AUGUSTA, Maine — A $440 million increase in the maintenance backlog of national parks over the last year underlines why placing a new park east of Baxter State Park “defies logic,” Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday.
Responding to a Feb. 5 National Park Service report of an increase from $11.5 billion to $11.9 billion in the service’s deferred maintenance deficit since 2014, LePage said the federal government should reject the gift offered to the nation by the family of millionaire entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby.
“The National Park Service, by their own admission, cannot adequately maintain our existing national parks with existing resources,” LePage said in a statement released Wednesday.
David Farmer, a spokesman for leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair, said $40 million in endowments the Quimby family would provide would make the proposed park sustainable. The park, Farmer said, would contribute vastly to the economy of northern Maine.
The $11.9 billion deficit, park officials say, arises from maintenance not performed at more than 75,000 park service properties nationwide. The lack of maintenance shortens the life cycles of the assets and requires work to raise the facilities to accepted codes or laws, park officials have said.
The deficit includes $68.3 million worth of overdue maintenance at Acadia National Park — $29 million for paved roads, $11.4 million for unpaved roads, and $10.1 million for trails, among other costs.
“It defies logic that we would create a new national park right next to Baxter State Park when the federal government is facing a massive deficit that amounts to over $58,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States,” LePage added. “Rather than creating a new, unsupported national park in Maine, the focus should be on maintaining the parks we already own.”
Farmer said the park system’s maintenance deficits are misleading. Acadia offset its $68.3 million backlog by contributing $314 million to the state’s economy last year. It helped create more than 3,700 jobs. The National Park Service reports that every $1 invested in the service generates $10 for the economy, Farmer said.
A North Woods national park would eventually generate far more revenue than expenses, Farmer said.
“A national park and recreation area — or a national monument as an interim step to the creation of the park and recreation area — will pay huge dividends for Maine and Maine taxpayers,” Farmer said.
St. Clair’s proposal includes establishing up to a 75,000-acre national park and up to a 75,000-acre recreation area on family land east of Baxter. Through their company, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the Quimby family owns about 87,500 acres within the proposed park and recreation-area boundaries. That’s about 66,000 acres within the park area and 21,500 in the multi-use recreational zone.
Proponents said a park would generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by a $20 million private endowment and another $20 million Quimby would raise, diversify a Katahdin-region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills, and coexist with existing industries.
Park opponents have said they fear a park would bring unwanted federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries with environmental restrictions, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2 million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s. They also believe the park would not provide any real economic benefit to its neighbors.
They point to the circumvention of a 1986 law that allowed Acadia to absorb 1,441 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula last fall as proof that neighboring lands will be absorbed by an ever-growing national park.
Wednesday’s statement reiterated a position LePage has held since 2011, the year Quimby went public with park plan details. Quimby had been purchasing large parcels of land in Maine starting with 8,500 acres in Piscataquis County bought in 2001.
Yet LePage’s statement had a new twist. LePage said the park proposal was coming “from out-of-state liberals,” despite St. Clair owning a home in Portland and Quimby owning one along Maine’s coastline, Farmer said.
“The people who propose this live in Maine and spent considerable amount of time in the region,” said Farmer, a former governor’s spokesman who writes a blog for the Bangor Daily News.
“‘Out of state liberal,’ ‘these people from away,’ that’s something that is consistent to [LePage’s] rhetoric,” Farmer said.
The park debate has quieted since November 2015, when U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin wrote to President Barack Obama and asked him to refrain from signing an executive order placing a monument designation on the Quimby land. The letter came in response to St. Clair saying he had discussed such a designation with federal officials as an interim step toward a national park.
That discussion followed the towns of East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket opting via referendums held in June or the decisions of their leaders to oppose the park.
The Obama administration has declined to comment on whether the president was considering creating a national monument on the Quimby land.
BDN reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this report.