The campaign for a National Park Service study of the feasibility of Roxanne Quimby’s proposed national park might suffer now that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud has declared his opposition to such an analysis.
In a statement Friday, the 2nd District Democrat questioned the utility of a study Quimby wants done by the park service to examine, among many things, her land’s suitability for inclusion into the family of national parks.
“An independent economic analysis on the benefits of a park and impact assessment on our forest products industry is crucial to answering questions on both sides,” Michaud said in the statement. “This economic analysis needs to come first, and it’s why I don’t support a National Park Service feasibility study.”
The statement left unclear whether Michaud supports a park itself, especially if an independent analysis showed a park would benefit its neighboring communities. Republican U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have indicated in stronger words their opposition to a study and a park, with both saying that Quimby’s goals could be achieved best if the land were managed privately.
Quimby did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on Friday.
George McLaughin, co-chairman of the Medway-based committee that was formed to investigate the feasibility of the park and supports a National Park Service feasibility study, declined to comment Friday on Michaud’s position. Committee co-chairman Bruce Cox did not immediately return a telephone message left Friday.
Although the subject has generated considerable debate, nothing much is likely to happen with Quimby’s park plan for at least five years. Quimby has said she hopes to give 70,000 acres adjacent to Baxter State Park to the park service in 2016, the agency’s 100th birthday, and that it would take at least three to five years to generate sizable traffic in the park. She also would devote another 30,000-acre parcel to be used for traditional recreation and sustainable forestry.
A $40 million endowment Quimby would provide, including $20 million she hopes to raise with a national campaign, would cover park maintenance and operation costs.
More than a dozen community, business and environmental groups ― including several snowmobile clubs, the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket’s downtown business association ― have publicly supported a feasibility study. The Medway Board of Selectmen remains the only governmental body to do so.
Study proponents say a park service feasibility study is a logical, necessary step to determining whether the land would be a suitable for a park. They also say a study would show the benefits a park would bring to the region.
They recently released a promotional video showing the park land Quimby would donate. In addition, Quimby has said she commissioned a university and a research group, which she declined to identify, to study a park’s impact on the Katahdin region’s economy and the forest products industry.
Park and study proponents have said that a park could provide a vast revenue stream to the Katahdin region, which has had a 20 percent to 22 percent unemployment rate since the East Millinocket paper mill closed in April, and that a park could co-exist well with the forest products industries.
The mill reopened earlier this month. The first state unemployment statistics to measure that impact won’t be available for weeks.
Besides Snowe and Collins, opponents have included the state Legislature, Millinocket Town Council, Fin and Feather Club, and Maine Snowmobile Association. They have challenged the credibility of Quimby and a park service study and fear that a park would represent a federal challenge to local authority and grow far beyond 70,000 acres. They believe Quimby could accomplish her goals without federal involvement.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said he could order a small, basic reconnaissance of the park land for $25,000. Approval from the state’s congressional delegation would be required for a larger feasibility study, which would cost about $250,000, Salazar has said.
Calls to federal authorities this week to determine whether Salazar would order a $25,000 examination were not returned.
A park and study opponent, Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue doubted that a study would occur anytime soon.
“Right now chances are next to zero,” he said Friday. “The three members of the delegation who represent this part of the state are solidly against the feasibility study. They have been for a long time. We are just getting the congressman’s opinion now.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents southern Maine’s 1st District, could push for a study, but Snowe, Collins and Michaud probably would block that, Conlogue said.
Quimby acknowledged during a recent meeting that she owned about 59,000 acres, not 70,000, and park service officials have said that feasibility studies typically reject 50 percent of the lands they study ― a statement meant to show that studies are not rubber stamps.