State officials met Tuesday with members of the group that helped stage a small but vocal protest against the Land Use Regulation Commission’s tentative endorsement of Plum Creek’s Moosehead Lake development plan.
While the dialogue was civil, it did not appear to quell the frustrations that prompted Monday’s protests and that likely will dog Plum Creek’s controversial application for the foreseeable future.
“I’m not sure how high our expectations can be when we are talking to regulators about moral issues,” said Ethan Miller, one of two members of the Native Forest Network who met with LURC and Department of Conservation officials.
More people have participated in the public review of Plum Creek’s proposal for 975 house lots and two resorts near Moosehead than any other project in LURC history, according to state officials. Thousands of people have shared often emotion-filled thoughts on whether Plum Creek’s plan is the Moosehead region’s pathway to economic revival, environmental ruin or something in between.
So it’s not surprising that Plum Creek’s opponents have criticized the commission for not changing the most contentious aspects of the plan, especially a proposal for more than 400 housing units near Lily Bay.
On Monday, four women with the organization Maine Earth First! bound themselves together in LURC’s Augusta office and accused the commission of ignoring the will of more than 1,500 people who wrote in opposing development at Lily Bay. About a half-dozen others joined in the protest, which ended with the four being arrested and the promise of a follow-up meeting with LURC staff on Tuesday.
LURC director Catherine Carroll and state conservation commissioner Patrick McGowan said Tuesday that all of those concerns were heard by the commission. But LURC’s citizen commissioners are bound by statutes and guidelines, they said.
“Our job and our obligation is to follow the rules and regulations that the Legislature gave us,” Carroll told Miller and Native Forest Network member Emily Posner during the meeting. “We are a regulatory agency, we are not pollsters … so [the commissioners] cannot make decisions based on numbers” of comments.
But Posner and Miller countered that their organization and other groups presented ample evidence that the development was inconsistent with LURC guidelines, particularly in the area of “demonstrated need” for such development. Posner also suggested that residents’ comments should be given more weight by LURC.
“We believe the commission could have said no to this project and still followed the process,” Miller said.
McGowan called Plum Creek’s case the most transparent review in LURC history and pointed out that the Seattle-based company made significant changes in response to feedback from the public or groups.
Plum Creek will be back before LURC today when the commission formally votes on a series of changes the company would have to make for the plan to receive regulatory approval. LURC will meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Spectacular Event Center in Bangor.
A final vote on Plum Creek’s application is expected early next year. Native Forest Network and other groups already are vowing to fight a decision in support of the current plan, likely through court appeals.