Medway group no longer pushing for Quimby park feasibility study

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Posted Feb. 13, 2012, at 1:43 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2012, at 7:18 p.m.

MEDWAY, Maine — One of the first groups formed to investigate environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s 70,000-acre national park proposal is benching itself because of disagreement with her over the direction of the park effort, a founding member said Monday.

The National Park Regional Citizen Evaluation Committee “will become inactive” and “will no longer participate in the pursuit of a National Feasibility Study Campaign because a clear path forward could not be established,” the group announced. “We have worked tirelessly for the past six months and it has been an enormous drain on our personal lives and we are not willing to continue with this sacrifice.”

“We don’t believe the path forward being planned right now [by Quimby and her advisers] is the most beneficial for this region,” founding member Greg Stanley said Monday.

The disagreement, Stanley said, concerns two privately funded studies group members believe Quimby promised on Aug. 25 during a visit to Old Town that haven’t yet occurred. One study would have assessed the economic effect of a park on the Katahdin region. The other would have examined a park’s effect on the forest products industries within the region, McLauglin said.

“We were going to get an independent firm to do this, but it just never happened. It never materialized,” Stanley said.

Information from both studies would be critical to showing the many good things a park could do for northern Maine. Without those studies, and all the facts they presumably would gather in favor of a park, further committee member involvement is difficult to sustain, group co-founder George McLaughlin said.

“We have a whole campaign plan all developed. If we had those two studies done, we would be working very hard to convince our congresspeople that we need to take a look at this park,” McLaughlin said Monday. “We would be working extremely hard with the citizens in the area to promote the findings of the studies — positive and negative.

“I really believe that if we had the facts, not opinions, and once people see them, it would be a no-brainer for them to support this, because a park would be beneficial to the whole area,” McLaughlin added. “But until we have those studies, it would just be our opinion, and we don’t want that. We want facts.”

Quimby responded to the decision by Stanley’s group — also known as the National Park Citizens Committee — with an email to supporters that praised committee members for their “excellent work and unprecedented progress” during the last six months.

“I believe the facts surrounding a feasibility study are better understood than they were just a short time ago, due in large part to the excellent work of the NPCC and its volunteers. Many people have worked long hours in an attempt to bring our mission to fruition, and I believe that substantial success has been achieved,” Quimby wrote in the email.

“Of course, there remain pockets of resistance to our vision for a new national park in Maine. Unfortunately, the opposition, though small in numbers, are unyielding in their unwillingness to consider our proposal to study economic alternatives and introduce a diversity of potential solutions to the financial difficulties in the region. It is not surprising that the founding members of the NPCC have elected to step away from the center of the debate as we regroup and execute on our plan for success,” Quimby added.

Committee founders Bruce Cox, Stanley, McLaughlin and Quenten Clark have not disbanded the regional citizen evaluation committee, Stanley said. The group remains incorporated as a nonprofit and will meet its bylaws’ requirements to stay intact, he said. It has, however, closed its Medway office.

Stanley disagreed with Quimby’s characterization of the opposition as being small.

“They are large and growing, just because of the way the approach [to creating a national park] was done. I do think NPCC was making progress when accurate information needed to get out there, but it’s been awhile since anyone followed our lead,” he said. “I think that sometimes she gets advice from so many different people. I don’t know if some of the people she is listening to actually know what they are talking about.”

Even with that, however, Stanley said he believed that his group has a good relationship with Quimby and that she did follow its advice many times.

The committee was among three Katahdin region organizations that supported a feasibility study of Quimby’s proposal when she announced it last spring. The Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket’s downtown revitalization group were the other two.

“I would like to thank George McLaughlin, Bruce Cox and the other steering committee members who have worked so hard to advance the discussion of a feasibility study for a Maine Woods National Park,” Quimby said in a statement late Monday. “I fully understand the challenges and the sacrifices that they have made. I am tremendously grateful for what they have accomplished.

“Moving forward,” she added, “we will continue to make it a priority to listen to and work in good faith with citizens, businesses and organizations in the Katahdin Region and beyond who believe a potential Maine Woods National Park will bring much needed jobs to the region and diversify the economy without damaging either traditional use or traditional manufacturing industry.”

Informally called “the Medway group” because most of its members are from that town, the committee led an effort that culminated at Medway Middle School last summer, when local residents voted 46-6 to support a study.

Exactly how the group’s inactivity will alter the national park effort remains unclear. Not much public activity among park or feasibility study supporters has been reported since Christmas, though in her email Quimby promised to “be in touch soon with exciting plans for this spring and summer.”

Aside from the town of Medway, no town, regional or statewide governmental boards or agencies have supported a park or feasibility study.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both R-Maine; U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-East Millinocket; Gov. Paul LePage; the Maine Legislature and the towns of East Millinocket and Millinocket all have opposed a park and a feasibility study of one.

More than a dozen civic and business organizations have supported having a feasibility study done by the National Park Service, including the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Also, a poll of 600 people selected randomly across the state by an independent marketing firm out of Portland in October found that six out of 10 residents supported a feasibility study.

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