PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Attorney General William Schneider and Plum Creek Timber Co. said Friday they’re appealing to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to remove a barrier to the company’s development plan in the Moosehead Lake region.
Both of the appeals aim to overturn a Superior Court judge’s determination a week ago that the Land Use Regulation Commission didn’t follow the proper process in approving the massive development.
The judge sent the development project back to LURC for further consideration.
Throwing his support behind the appeals, Gov. Paul LePage blasted “the seemingly endless use of Maine’s complex regulatory system to stop Maine landowners from investing in their own land, in creating jobs and building the tax base.” He called it a “travesty.”
“This is why I feel so strongly about regulatory reform,” LePage said in a statement. “We need regulations that are tough, fast, reliable and fair.”
Plum Creek’s final development plan calls for 821 house lots as well as two resorts with more than 1,200 housing units at Big Moose Mountain and Lily Bay. It was approved by LURC in September 2009, nearly five years after the Seattle-based company announced plans to rezone nearly 400,000 acres of land.
Plum Creek believes the process was lengthy and comprehensive, said spokesman Mark Doty.
“We support the original process that LURC undertook,” Doty said Friday. “It was thorough and gave many opportunities for public comment.”
The development plan approved by LURC limits home development to 16,900 of the 400,000 acres, and Plum Creek plans to donate or sell conservation easements on 363,000 acres where public access would be guaranteed and future residential development would be prohibited.
The Nature Conservancy, which supports Plum Creek because of the conservation easements, is backing the dual appeals as the quickest way to resolve the matter.
The legal appeal probably will take about a year to resolve — bringing about a faster resolution for residents of the Moosehead Lake Region than reopening the LURC process, which could take several years, said Tom Rumpf, deputy director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine.
“We stand by our previous statement that the final plan would result in significant conservation gains as well as a balance of economic, ecological and recreational benefits for the region,” Rumpf said.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, Forest Ecology Network and Restore: The North Woods joined together in challenging LURC’s decision.
LURC held four weeks of hearings on the proposal in December 2007 and January 2008. There were 26 parties and nearly 170 witnesses during that phase of the process. More than 400 additional witnesses testified during four full days of public hearings.
After those hearings, LURC developed amendments to Plum Creek’s proposed concept plan based on the evidence presented during the hearings.
“The LURC board and staff carried out an exhaustive, inclusive, comprehensive review and deliberative procedure,” said Maine Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley.
The process isn’t over. Even if the Law Court reinstates LURC’s decision, Plum Creek still must go about the process of obtaining permits for building homes.