Sharp words cause Millinocket to reconsider Chamber funding

Posted July 29, 2011, at 10:13 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Town Council is reconsidering whether to fund the Chamber of Commerce after receiving what they considered disrespectful emails from Chamber members before the council’s 6-0 vote opposing a Chamber-supported feasibility study of a national park.

Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce President Chip Lamson, who did not attend Thursday’s council meeting, said he has not yet seen the emails. He hopes to meet with the Chamber’s board of directors and councilors within the next two weeks to calm things down. No meeting dates have been set.

“I don’t want to say anything that might make things worse,” Lamson said Friday.

With Councilor Bryant Davis absent, the council voted 6-0 to support a resolve opposing plans to create a national park and a feasibility study of that park.

Councilors cited fears of damaging state efforts to revitalize the region’s two paper mills, which if restarted could employ about 600 people; of granting federal government control and tax-exempt status to 70,000 acres that environmentalist Roxanne Quimby proposes to give to the National Park Service in 2016; and of the park growing much larger than 70,000 acres.

To hear several of them tell it, councilors took a verbal beating well before the vote. One email came from Brian Wiley, a Chamber board member who wrote that “as usual and as noted in the Resolve the Town Council is ‘Living in the Past’ and not looking ahead to the Future of this Town, its people and the entire Katahdin Region.”

An email from Chamber office coordinator Jean Boddy and signed by Chamber board members Jaime Renaud and Deb Roundtree accused councilors of “not listening to the citizens of Millinocket and … making decisions based on their own bias.” It called opposition to Quimby’s plan “an example of the frustration and lack of education” in Millinocket.

“In light of what has happened, I don’t know how committed we want to be to an organization that speaks so lowly of us,” Chairman John Davis said Thursday, adding that the emails “had kind of a nasty tone to them.”

Councilors Jimmy Busque and Michael Madore said they also looked forward to meeting with Chamber members, with Madore reiterating a position that he first held when the town’s 2011-12 budget was set.

“We are helping to pay for [Chamber] events not in our community anymore,” Madore said. “That is where I have the problem … if the other communities are not contributing at all, why are we contributing so much?”

The council allocated $10,000 to the Chamber this year. East Millinocket contributed nothing, while Medway contributed less than $1,000, Lamson said, though he was unsure of what precisely Medway paid.

The $10,000 is spent only in Millinocket, said Wiley, who stood by his email on Friday.

“It’s very unfortunate to have a council that has no interest in the future and is living in the past,” he said, referring to the first clause of the resolve, which discusses the region having a 400-year history in the forest products industry.

“They used to harp at [former Councilor Matthew] Polstein and their own members that were business owners. For them to say that they are business-friendly, no, absolutely not,” Wiley added.

Roundtree did not immediately return a message left late Friday. Renaud appears to have an unlisted telephone number.

Madore spoke at great length about what they felt was the demeaning treatment suffered from some park advocates. Madore said that state government, the Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset county commissioners and Maine’s senators are among those who oppose or are skeptical of a North Woods National Park.

Several mainstays of the region’s forest products industry, including Katahdin Forest Management President Marcia McKeague, also have said that taking the 70,000 acres off property tax rolls would be the continuation of an environmental preservationist trend that has removed 315,000 acres of working forests from tax rolls and the industry’s breadbasket, making it more difficult for those still in the business to stay that way.

A lack of wood or appropriately priced wood was among the concerns voiced by potential buyers of the East Millinocket and Millinocket mills.

“I have been called biased, uneducated, uninformed and backward, narrow-minded afraid, and scared,” Madore said, “and told that if I wanted to be re-elected in November I should back local businesses or I won’t be.”

“As far as being uneducated, my whole existence, as far as my job is concerned, is education. I am continuing my own education,” said Madore, a Stearns High School teacher. “I never said anything derogatory about any of the groups involved. It is the idea of the national park I oppose, not the people doing it.”

“I just think that I have taken the time to listen to both sides — honestly, earnestly — and waited for some piece from the other side to convince me that I need to reconsider,” Madore added, “and I have not heard it. Seriously, I have not heard it.”

Park proponents say that a park would provide thousands of jobs, revitalize the region’s economy and benefit the North Woods. The town of Medway and several civic groups have expressed support for a park feasibility study.

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