BANGOR, Maine — Critics and supporters of Plum Creek’s housing and resort plan for the Moosehead Lake region made closing arguments Tuesday to state regulators winding down their review of the largest development proposal in Maine history.
For most parties, Tuesday’s hearing was the last chance to address the Land Use Regulation Commission before the agency presents Plum Creek with a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. The commission is expected to wrap up deliberations today.
Representatives of business organizations, sportsman’s groups and other proponents praised LURC for crafting a plan they said promotes growth while protecting the region’s natural beauty.
“This plan strikes the perfect balance, we believe, between economic development and conservation,” said Tim Pease, an attorney representing the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.
But critics accused commission staff of ignoring the will of Maine people by endorsing a plan that still allows a resort and subdivisions at Lily Bay.
“The message that many are receiving from this process is that the public comment period was meaningless,” said Russell Pierce, an attorney representing Maine Audubon and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
It’s been more than three years since Seattle-based Plum Creek first unveiled a 30-year “concept plan” for 975 house lots and two large resorts in the Moosehead region.
The plan has undergone two revisions since then. Plum Creek changed the dialogue in 2006 by offering to protect more than 400,000 acres of forestland in the area — but only if LURC approves the development plan.
The plan remains intensely controversial, however, as evidenced by the thousands of Mainers who have testified or submitted comments to LURC since last year.
The commission tweaked the plan in recent months, but to date, has not moved to reduce the number of house lots or eliminate the 250-accommodation resort and subdivisions proposed for Lily Bay. A second, larger resort proposed for Big Moose Mountain west of Greenville appears to have broad support.
At a press conference Tuesday, representatives from NRCM and Maine Audubon pointed out that LURC received seven comments in favor of Plum Creek’s plans for Lily Bay earlier this summer. By contrast, more than 1,500 people submitted letters in opposition to the Lily Bay development over the same time period.
Plan critics continued that line of attack during the LURC proceedings, often targeting LURC staff.
Jim Glavine with the group Moosehead Region Futures Committee charged LURC staff with “ignoring the overwhelming body of evidence” presented about potential impacts at Lily Bay and other places key to the Moosehead region’s appeal. Instead, LURC staff appears to be advocating on behalf of Plum Creek, he said.
Logan Perkins, a member of the Native Forest Network, said LURC’s proposed amendments “don’t even come close” to taking into account the evidence about potential harm to wildlife and the environment.
“We’ve already said all of those things to you, and we haven’t been heard,” Perkins said.
But representatives of organizations representing paper mills, loggers, snowmobilers, ATV riders and several business groups praised the commissioners and LURC staff for their work thus far.
Responding to critics, Gerald Petruccelli with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce said LURC cannot base its decision on a public referendum. Instead, the commission must use the statutes and the evidence presented, he said.
That evidence, Petruccelli said, indicates that the proposal will not have the negative impacts that Plum Creek’s opponents predict.
“The chamber supports this because it will bring environmentally sustainable development and hope to a region and a people that need it,” he said.
The commission worked late Tuesday poring over the 350-plus pages of amendments prepared by LURC staff. That work is expected to resume today beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Bangor Ramada Inn.
In the days after today’s meeting, LURC staff will prepare the formal list of recommended changes that would be needed for the commission to approve Plum Creek’s development plan. Those changes will be presented to Plum Creek early next month, according to LURC staff.
Company officials will then have about 10 days to decide whether to accept or reject the proposed changes — with an understanding that a rejection by Plum Creek would likely kill the application.
The commission is expected to take a final vote on Plum Creek’s application early next year.
LURC’s deliberations can be heard online live at http://www.maine.gov/doc/lurc