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New studies show another national park would boost Maine’s economy, Quimby’s son says

Posted Feb. 14, 2013, at 12:45 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 14, 2013, at 6:07 p.m.
Lucas St. Clair talks about the new economic study by Quimby’'s Elliotsville Plantation Inc. about the potential impact of a national park on rural Maine communities.
Carter F. McCall
Lucas St. Clair talks about the new economic study by Quimby’'s Elliotsville Plantation Inc. about the potential impact of a national park on rural Maine communities. Buy Photo
Quimby'’s Elliotsville Plantation Inc. owns several thousand acres of land in rural Maine it hopes to turn into a national park.
Lucas St. Clair
Quimby'’s Elliotsville Plantation Inc. owns several thousand acres of land in rural Maine it hopes to turn into a national park.

BANGOR, Maine — Economic studies commissioned by Roxanne Quimby’s land-holdings company show that a 75,000-acre national park and same-size recreation area in the Katahdin region would create 450-1,055 jobs, her son said Thursday.

Lucas St. Clair presented the studies during a meeting with the Bangor Daily News editorial board. The studies, which were peer-reviewed and approved by three leading Maine economists, show that the two entities on Quimby’s Elliotsville Plantation Inc. land would grow the economies and significantly boost personal incomes in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties at a faster pace than present.

“I haven’t seen any economic stimulus for the region quite like this,” St. Clair said of the national park.

The two studies “are saying that a group of highly respected economists are getting together and saying that this [a national park and recreation area] is something this region could use.”

He called suggestions that a national park would threaten existing forest products industries “just a fundamental misunderstanding.”

St. Clair took the 70,000-acre park proposal that his mother proposed off the table last fall because of opposition, but made no secret that a national park was something EPI has always touted.

Park opponents included the state’s two U.S. senators, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud [D-East Millinocket], Gov. Paul LePage, the state Legislature, some forest products industry representatives and all of the Katahdin region local governments.

They recognized Quimby’s good intention of giving land to her country, but opposed the park because they feared it would detract from existing manufacturers, provide “trinket jobs” that paid poorly, and allow federal government power in an area that doesn’t have it.

St. Clair disagrees with park opponents’ assumptions.

“We feel like a rising tide will lift all ships here. There is nothing I would like to see more than seeing both the recreation and timber industry thrive,” St. Clair said. “I will never speak down about the paper and manufacturing industry.”

A national park and accompanying recreation area, he said, need the forest products industry in order to survive. The tandem parks are not “a silver bullet” that could completely revitalize Penobscot and Piscataquis counties by themselves, he said.

Copies of the economic studies are available here.

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association and a national park opponent, expressed disappointment with the executive summary of the studies.

“What else are they going to say? I think there are many areas of this country that are littered by these reports saying that a national park would bring all kinds of wonderment to an area,” Meyers said. “I just don’t think I am buying it.”

St. Clair met with Meyers several times and went snowmobiling with him last month on EPI land near Baxter State Park. That led to St. Clair opening several new snowmobile trails in that area, which Meyers lauded.

“I think he is trying to get a greater understanding of the people who will be affected by this the most, although I am kind of disappointed that the end result of everything is still some kind of federal involvement in things,” Meyers said. “They’re not willing to look at other types of things that could be a win-win for everybody.”

“It is kind of like the new plan is the old plan,” Meyers added.

St. Clair disagreed.

“Do we want a national park? Yes,” St. Clair said. “But is that park 100,000 acres or 25,000 acres? Is it on the east side of the Penobscot River or the west? All those things are not determined.”

The national park would go on parcels EPI owns or will buy. The company owns about 82,000 acres adjacent to Baxter State Park. The land has the East Branch of the Penobscot River running through part of it.

Headwaters Economics, an independent nonprofit research group from Montana that studies land management and community development issues, assumed matching 75,000-acre parcels for the purposes of developing the two studies and an executive summary, said Ben Alexander, the firm’s associate director.

One study analyzed the economies of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. The other, what Headwaters called the Peer Report, compared the economies of 16 peer communities within the U.S. ― communities near six national parks, six national recreation areas, and four combined national park and recreation areas ― to those areas’ economies.

The studies found that from 1970 to 2010, the peer region economies with national parks or combined areas grew faster than the economies, population, employment and real personal income of the two Maine counties.

The peer region economies also diversified faster, the studies showed. Manufacturing and construction accounted for most job losses in the peer areas, though the two Maine counties have done well diversifying their economies, Alexander said.

National-park visitor spending created on average 839 private-sector and 216 National Park Service jobs in the peer communities. If the new park attracts 15 percent of the 2.5 million annual visitors to Acadia National Park, it could create 451 new private-sector jobs, the studies showed.

EPI’s property in the area could support 50 direct and indirect forest products industry jobs, the study showed.

“My guess would be that a park’s impact [to existing forest-product industry interests] is negligible,” Alexander said. “Their market has changed so dramatically that they are deeply stressed. They are to some extent facing inexorable pressures.”

Peer communities generate jobs in fields that in the two counties pay very well. Health care, which pays on average $43,920 in Penoboscot and $26,534 in Piscataquis counties, is one of the biggest growth industries in the peer communities, Alexander said.

Professional and technical services, which pay on average $46,234 in Penobscot and $37,226 in Piscataquis, is another large growth area in peer communities, he said.

A park would annually generate $326,000 in tax revenue for Penobscot County, about 2 percent of the county’s annual budget; annually cause a $45,000 tax loss to the Maine Department of Conservation, about 1.4 percent of the department’s budget; and annually create a $78,000 loss in tax revenues to the state’s general fund, Alexander said.

“The fastest growing economic sectors [in the peer communities] are an interesting mix of high- and low-wage industries,” Alexander said. “They are actually able to create jobs more generally in higher paying, educated fields.”

The studies do not indicate when, after a park is built, the job growth would occur.

Bowdoin College Professor of Economics David Vail; Charles S. Colgan, an associate director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research; and Rob Lillieholm, an associate professor of the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources, peer reviewed and approved the studies.

St. Clair said he had no timeline for his plans and couldn’t tell yet when he might be prepared to present a national park plan. He plans to continue meeting with stakeholders in the region to do as much as he can to include their ideas in his plans.

“We have seen a dramatic change with Lucas coming into the process,” said Katahdin region entrepreneur Matthew Polstein, who accompanied St. Clair. “It’s going to take time to appreciate it.”

“We know that there are a lot of other issues at play here. They need to be addressed before we consider a national park plan,” St. Clair said, calling himself “committed to an honest and open dialogue” with park opponents.

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