monument in Maine.

With one swift stroke of a pen, Obama ended years of conjecture and took a big step towards fulfilling Roxanne Quimby’s personal dream of having her land become a national park. He unilaterally assumed control over an enormous chunk of Maine’s valuable natural landscape and created a massive federal presence within Maine’s North Woods that is sure to have broad consequences.

Just one day earlier, Quimby’s nonprofit foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., transferred the land to the U.S. Department of the Interior, causing wide speculation that Obama would soon designate the land as a national monument.

So what does this all mean for Maine?

Sadly, we don’t really know. There is no detailed plan for this new national monument or comprehensive strategy for creating a park suitable for visitors. This is just another example of the federal government taking action and then realizing they’ve created a complex and costly mess – it’s almost as if they had to ‘approve the park so they can find out what’s in it.’

Technically, the national monument is open 24/7. But right now, this land is nearly inaccessible, and looks much like the rest of Maine’s millions of acres of forest.

The region is lacking any service stations or visitor welcome areas, and has few markings or trails. The roads are also only suitable for logging trucks, and many could not handle passenger vehicles or tourist traffic.

The National Park Service has claimed that they are working to quickly establish service stations in the Katahdin region, and park advocates have said they expect the federal government to develop the necessary roads and infrastructure. But not surprisingly, there is no timetable or solid details on when that could happen.

And there is an even bigger question mark on who is going to pay for the development of all of this. The Quimby nonprofit has pledged a sizeable $40 million endowment to care for the upkeep and development of the national park – but that likely won’t cover all of the costs as maintenance and development isn’t cheap.

To put that into perspective, Acadia National Park has $57.6 million worth of deferred maintenance – meaning the national park can’t afford to undertake those projects because of a lack of funding.

The National Park Service itself has an $11.9 billion backlog in maintenance and upkeep. There is simply no way that the federal government has the capability (or resources) to pick up any of the tab or adequately develop our new national monument so it can handle even a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of visitors which will supposedly visit the region.

While Obama’s unilateral action isn’t likely to be reversed, the debate over this national monument still rages on. Opponents are rightly worried that the federal government could impose further restrictions on air pollution, forestry, hunting and other sporting activities in the region.

Others are also attempting to figure out where the entrances to the park will be located. For example, citizens and business owners in Millinocket are fearful that if the entrance or road to the national monument does not pass through their town, they will not see any of the visitors, and will experience no economic benefit at all.

Mainers will thus have to pay close attention to what is happening in Washington in order to find out what will be happening in their own back yard.

About Plead the Fifth

This author has requested to remain anonymous.

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