“Maine people know that it isn’t about conservation. It is about control and buying a legacy.” Bob Meyers- Maine Snowmobile Association
Last night, a crowd of about 1,400 people made their way to Orono to weigh in on Roxanne Quimby’s proposed North Woods national monument at a meeting put on by Senator King featuring the National Park Service Director, Jonathan Jarvis. Much to my surprise, despite the SIX busloads of people brought up from southern Maine by environmental groups, the opposition was also well represented at the meeting.
Regardless of which side of the issue people were on, there was one common theme throughout the night, and that was the state of the economy in the Katahdin region. While many proponents of the proposal, including the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, touted it as the solution to the region’s economic hardship, opponents of the designation weren’t so sure.
Many groups, including the Maine Professional Guides Association, Maine Snowmobile Association, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Professional Logging Contractors of Maine and numerous foresters, loggers and lumber companies have some serious doubts.
According to James Robbins of Robbins Lumber Company out of Searsmont, Maine still has a $7.5 billion forest industry. A representative of Parker Lumber Company out of Bradford testified that this proposal would have a negative impact on his mill, business and all of the families that depend on it. According to him (and many others), there is nothing unique to the parcel. He went on to say that he “Has never seen a loophole as big as a national monument designation.”
Dana Doran, executive director of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, testified that the forest products industry has grown in the last 5-6 years, and that a national monument designation would hurt the industry.
Many opponents also spoke of the blatant conflict of interest, since Quimby is on the board of the National Park Foundation and has donated heavily to the National Park Service over the last few years. While her son, Lucas St. Clair, has said that “In no way is it to try to convince the National Park Service to be more favorable to our plan for the North Woods,” opponents have their doubts.
At the earlier meeting in East Millinocket, where 73 of the 75 locals attended to oppose federal control in their backyards, Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore testified that as a member of the National Park Foundation, Quimby has a “conflict of interest” over state and local leaders who have overwhelmingly opposed her proposal for eight years because she and her son have greater access to park leaders and President Obama than they do.
This sentiment was later echoed by Mary Adams, a conservative activist who said that she was sorry Jervais was there because it was an insult to the people of Maine. She said that it “Looks like a backroom deal to us” and went on to urge Senator King to “Send Mr. Jarvis back with some lobsters.”
Jarvis readily admitted that Quimby’s offer of a $20 million endowment and an additional $20 million in cash to be raised by her is completely unprecedented. According to her son, the total value of the property and cash donations would be worth $100 million.
During the answer portion at the end, Director Jarvis shrugged off such concerns, saying “So let me explain who the National Park Foundation is. They’re wealthy people. We like wealthy people because they give us their money and they know other wealthy people who also give us their money.”
Many others testified with concerns about the growing national debt and the enormous backlog of necessary projects NPS currently has. According to Jarvis, Congress recently passed a bill that will put $300 million annually towards the road/transportation system backlog. He also discussed a plan for the National Park Foundation to raise $300 million in private contributions through their centennial project. But when you consider that the total backlog is $11.9 billion and that it increased by $440 million just last year, this “solution” will hardly scratch the surface of the overall funding problem.
Also during the answer period, Jervis assured attendees that the NPS has no authority to use eminent domain without congressional approval, and they have no desire to expand beyond the proposed 87,5000 acres. However, history speaks louder than words.
In response to the local’s strong objections, Jarvis assured the crowd that NPS would work closely with the local community. But the local communities have voted and they don’t want the feds there to begin with. According to Bob Meyer of Maine Snowmobile Association, “Federal ownership and their distant management conflicts with Maine’s tradition of virtually unfettered access for public recreation on private land.”
Many attendees also had strong reservations about Volvos and minivans sharing the logging roads with 250,000-pound logging trucks. While attendees were assured in the beginning that this issue would be addressed, Jarvis solution at the end was public education, signs and road closures.
To address the issue of the loss in tax revenue to the counties, Jarvis explained that it wouldn’t be a problem since the NPS would cut a check to the county in lieu of property taxes. He seemingly failed to understand that NPS money IS taxpayer money and that the federal deficit amounts to $58,000 for every man, woman and child in this country.
As Avery Day (council to Governor LePage) pointed out, the locals have voted, and they oppose the designation. The Legislature has repeatedly opposed a designation, both in 2011 and this year, and there is opposition from Maine’s Congressional delegation as well. But while there is strong opposition to a federal takeover of the land, the State is fully willing to work with Quimby to preserve the land through the State Park system. But as Bob Meyer’s stated, this isn’t about conservation, it is about control.
Interestingly during the answer portion of the night, Senator King failed to answer the one question on everyone’s mind. An opponent stood up and asked King if the monument were to be designated, would he sponsor legislation to make the monument a park.
I too would like to hear that answer.
Despite all of the opposition, at the end of the day, no one can prevent President Obama from advancing Quimby’s plans by signing an executive order designating her land as a monument. Unfortunately for the residents of the Katahdin region, all they can do is hold their breath until January 20, 2017.