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Why the Millinocket Town Council opposes a national park

Posted Aug. 04, 2011, at 7:17 p.m.

The town of Millinocket has a long history of working on issues related to proposals for a national park in this area. RESTORE: The North Woods has wanted to create a 3.2 million-acre national park that would be almost the size of Connecticut and consume the heart of Maine’s wood basket.

Now Roxanne Quimby wants to donate 70,000 acres to the National Park Service for a new park. It would be located north of Millinocket between the eastern boundary of Baxter State Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot River. To do so, a feasibility study must be done first.

Make no mistake, the key proponents of this study are intent on the creation of a national park. This is why the council and the Maine Legislature recently adopted new resolves in opposition to not only the national park but also a feasibility study. There are reasons for our opposition.

First, we firmly believe that the 70,000 acres that Ms. Quimby has proposed is just an anchor parcel for RESTORE’s 3.2 million-acre grand prize. This would have a devastating and irreversible impact on Maine’s working forest and the overall economy of the region.

The Maine Forest Service reported, in its June 2010 Forest Assessment and Strategies executive summary, that Maine’s forest products industry contributes over $4 billion dollars to the state’s economy and either directly or indirectly supports more than 50,000 jobs. The summary noted that Maine is second only to Wisconsin in paper production. Maine also has over 200 sawmills.

Second, important as they are, tourism-related jobs are mostly low-wage, seasonal, part-time jobs without benefits. Understandably, we are not willing to sacrifice higher-paying forest products jobs for them. People promoting a national park are doing so under the assumption that jobs created by a park would boost the economy in the Millinocket area.

In the Maine Annual Average Wages report in the 2007 Maine Labor Market Digest, manufacturing was number two with an average wage of $44,518 per year and tourism was ninth and last with an average wage of $15,721 per year. The tourism industry plays a major role in the town’s economy. Efforts are taking place right now to promote tourism, the biggest of which is a four-year project on a multi-use trail that should be completed by Labor Day.

Third, we expect the area’s two mills to reopen. The governor’s office continues to work with potential buyers and, if successful, could put up to 600 mill workers back on the payroll. As long as that possibility exists, we will do everything we can to help the process along.

Fourth, we oppose a national park because of the strict regulatory nature of the federal government. In October 2000, the National Park Service objected to granting an air emissions license amendment to Great Northern Paper. The basis of the objection was the amendment might affect air quality at Acadia National Park and the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge because the mill was within the 100km (62.5 miles) from a class 1 area.

This was not true. But in the time it took the government to back off, Great Northern lost a major financing source for rebuilding machine No. 11. The company ultimately sold the hydro system to finance the rebuild and eventually filed for bankruptcy. This is part of the reason we find ourselves in the predicament we are in today.

Fifth, other prominent people have expressed their opposition. Gov. Percival Baxter created a state park to stall the efforts for a national park in the 1930s. Sen. Olympia Snowe stated that she believes Maine, not the federal government, should be firmly in control of land-use policies for our hunters, fishermen and forest-based economy. Sen. Susan Collins feels that a park would spell the end of our working forests and would result in the loss of thousands of good-paying jobs.

There is ample evidence that such parks have a “dark side” in their dealings with local landowners, especially through their use of eminent domain and other tools to affect their boundaries. Millinocket should not risk the future of its working forest, the area’s paper mills, its jobs, its traditional access to the forests, its growing recreational opportunities and its way of life on a proposal that is deeply flawed and of dubious value to northern Maine.

John Davis is chairman of the Millinocket Town Council.

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