AMC expansion plan raises concerns

Posted Sept. 19, 2009, at 4:12 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:13 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Town Council doesn’t want to see the Appalachian Mountain Club’s proposed purchase of 28,000 acres choke the Katahdin region’s access to snowmobile and proposed ATV trails.

That’s why council Chairman Scott Gonya has written, and the council voted unanimously to issue, a resolve to the Piscataquis County commissioners all but calling on commissioners to deny a state tax break to the AMC for its purchase.

“As you are aware, AMC [several years ago] shut down a major portion of the [Katahdin Iron Works] area to create a wilderness. This resulted in the loss of a number of important snowmobile trails that were helpful to the Brownville area as well as providing some linkages to trails in our area,” Gonya said in the Sept. 10 letter, which was mailed this week.

“They also eliminated bear baiting on the entire parcel. Despite those actions, they were able to obtain a significant grant from the Land for Maine’s Future Board to help reimburse their acquisition costs of the parcel despite the fact that they had effectively curtailed or closed off most access to about 10,000 acres for their wilderness area,” Gonya said. “There are many who believe the LMF funds were approved in error due to the elimination of access. This action did not make for good neighbors.”

The not-for-profit club, which owns about 37,000 acres in neighboring Katahdin Iron Works, plans to buy 28,000 acres in the Roach Pond area. The club sees the new acquisition as an opportunity to protect from residential development the corridor of land from Katahdin Iron Works to Baxter State Park and Katahdin.

Although they decided about two weeks ago to temporarily withdraw the tax-increment financing request, club officials have said that having the land designated as a TIF district would help AMC obtain low-interest, tax-advantaged financing for the estimated $45 million Roach Pond tract purchase and the planned $3 million in improvements at its three wilderness camps. The three camps are: Medawisla Wilderness Lodge, Chairback Mountain Camps and Little Lyford Pond Camps.

For its investment, the club would be eligible for the New Markets Tax Credit program, which is an opportunity to receive a credit against income taxes. At the same time, AMC officials said the county would benefit from the new taxes on the improvements, which would be channeled back into county coffers for nature-based tourism, trails and marketing.

Such a TIF could bring the county about $500,000 over the 30-year term, the commissioners were told last month.

In his letter, Gonya told the commission that safeguards should be built into the TIF that would help guarantee that access to the Roach Pond area be unhindered for snowmobile, ATV and other traditional uses, including “forestry, hunting, fishing, etc.”

The Katahdin region’s snowmobile trails are among the finest in North America, and several local officials are working with landowners to create the region’s first multi-use recreational trail to feature ATV riding, which officials hope will be as big an economic draw as snowmobiling.

Gonya also asked the commission to reject AMC’s idea that TIF funds be used only for “nature-based tourism” development and that commissioners retain the right to use them for any appropriate economic development purpose within the law.

“Finally, we would recommend that restoration or relocation of the former club trails in the KIW region be included as a condition for approval,” he wrote.

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