Snowe: Quimby’s ‘welfare state’ comments do not reflect reality of Maine

Roxanne Quimby during a public meeting at the Northern Maine Timber Cruisers snowmobile club in Millinocket in May 2011.
Roxanne Quimby during a public meeting at the Northern Maine Timber Cruisers snowmobile club in Millinocket in May 2011.
Posted Oct. 11, 2011, at 2:06 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 12, 2011, at 3:48 p.m.

Environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s recent statements calling Maine “a welfare state” that has a large population of obese and elderly people “do not reflect the reality and true nature of Maine,” U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe said Tuesday.

Responding to comments by Quimby published at forbes.com last week, Snowe said through a spokesman that she opposes a National Park Service feasibility study of Quimby’s plan to give the service 70,000 acres she owns adjoining Baxter State Park for a new national park. The senator also reiterated her opposition to a park.

“Mainers have a legendary work ethic and the skills and commitment to get the job done,” Snowe said in a separate statement. “Just consider how the Maine workers at Kittery-Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the DFAS [Defense Finance and Accounting Service] center in Limestone saved their facilities by making them into the gold standard for innovation and efficiency, and how Bath-built ships are renowned in the Navy for their unparalleled quality.”

In the forbes.com interview, Quimby criticized Mainers for not supporting her plan to give her land to the federal government in 2016. But Snowe said Mainers possess “a can-do spirit that is unmatched.”

The successes of shipyard workers and DFAS employees “are but a sampling of the myriad examples that underscore the deep dedication of Mainers,” Snowe said.

In the interview, Quimby said Mainers remain committed to a forest products industry and a small group of tight-knit landowners who have “aggressively harvested those forests for the last hundred years to the point where the mills in the area have been unable to stay competitive.”

“A hundred years later, there isn’t enough to make a living. They’ve all fragmented … sold off rights and easements … just to stay alive. But they still have not accepted that the old paradigm isn’t working,” Quimby said. “They’re in complete denial.”

“We have the most aged population in the country. … I believe we have one of the highest adult obesity rates in New England,” Quimby added. “We have… oxycontin abuse… [and] Maine’s the largest net receiver of Federal funds, even though we supposedly hate the Feds … it’s a welfare state.”

In her statement Tuesday, Snowe said she has “long believed that Maine, not the federal government, should be firmly in control over land-use policies for our hunters, fishermen and forest-based economy” and that a federal park “would cause a region of the state to be dictated by decisions made unilaterally in Washington.”

“Ultimately, it is up to the local people of the region whether the idea for a park is embraced,” Snowe said.

A feasibility study, Snowe added through a spokesman, would be a misdirection.

“A feasibility study is not an assessment of whether a federal park is best for the region’s economy and community, but rather whether this land is suitable to be a part of the National Park System,” the spokesman said. “The focus now should be on assessing how we grow the Katahdin region’s economy and increase jobs, not for Washington bureaucrats to assess whether the land tract is suitable to be” a national park.

Fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she too had misgivings about creating more federal land management in Maine. According to her communications director, Kevin Kelley, Collins “believes a new national park in northern Maine would likely spell the end to the working forest that has provided thousands of good jobs.”

“She has always believed that the real opportunity for conserving and maintaining lands for outdoor recreation such as fishing, hiking, hunting, paddling and snowmobiling is in working closely with private landowners,” Kelley said.

At least one of the senators would have to agree to a feasibility study, which also would require congressional approval.

Quimby has an unlisted telephone number and did not respond to an email request for comment. In an apparently automated response to an email sent to her Tuesday, Quimby said she would be away until Oct. 17 and was “unable to read your message.”

Meanwhile Tuesday, a group called the Friends of Baxter State Park announced its support of a feasibility study. Also, Brownville Snowmobile Club President Dave Ramsey said members voted during a club meeting last week that they would not write letters of support for a feasibility study, as Quimby requested, until the snowmobile trails they groom and use on Quimby’s land were permanently deeded for snowmobile use.

Ralph Pope, a member of the Friends of Baxter State Park board of directors, said having “a conservation buffer” to Baxter would be beneficial to the state park, and Brownville club President Dave Ramsey said his club would not support a park feasibility study unless the trails on Quimby’s land were deeded permanently for snowmobile use.

“We feel that there may be strong benefits for the region, and for Baxter State Park,” Pope said in a statement. “A conservation buffer on any border of BSP has great potential benefit, and the creation of this National Park on the Park’s eastern boundary is likely to provide a major ecological and social buffer protecting the wilderness character of BSP.”

Brownville club members sought a permanent deeding in response to an offer from Quimby of five years of club use on her trails in exchange for letters of support for a study and for a park. That came as part of an effort that some clubs felt was coercive, as it at least implied that access to the trails would be denied unless clubs would support Quimby’s initiatives.

“Ms. Quimby has stated that ‘only through permanently deeded trails can the economic stability of the small businesses near them be guaranteed.’ We recognize that also. And that is all we ask,” Ramsey said in a statement. “We also feel that threatening our membership with trail closure in order to secure support for Ms. Quimby’s goal is an improper tactic during these trying economic times.”

Park proponents believe that the park could provide economic benefits to its neighboring communities and the state, while proponents of a study maintain that it would be the best way of determining whether the land would make a good park.

Park opponents resist extending national authority over the proposed park land and believe that a feasibility study is unnecessary because they don’t support a park and that a study would be biased in favor of one.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story said the Brownville Snowmobile Club opposed a feasibility study of Roxanne Quimby’s proposed national park. Club President Dave Ramsey said members voted during a club meeting last week that they would not write letters of support for a feasibility study, as Quimby requested, until the snowmobile trails they groom and use on Quimby’s land were permanently deeded for snowmobile use.

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