Yvon Labbe and Tony Brinkley: Obstruction on Plum Creek proposal was a blunder

Posted Aug. 06, 2008, at 12 a.m.

As Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission moves toward a decision on the Plum Creek proposal for the Greenville region, opposition to the plan seems to have become increasingly desperate and out of touch with the needs of rural Maine.

To some extent, this endgame seems to be influenced by the failure of an ill-considered political strategy that the Natural Resources Council of Maine and others have adopted throughout the three-year process. Gambling that Plum Creek’ s proposal could be blocked, opponents chose not to join other stakeholders in the meaningful negotiations that have led to a revised proposal.

The revised concept reflects perspectives of a broad coalition of community, social, economic and environmental interests and the compromises participants in the negotiations achieved. The resources council and other opponents are now dealing with the price of obstruction. They refer to Moosehead Lake as Maine’ s crown jewel, a metaphor that recalls somewhat bizarrely the way the British in the heyday of their empire referred to the Indian subcontinent: “the jewel in the crown.” Many of us in Northern Maine are not surprised by colonial attitudes, but those attitudes do not offer us an acceptable future.

Because Plum Creek and its local representatives chose to negotiate, because leaders in Greenville and elsewhere joined the negotiations, a rural Maine community has arrived at a realistic approach to sustainable development when all that well-meaning alternatives seem to offer is more of the same underdevelopment that has impoverished our region for a generation. The largely positive response of the LURC staff to the revised Plum Creek concept plan recognizes the value of what a corporation, a community and their partners can achieve. At the same time, opponents, having failed to make a convincing case at the LURC hearings, are now using emotions around Lily Bay to defeat a realistic plan for sustainable development that they were unwilling to negotiate.

What does sustainable development require?

It requires conservation and environmental protection. The Plum Creek plan offers a realistic approach to both, one that can be implemented as soon as the plan is adopted. At best what opponents offer are fanciful alternatives that seem designed to confuse any meaningful discussions.

Sustainable development requires substantial economic investment. The Plum Creek plan provides for this investment. Does anyone seriously believe that summer visitors and summer homes do not make a significant contribution to the Maine economy? Opponents have had a number of years to find alternative, viable investments in the Greenville region (perhaps more of the money that has been raised to buy and conserve land in rural Maine could have been used to conserve rural Maine communities), but no realistic alternatives have been developed.

Sustainable development requires social and cultural development. It has been clear for some time that vital institutions such as schools and a local hospital are at risk in the Greenville region. Plum Creek and others who support the concept plan have been working to create a viable future for the region’ s schools and hospital. They have been working to develop the kind of broadband and computer resources that can provide an infrastructure for an innovative economy that will sustain social and cultural development.

Time is quite short. While the resources council and others may argue that their alternative visions for the Moosehead Region are a viable alternative, they could only have been viable in the context of meaningful negotiations with the coalition that developed the concept plan. To reopen these negotiations now would add years of delay that rural Maine cannot afford.

The resources council and other opponents chose to obstruct rather than engage. That was a political choice, but, given a progressive politics, couldn’ t we have hoped for better? As a result LURC has not been asked to choose between sustainable development on the one hand and sustained underdevelopment on the other. Under the circumstances, a choice on the merits does not turn out to be difficult. LURC should approve the concept plan.

Yvon Labb?, a resident of Greenville, is director of the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine. Tony Brinkley of Bangor is the center’ s senior faculty associate.

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