PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A spokesman for the Maine Forest Products Council met with the Maine Potato Board last week to seek its support in opposing the proposed establishment of a national park near Baxter State Park.
Patrick Strauch, speaking for the council that represents businesses from loggers to paper mills and saw mills, outlined the issues that concern those living and working in the areas immediately affected by the proposed park during the June 25 potato board meeting.
Strauch said 75,000 acres are labeled for the national park and another 75,000 acres would be used as a recreational area. He said that the national park would have more stringent limits on its use, whereas the recreational acreage would be used for hunting and fishing. Both entities would be relatively close to southern Aroostook County, where many potato farms are located.
“It would be something that would be very unique for the board to take a position on,” said Don Flannery, executive director of the potato board. A few members discussed the relevance of an immediate vote. The board decided to table the discussion until October, allowing them the opportunity to discuss the topic with people in the community and their neighbors.
Strauch pointed out that the land available for the park and recreation area is far less than the 150,000 acres touted by supporters of the plan. He said there are landowners in those areas that aren’t interested in selling.
“If you don’t want to sell your land, and yet this land has been donated to the feds, you’re captured in a purchase area. We know that promises can be made that eminent domain would not be used, but that’s really an act of Congress, and Congress can change that,” Strauch said.
Park proponents have said the plan can still work with less than 150,000 acres. There is about 87,500 acres in hand for the proposal.
Other issues Strauch raised included limits and regulations that would be placed on roads going across boundaries through federal land. Loggers and truckers don’t always stick within a 100,000-pound limit; they move what they feel is safe.
However, “crossing over into federal land … those are things you have to think about with the boundary line that’s being drawn,” Strauch said.
Strauch also said that talk of 1,000 jobs being provided to surrounding communities to serve the proposed park cannot be substantiated. After evaluating how the study was done, and comparing it to the jobs that were created for Baxter State Park, the number is not realistic, he said.
Park proponents have said that a study they commissioned showed other national parks had generated 400 to 1,000 jobs.
Regulations on air emissions and water quality were also mentioned by Strauch.
“A very real concern we have is, what kind of neighbor is the federal government going to be?” asked Strauch.
Park proponents have said businesses and private landowners co-exist with other national parks and it would be no different in Maine.
When asked about a timeline, Strauch looked ahead to 2016.
“A change in administration can occur. … This [opposition] needs a concerted effort,” he said.