A state senator from Cape Elizabeth announced Tuesday the formation of what she called a statewide organization that will lead the effort to help environmentalist and businesswoman Roxanne Quimby donate 70,000 acres for the creation of a national park in 2016.
Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, said The Friends of the Maine Woods has more than 1,800 members and has gathered more than 2,500 petition signatures in favor of the creation of a national park bordering Baxter State Park just north of Millinocket.
“There is a long list of great organizations that support studying the feasibility of this proposal,” said Dill, whose political action committee received a $12,000 cash contribution from Quimby in August.
The Dill Leadership PAC gave $5,000 to Friends of the Maine Woods in September, according to campaign finance reports filed last month.
“The Friends of the Maine Woods enthusiastically joins this group, and takes it a step further,” Dill added in a statement. “We unequivocally believe a national park in Maine’s woods will create jobs and economic opportunities, as well as protect the largest uninterrupted forestland in the East. Our sole purpose is seeing the Maine Woods National Park become reality.”
Started as a Facebook page, the group also supports a National Park Service feasibility study and a less comprehensive park service reconnaissance study. It is a growing nonprofit organization that publishes blog posts, circulates and delivers petitions, educates communities and connects supporters, Dill said.
“This is a no-brainer for Maine,” Dill said. “Acadia National Park was hard-fought when it was first introduced but, thankfully, people stayed the course, resulting in 3,100 jobs attributable to the park. The Friends of the Maine Woods plans to do the same.”
Quimby, who owns about 59,000 acres near Baxter, said the new group would be helpful.
“We certainly welcome support from anyone who wants to help get the facts on how an approximately 70,000-acre national park might diversify Maine’s economy,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “Our approach has been, and will remain, to listen and work in good faith with people on all sides of the question in the Katahdin region and beyond.”
Quimby, who also has pledged a $20 million endowment and to raise another $20 million for park maintenance, might need the support just now. Her effort has garnered support from environmental and business groups but also has drawn opposition from sportsmen’s groups and governmental bodies.
The Medway Board of Selectmen remains the only governmental body to support a park or a feasibility study. The latest blow to Quimby’s campaign came when East Millinocket voters opposed a feasibility study with a 513-132 vote on Nov. 8.
The state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe; U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-East Millinocket; Gov. Paul LePage; the Legislature; and the Millinocket Town Council, Maine Snowmobile Association and several forest products industry groups oppose a feasibility study or have expressed skepticism about Quimby’s plan.
Millinocket’s Downtown Revitalization Committee, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Environment Maine, the National Park Citizens Committee, the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, the Katahdin Area Rotary Club, RESTORE the North Woods and Friends of Baxter State Park support a park or a feasibility study.
Dill said that 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree also supports a study and that Dill’s press release listing Pingree as a park supporter was in error. A spokesman from the representative’s office confirmed on Tuesday that Pingree supports a feasibility study but said Pingree has no plans to use her authority to get one done.
Dill said the issue coalesced in her mind shortly after she voted last spring against the state assuming responsibility for a $17 million cleanup and liability in taking ownership of the Dolby landfill, a contaminated site in East Millinocket once used by the East Millinocket and Millinocket paper mills. The state purchase was seen as critical to the mills’ revitalization.
Dill wasn’t against the mills’ rebirth but objected to what she called the “corporate blackmail” of the mills’ previous owner abandoning the landfill and forcing the state to take ownership to make a sale of the mills possible.
Dill also voted against what eventually became the Legislature’s resolve opposing Quimby’s plan.
The resolve “went through at the end of the session when things happen without a lot of thought,” said Dill, a former state representative elected to the Senate in a special election on May 10. “An unfortunate number of legislators have come to me since and expressed regret. They are surprised they are on the record opposing” Quimby’s plan.
It was only later, she said, that Quimby donated $12,000 to her political action committee, which is listed as a cash contribution on Aug. 2, 2011, in the October 2011 Dill Leadership Political Action Committee campaign finance disclosure report filed with the state.
At the time of the vote, Dill said, she had never met Quimby — and since has promised not to vote on park issues.
“The issue is not me or Roxanne. The issue is whether the state of Maine right now should reject the offer of land and $40 million at a time when the September edition of Forbes magazine rated us among the lowest 10 states for job creation,” Dill said. “It makes no sense to me that we would not welcome Quimby’s gift.”
Dill invited scrutiny of all of the contributions made to politicians involved in the Quimby parks debate, not just hers.
Forest products industry spokesmen have said that more wood is available now in Maine than ever before and Quimby’s land, which is already not available for industry use, is less than 1 percent of the available forest acreage statewide, Dill said.
She said she is not impressed by the opposition of Snowe and Collins and their desire to have federal money help pay for a natural gas pipeline to the Katahdin region paper mills or opponents’ arguments that the park service represents an unwanted intrusion of federal authority into Maine.
Park opponents “don’t mind the state taking over the landfill and the federal government paying for a [natural] gas pipeline for the mills,” Dill said. “If they [Snowe and Collins] don’t have faith in the federal government, they are in the wrong job.”
The state’s ownership of the landfill and the park’s potential statewide impact make Dill’s voice and her group as valid a player in this issue as any, she said.
“When you don’t have a good response to the message, you shoot the messenger. There is no real valid argument against studying the park,” Dill said. “The issue is whether a national park would bring jobs to Maine.”
She also believes any great emphasis placed on the will of the people of Millinocket and East Millinocket is misguided.
“This park won’t be in East Millinocket or Millinocket. It will be 40 to 60 miles up the road. Chances are access to the park won’t go through East Millinocket or Millinocket,” Dill said.
Dill said she hopes that Quimby’s recent effort to press U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to order a reconnaissance study, which would identify features in her land that might make for a good park, will be successful.
Calls and emails to Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue and state Rep. Herbert Clark, D-Millinocket, who oppose Quimby’s park plan and a feasibility study, were not returned on Tuesday.