Great Northern Paper Co. LLC does not support environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park, company leaders announced Thursday.
Seeking to remove what they felt was ambiguity from Great Northern Paper President Peter Hanson’s statements Tuesday at a Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce dinner, Great Northern CEO Richard Cyr and company spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne issued what they called “clarifying statements” on Thursday.
“We believe people could have misconstrued our position,” Tranchemontagne said. “We do not support the park proposal. GNP is focused on making paper, bringing new technologies to the area, creating jobs and lifting the region’s economy. That is what we’re about. We can’t support a proposal that could limit businesses, impact current jobs and decrease the potential for new jobs in the future.”
Speaking before approximately 75 Chamber members at River Driver’s Restaurant just outside Millinocket, Hanson said he felt a national park and his industry could co-exist well, but added that he would “have a concern” about answering to federal air quality standards.
“It’s not something that would affect the wood supply in any major fashion,” Hanson said during a question-and-answer session that followed the Chamber’s quarterly dinner, “unless a large amount of additional land suddenly came under” federal control.
Park proponents say they don’t see a 70,000-acre national park as a threat to the state’s wood supply because the land Quimby owns has not been harvested since she bought it, but park opponents fear that the park would expand to many times that size — something Quimby supporters have said won’t happen — and that the expansion would pose a threat.
Questions about whether and how much federal air quality standards would affect area industries have been a major element of the debate over Quimby’s proposed gift to the nation. The National Park Service would, Hanson said Tuesday, have legal authority to challenge the impact on air quality by industrial operations within 60 miles of a park.
Opponents say the park service would threaten paper mills and other emissions producers; proponents discount any effect the park service might have on them.
Hanson referred to the federal authority that comes with the National Park Service as “another layer of regulatory administration to go through,” but he said that paper mills and tourism are “perfectly compatible.”
Cyr felt differently. He favors the diversification of the Katahdin-area economy but fears that the federal authority would limit the kinds of businesses which might be attracted to the region. Dealing with that additional layer of bureaucracy would cost businesses money, he said Thursday.
“We do not believe it is necessary to have any one thing limit that diversification and we don’t think we have to give up one thing to get another,” Cyr said. “The ideas that should come to the table are ones that do not create extra costs for other businesses. There are plenty of good ideas that will create good jobs and diversify the economy. It doesn’t have to be a park.”
Cate Street Capital of Portsmouth, N.H., which owns GNP, is proposing to start producing biocoal, an almost pollution-free coal substitute that would be burned by coal-fired electrical plants, at the Millinocket mill site in late 2012, eventually employing as many as 125 workers directly and hundreds more indirectly.
“Our sole concern is about added bureaucracy and cost — not meeting [environmental] standards,” Tranchemontagne said. “Cate Street is a green technology investment company and we will meet or exceed the standards. It’s about the added cost.”
GNP leaders have further researched Quimby’s proposal since Hanson’s appearance on Tuesday, Tranchemontagne said.
“After studying it to the best of our ability within this time frame, ultimately we came to believe the park proposal poses a threat to our industry,” Tranchemontagne said. “It could harm key segments of this region and its economy.”
A managed forest economy, in which large masses of land are controlled by private owners, not government, is best for the region, he said.
Quimby did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
The Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce is among at least 16 business, civic and environmental groups, including one formed by Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, that have expressed support for a park or for a National Park Service feasibility study of a park’s suitability for inclusion among the 58 national parks across the U.S. So has Medway’s town government.
An independent poll of 600 voters statewide done in October suggested that 60 percent of Maine residents support a feasibility study.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe; 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of East Millinocket; Gov. Paul LePage; the Legislature; the towns of Millinocket and East Millinocket; and the Maine Snowmobile Association are among the individuals or organizations that oppose a park or feasibility study.
Dill is founder and president of the board of directors of Friends of the Maine Woods, an 1,800-member group that formed last month and supports Quimby’s proposed park. She did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.