In a victory for democracy, a Maine Superior Court judge recently sent Plum Creek’s massive development proposal for Maine’s Moosehead Lake region back to the Land Use Regulation Commission and provided the opportunity to work on a better plan.
Seattle-based Plum Creek, a Real Estate Investment Trust and the largest private landowner in the nation, had applied to LURC to rezone 408,000 acres around Moosehead Lake to make way for the largest development ever in Maine, in the heart of Maine’s North Woods. The proposal includes more than 2,000 housing units, two large resorts, a golf course, marina and additional commercial developments.
Judge Thomas Humphrey concluded that, leading up to its approval of the Plum Creek plan, LURC followed an illegal process and the public was denied its legal rights to speak out on the final plan.
This decision is important because people throughout Maine and across the country have strong concerns about Plum Creek’s final proposal and were deprived of an opportunity to voice those concerns directly to the commission, so that their views could be fully considered before a final plan was approved.
It is also important because the Moosehead Lake Region that Plum Creek proposes to develop is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in Maine, passionately loved by Mainers and tourists alike.
Within the Moosehead Lake Region, no place is more valued than Lily Bay, location of one of Maine’s most popular state parks, an area where you can see moose and loons, paddle and camp, and enjoy dark night skies. The 404 housing units proposed by Plum Creek for Lily Bay Peninsula would permanently destroy the natural character of the east side of Moosehead, diminish the experience of quiet recreation afforded to visitors of Lily Bay State Park, and put the already threatened Canada lynx further at risk.
Without a final public hearing, the public only could submit comments in writing – and they did so in huge numbers. In fact, LURC received 1,516 written comments that specifically urged protection of Lily Bay. These comments came from people living in 303 towns across the state, all 16 Maine counties, and from 28 states. Eighty percent of all comments were from Maine residents, and 20 percent were from people from outside Maine who value the Moosehead Lake Region.
Only seven public comments at this crucial moment in the proceeding supported Plum Creek’s Lily Bay proposal, and not one of these came from a Maine resident living within 60 miles of Greenville. In contrast, many comments opposing development at Lily Bay came from individuals living near Moosehead Lake, including from Jackman, Rockwood, Greenville, Greenville Junction, Beaver Cove, Dexter, Garland, Dover-Foxcroft, Sangerville, Sapling Township, Abbott, Tomhegan Township and Lily Bay Township, among others. But none of these individuals, nor any of the full 1,516 final commenters, had a chance to speak directly to LURC in an attempt to stop the final Plum Creek plan from including the Lily Bay development.
With the judge’s decision, Plum Creek now has an opportunity to amend its proposal by removing the Lily Bay resort, focusing its development closer to Greenville. In so doing, their subsequent subdivision permits almost certainly would move more smoothly through the process, and the resulting development would help bolster local businesses, while conserving the beauty that is the region’s greatest asset. This could be the win-win that emerges from the court’s decision to send the application back to LURC.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine’s position has always been that a balance of development and conservation is achievable and necessary in the Moosehead region. Early on, we advanced an alternative proposal to the one announced by Plum Creek. Our top priority has been to encourage new development to be located near the existing communities of Greenville and Rockwood, and not in places like Lily Bay, where a resort, marina, stores and restaurants would amount to a new town that would alter the character of the east side of the lake and drain economic activity away from Greenville.
With Judge Thomas Humphrey’s ruling, Maine has a fresh opportunity to protect Lily Bay and to achieve the balance of conservation and development that Maine people, in overwhelming numbers, have requested.
Lisa Pohlmann is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.