East Millinocket voters to consider national park question

Roxanne Quimby speaks during a public meeting at the Northern Maine Timber Cruisers snowmobile club in Millinocket in May 2011.
Roxanne Quimby speaks during a public meeting at the Northern Maine Timber Cruisers snowmobile club in Millinocket in May 2011.
Posted Nov. 07, 2011, at 8:01 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 07, 2011, at 8:43 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Medway’s town leaders and residents are for it, Millinocket’s town leaders against, and on Tuesday local voters can say where they stand on a National Park Service feasibility study of Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park.

As part of a nonbinding referendum on the subject, voters can answer yes or no to the ballot question, “Are you in favor of supporting a feasibility study on a proposed 70,000 acre national park as presented by Roxanne Quimby?”

Selectmen opted to place the question on the ballot to help resolve the issue among themselves, said Mark Scally, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

“We are saying that we are putting the interests of the citizens first. The board has differing views, so rather than act collectively we would rather know what the town feels,” Scally said Monday. “And then we would like to know what’s in the best interests of the area.”

More than a dozen business, civic and environmental groups have expressed support for a feasibility study of Quimby’s plan to donate 70,000 acres to the National Park Service in 2016, the service’s 100th birthday. The state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe; U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-East Millinocket; Gov. Paul LePage; the Legislature; and the Millinocket Town Council have opposed or expressed skepticism about the plan.

Medway’s Board of Selectmen is the sole governmental body to support a feasibility study.

Proponents say a national park could create a much-needed revenue stream in northern Maine and especially the Katahdin region, which had an unemployment rate in September of 20.4 percent. They say a park would coexist well with the region’s forest products industries, bolster the region’s tourism and recreation industries, and preserve a portion of the region’s natural beauty.

Opponents fear that park service regulations would imperil the area’s forest products industries and that the park would swell far beyond 70,000 acres. They question a feasibility study’s credibility, doubt that the land itself is anything special and favor Snowe’s proposal of having another federal agency do a much broader economic study into which a park’s impact would be folded like a chapter in a book.

The state’s congressional delegation must support a study to make it happen.

Scally hinted that he hoped East Millinocket leaders’ taking a position on the issue based on residents’ desires could lead to a compromise on the issue.

“It is her land, but I don’t believe in drawing lines in the sand. I think we have to leave the lines of negotiation open,” Scally said. “If she has an interest in doing something, maybe we can negotiate with her.”

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