The National Park Service has no plans to study environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s proposal for a North Woods national park next year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday.
Answering a long statement from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during an Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington on his department’s 2013 budget, Salazar said the agency would not push for a study of a national park.
“We have no plans to move forward on a reconnaissance study on the proposal from Ms. Quimby on the national park,” Salazar said. “There is no effort under way to do any of that.”
Quimby, who has said the park enjoys a great deal of support among Mainers, could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.
As Salazar explained during a trip to Millinocket in August, a reconnaissance study would be the least expensive way the federal government could examine the 75,000 acres Quimby hopes to donate to the park service in 2016. At several public meetings on the subject, Quimby said the gift would be 70,000 acres, but a proposal she gave Salazar in November listed the larger figure.
As interior secretary, Salazar has the unilateral authority to order a reconnaissance study. It would take several months and cost about $25,000.
Quimby and national park supporters have also pushed for a feasibility study of a park, which would examine the suitability of Quimby’s land for inclusion into the family of national parks nationwide. Such a study would take years and cost $250,000.
Collins told Salazar that the park effort is strongly opposed in Maine.
“Since your visit to Maine in August, the proponents have been trying hard to gain support for the completion of a feasibility or reconnaissance study, but I will tell you that the harder they have pushed, the stronger the resistance has become,” Collins said.
She identified the Maine Legislature, Millinocket Town Council, voters of East Millinocket, the Maine Forest Products Council and Maine Sportsman’s Alliance, Great Northern Paper Co. LLC, United Steelworkers local 137 and several smaller communities around the area as park and study opponents.
Collins also noted how the National Park Regional Citizen Evaluation Committee, which at first advocated a park feasibility study as part of its promotion of the study plan’s supporters, took itself out of the debate, “reflecting the dwindling support for this plan,” Collins said.
“What we have found in Maine that works best is working with private owners to ensure public access, and we have been very fortunate over the centuries in Maine — Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation — to have that kind of public-private partnership without having federal control and federal ownership,” Collins added.
Collins pressed Salazar for assurance that the park service, “which has so many demands on its funds, will not be looking into funding a reconnaissance study for this region.” He agreed.
One of the leading voices against a park, Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers, said he is pleased that Salazar is not interested in a study, but wondered whether that would be enough to end the park push.
Quimby has said her effort would continue until a park was built, comparing her effort to the decades-long campaign that created Baxter State Park.
“I think you have to take it at its face,” Meyers said. “It was certainly more of a statement than a question coming from Sen. Collins, but she made it clear that it is becoming harder and harder to find somebody who supports this, and given the money problems the park service already has, why would you throw bad money after good?”
“I think ultimately it will be up to Roxanne whether it’s dead,” Meyers said. “I would have to think that sooner or later she is going to look at this and do the math and see that this doesn’t seem to be working.”