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Quimby national park had powerful new opponent, official says

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue (foreground) argues against a proposed 70,000-acre national park before the Penobscot County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. He was accompanied by East Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston (background, left) and State Rep. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Quimby family pulled its 70,000-acre national park proposal off the table just as what might have been the plan’s most powerful opponents were gearing up, Selectman Mark Marston says.

The Penobscot County Board of Commissioners formed a Coordination Committee to oppose the park Aug. 21. County Administrator Bill Collins informed Secretary Ken Salazar of the U.S. Department of the Interior of the committee’s creation by letter a week later.

The Coordination Committee was created under a federal law that allows citizens groups to achieve legal standing equal to federal agencies in areas where the agencies seek to assert themselves. The park would be located in unincorporated areas of northern Penobscot County adjacent to Baxter State Park, within the commission’s jurisdiction.

The commissioners’ declared their opposition to the park in August and the committee takes the same position, said Marston, a committee member. He said that he would hope that the Quimby family’s decision “has to do a little bit with the committee” and its formation.

“In my opinion, a national park cannot co-exist with the forest products industry,” Marston said. “I have grave reservations that [the Quimby family’s decision] is not going to change the situation a whole lot. To me, the national park [plan] has just gone from the front burner to the back burner.”

Roxanne Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, did not immediately respond to email and telephone requests for comment on Saturday.

Collins requested a meeting “with the appropriate representatives of your Department to begin the discussion no later than Sept. 28,” according to the letter he wrote, which also was addressed to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. Collins released a copy of the letter on Friday.

The president of the board of directors of Quimby’s charitable foundation, St. Clair made news Tuesday when he announced that Quimby had withdrawn in September the proposal to the National Park Service, which is under the U.S. Department of the Interior.

A noted entrepreneur and environmentalist who is among the nation’s top 100 landowners, Quimby in March 2009 proposed building a 70,000-acre national park on her land adjoining Baxter State Park as a gift to the nation in 2016. The proposal ran into almost total opposition politically. Most recreation and forest products industry groups opposed it.

Support came from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Katahdin region businesses and the town of Medway, though a 2011 survey commissioned by a park support group found 60 percent of Mainers favored a national park.

Quimby’s 70,000-acre national park proposal “will never be resubmitted,” St. Clair said earlier this week.

“The main piece that we want to make clear is that there is no specific proposal that we feel is the right one,” St. Clair said. “We are engaging in this collaborative effort to come up with one.”

Former Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, vice president of the Maine Woods Coalition, was among the leaders supporting the committee’s formation in August. Marston has assumed Conlogue’s roles with the coalition and on the committee since Conlogue resigned in Millinocket to become Houlton’s town manager, Marston said.

In his response to Collins’ letter, Regional Park Service Director Dennis R. Reidenback said it would be premature for the federal government to take a position on Quimby’s proposal. Members of Maine’s federal delegation, Reidenback said, would have to initiate federal involvement in the park evaluation process before that could happen.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents southern Maine, has expressed support for a national park, but U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud have opposed it.

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