Advocates of a North Woods national monument speak in expansive terms about how their proposal will help revitalize the struggling Katahdin region.
But skeptics are turning their attention to the practical details, questioning how the federal government would fulfill entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby’s dream for her roughly 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park.
The latest point of contention to emerge is a question that remains unsettled five years into the debate:
How will visitors get there?
The Quimby family lands are presently accessible only by narrow, unpaved logging arteries unsuitable for tourist traffic. Monument supporters say the roads could be upgraded to accommodate both logging trucks and visitors.
Opponents disagree and complain that they’ve never received a straight answer about which roads would serve monument visitors.
Leading proponent Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, counts eight roads to the land that he says are publicly accessible. His spokesman, David Farmer, said Thursday the campaign “believes that we have legal access to accommodate the creation of a national monument.”
Entry points would be determined if — and after — President Barack Obama signs an executive order creating the monument, St. Clair told a Maine Public Broadcasting News audience recently. Only then would a study of the monument’s impact on the local road network take place.
The roads question
Landowners around the Quimby property say the process is backwards.
Some fear that new tourist traffic would represent a safety hazard and slow or even displace logging trucks on the surrounding roads, threatening the area’s forest products industry, according to Peter Triandafillou, vice president of Huber Resources Corp., which manages about 540,000 acres statewide. The company’s logging and lumberyard operations are located just south of Quimby’s land, off Roberts Road in Millinocket.
“This is the problem with the whole process. It is difficult to have a rational discussion about this when so much of it is unknown. We don’t know how the road network will go,” said Triandafillou, who opposes a monument and park.
“Nobody’s aware of a single, solid right-of-way” that could accommodate both forest products and tourist traffic, said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, which lobbies on behalf of landowners and other forest products businesses. Strauch also opposes a monument and park.
The monument’s access points became an issue when Reps. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, and Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, toured the area before a field hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources on June 1. The tour was intended to underline how the forest products industry uses the lands around the monument. It left both representatives questioning the safety of 250,000-pound logging trucks sharing the roads with monument visitor traffic.
St. Clair insists that logging traffic won’t be dislodged. Nor will loggers or landowners pay for road improvements, he said.
But landowners and loggers aren’t sure whether to believe him, given that he’s deflected previous questions about road access and named different routes as potential access points since assuming control of the monument campaign in 2012.
The monument’s accessways would be determined as part of “ a general management plan that would go into place” after the monument’s designation, shaped by input from, among others, local officials, the Maine Department of Transportation, the land donor and National Park Service, St. Clair said.
“It’s like some large pulp and paper company saying, ‘We are going to invest in a mill in Millinocket,’ and once that’s done, then saying, ‘Oh, by the way, now we will study whether there’s enough wood supply for it,’” Triandafillou said.
Monuments created by presidential declaration typically are studied only after the designation, said Elise Daniel, majority spokeswoman for the U.S. House Resources Committee. However, agencies slated to manage the potential designees begin reviewing them informally beforehand, she said.
“In the declaration, the president usually identifies the objects of historic or scientific interest, the size of the monument, the managers, and any particular limitations or authorizations,” Daniel said.
The Quimby parcel, Triandafillou said, is “not a well thought out block of contiguous land that has its own access. You can’t say, ‘OK, the public’s gonna come in and out of this paved road, access this part, and leave, and they’re not going to be colliding with big huge logging trucks.’”
Farmer said the park service would pay for road construction, likely as part of the management plan.
Triandafillou and Dana Doran, executive director of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, said they don’t take much comfort in that assurance.
In June 2015, Doran said, St. Clair told him that Roberts Road, Sherman Lumber Road in Stacyville and Swift Brook Road in Stacyville would be used to access the Quimby lands. Then, in March and April 2016, St. Clair told Professional Logging Contractors of Maine members that Shin Pond Road — about 60 road miles from East Millinocket — would serve as the monument’s road, Doran said.
But St. Clair said he told Doran that Route 159, the state designation for Shin Pond Road, was “the strongest access point” to the monument lands — not that it would be the road used. During the MPBN broadcast, St. Clair said roads east of the parcel in Patten were candidates to be monument roads, though he did not identify them.
“We have never gotten a straight answer to the roads question,” Doran said.
St. Clair called it “misleading slightly and premature to report to the public where access points will be and won’t be.”
A future for forestry
A report on the monument’s potential impact on traffic, commissioned by the Quimby family landholding nonprofit foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., indicated that roads around the monument can “easily be upgraded” to handle both forestry and tourist traffic.
Yet the author of the May 2015 report also found it “hard to believe” that private land along a park access road would remain in forestry — not because of traffic concerns, but rather because the land would become more valuable if used in other ways.
“The pressures for commercial development will likely far exceed the value of the land to grow timber,” wrote Mark Leathers of the James W. Sewall Co., which manages Quimby’s lands.
Triandafillou doesn’t buy it.
“I don’t see that happening in the near term,” he said. “I think the primary use for private land in that area will remain timber. Even if there is commercial development, it will be along a narrow strip along the road. The back land will still be timberland.”
The study placed the number of trucks traveling over the network of roads around the Quimby parcel at 448 annually — slightly more than one per day, St. Clair said.
Some landowners around the proposed monument aren’t bothering to maintain their private roads this summer, Farmer said, an indication that forest products industry traffic in the area is light or diminished.
Doran counters that because forest products traffic is seasonal and at its heaviest, collisions between logging trucks and tourist vehicles are likely.
The Sewall study, Doran said, is narrowly focused on logging activity and transportation on roads that connect to Quimby’s land from the south. It overlooks land to the west and north and therefore “cannot be used to represent impacts in total.”
The land west of the monument, owned by Quimby and Baxter State Park, isn’t being logged, while the lands to the north can be accessed through another series of private roads and Route 11, St. Clair said, calling Doran’s concerns “absurd.”
Sewall’s report counts four companies that use the Swift Brook Road and carry an average of 458 truckloads of wood, or 16,009 tons, annually.
“We are talking such a limited volume [of trucks] that it is just maddening. It is a silly argument, and they have all the information,” St. Clair said.
Forestry occurs on the boundaries of many monuments and national parks without any apparent trouble, Farmer said.
The land in question represents less than 1 percent of the total forested lands of Maine, St. Clair said.
Exactly what happens next remains unclear. Obama must decide by mid-January 2017 whether to designate the land in Maine’s North Woods as a national monument.