MEDWAY, Maine — The Board of Selectmen is the only legislative body in the state that supports a feasibility study of Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park, but that might change if Jim Stanley has his way.
Stanley and a handful of residents are well on their way to forcing a referendum to challenge the town’s support of studying Quimby’s proposal. They need about 80 signatures and as of Thursday had about 50, he said.
“There are a lot of people who take the perspective that they don’t agree with it, but they are not very proactive,” Stanley said. “Talking to people around town, there seems to be a heck of a lot more that are not in favor of it than are.”
Town officials told Stanley that 80 signatures would be about 10 percent of the registered voters in town who voted in the last election, enough to legally compel the Board of Selectmen to place a nonbinding referendum question on the ballot asking whether voters support a National Park Service feasibility study, he said.
East Millinocket leaders opted to allow their town’s voters to decide their stance on the issue during the last election and the voters opted 513-132 against supporting a feasibility study on Nov. 8. In Medway, meanwhile, about 70 people attended a town meeting last summer at Medway Middle School in which residents voted 46-6 to support a study.
Bruce Cox, chairman of the Medway Board of Selectmen and co-chairman of the National Park Citizens Committee — which supports a feasibility study — said he was surprised to hear that a town resident was organizing against Medway’s town meeting vote.
“I just feel we had a good meeting [on that issue] and that it was well-publicized in advance and well-attended,” Cox said Thursday during an interview at the committee’s new office off Route 11. “But citizens certainly have a right to circulate a petition.”
“I think we will probably seek legal advice as to what our obligations [to the petition] are,” Cox said of the Board of Selectmen.
Supporters of a study, which include at least 16 Katahdin region and statewide business, civic and environmental groups, believe it would indicate whether a park could work for the Katahdin region and northern Maine by diversifying the economy.
Park opponents have expressed fears that the park would undermine the state’s forest products industries and extend federal authority into northern Maine in an unneeded and unwanted way. Supporters believe that a park could co-exist well with the forest products industry.
A statewide effort, the citizens committee has collected more than 1,000 signatures for a petition favoring a feasibility study, including signatures from about 450 Katahdin region residents and 42 Katahdin region business owners, said George McLaughlin, who co-chairs the committee with Cox.
A statewide poll conducted by an independent Portland research firm showed that 60 percent of 600 Mainers questioned in October favored a feasibility study.
Cox, McLaughlin and other committee members are plotting their campaign strategy for 2012 now and hope to have that work finished within a few weeks, McLaughlin said.
Besides opening the office and continuing their collection of petition signatures and their own research into a park’s feasibility, committee members are meeting with potential providers of studies of a park’s potential impact on the Katahdin region and on the forest products’ industry, McLaughlin said.
Stanley, meanwhile, said that any Medway resident interested in supporting his petition for a townwide referendum on the park feasibility study can contact him at 746-7776.
“To me it is cut and dry. It is not about feasibility study,” Stanley said. “People just plain don’t want a national park. The study is the first step in the process of getting a park. If a study gets denied, the park will be a dead project and I am not in favor of a park to begin with.”