Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t like the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. He tried to stop it from being created, and now that it exists he is working hard to get its designation reversed, even though the monument is bringing people and much needed economic activity to the Katahdin region.
In his latest stunt, the governor has refused to allow directional signs for the monument to be placed on Interstate 95 and state roads leading to it. Never mind that people from other parts of the country and world are visiting the new monument and spending money in the surrounding communities. Or the fact that the signs and their installation would be paid for by the federal government.
LePage doesn’t like the national monument, which was created in August 2016 by an executive order signed by President Barack Obama, so he is going to do everything in his power — this time preventing state crews from installing signs — to undermine it.
A May 4 letter from the Maine Department of Transportation to Tim Hudson, superintendent of the monument, was brief. “President Trump recently signed an executive order instructing for the review of National Monuments nationwide. Based on this impending review, which includes Maine’s monument east of Baxter State Park, Governor LePage feels that it would be imprudent and premature to install wayfaring signs on state and state-aide (sic) highways at this time,” it said.
LePage is overlooking some important facts. The monument is not his; it belongs to the people of the United States. Ditto for the signs and the roads where they were to be placed. All of these belong to the public, not an impetuous governor who governs through threats and tantrums.
Telling the Maine Department of Transportation to refuse to install signs does not hurt Roxanne Quimby, former President Barack Obama or Maine’s environmental groups — all of whom have been a target of LePage’s ire over the monument, Maine’s first. Instead, it hurts residents and businesses in the Katahdin region that have been hit hard by the closure of the area’s paper mills and the forest products industry’s decline. Although it has only existed for nine months, the monument has already attracted new visitors and investment to the area. This is something LePage has failed to do in his more than six years as governor.
What is especially imprudent are LePage’s ongoing efforts to kill the monument. Before it was created, he complained vociferously that the privately owned land, which Quimby’s family foundation donated to the U.S. government along with a $40 million endowment, wasn’t worthy of a federal designation.
Once the designation was made, he continued his campaign against it. He urged President Donald Trump to void the monument designation in February. Earlier this month, he again testified at a congressional hearing, reiterating his claims that the land was mosquito infested and downplaying the importance of tourism to Maine. He lobbied the Trump administration to belatedly add Katahdin Woods and Waters to the list of national monuments that the Interior Department is reviewing.
Now he’s using that review to try to prevent people from visiting the monument, thereby potentially hampering its success.
Meanwhile, other monument opponents have come to see its value.
Millinocket Town Councilor Jesse Dumais is one. He signed on to a recent letter from local officials asking Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to ensure the monument is a success.
“I am in fear of other investments not coming to the area if it is rescinded,” Dumais said earlier this month.
This follows the pattern of other national monuments: Loud local opposition quickly turns to support as area residents see the benefits of having a monument in their backyard.
It is time for LePage to see it, too. The Katahdin monument is a positive addition to Maine, and the state’s governor should be encouraging people to go visit.