TOWNSHIP 4 RANGE 8, Maine — Maine Forest Service Director Doug Denico says he has been planning since November 2015 to reopen a logging road and replace a bridge on land proposed for a national park because the state’s wooded parcel beyond has “cried out” for more forest management.
Denico said the forestry right-of-way agreement through land owned by the family of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby is among several easements the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands will be using to harvest wood on state parcels over the next year. He said the plan is not politically motivated, despite Gov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 12 announcement the state would reopen the easement to prevent a “federal takeover” of the land that could threaten access to the state’s parcel.
“What I am targeting is several lots that have not been operated on for decades,” Denico said Thursday. “There was a substantial acreage on the land [adjacent to Quimby’s] that has not been managed by public lands for an extended period of time. This is an area that has cried out for some attention.”
Denico said he made increasing access to all state forests a priority when he was appointed forest service director in April 2015. Bureau workers first examined the parcel beyond Quimby’s in November. He expects the logging project near Quimby’s land likely will generate about $755,250 at the state’s average sale price, $50.35 per cord of wood. The land has about 1,500 harvestable acres that contain about 30 cords of wood per acre, or 45,000 cords, but only about a third of that will be cut because the land is environmentally sensitive, Denico said.
The Bureau of Parks and Lands expects to generate about $6.6 million in revenue this year selling about 130,000 cords of wood from its lots, Denico said. Last year, the bureau generated about $7 million harvesting about 139,000 cords of wood. The Legislature allows the cutting of about 160,000 cords of wood on state land annually, though the LePage administration has sought to increase that amount.
“This is a roading program where we are building almost 60 miles of road per year to get to lots that we manage and own. That is going on all over the state,” Denico said, calling the selected sites “logical places to take our roading program and start doing some work.”
The easement through the Quimby family’s approximately 87,500 acres of land leads to the state-owned North Turner Mountain Public Lot, a 2,500-acre plot east of Baxter State Park. The repair work on the 13-mile stretch of logging road will cost the state as much as $160,000. The state has owned the land for about 10 years, Denico said.
The road became a political football with LePage’s announcement that the state would reopen it to prevent a “federal takeover” of the land Quimby wants to give to the National Park Service. David Farmer, a spokesman for the Quimby family’s Elliotsville Plantation Inc. foundation, accused LePage of using state government “to stop something that the governor doesn’t like.”
Quimby called LePage’s announcement “ bluster.”
Denico denied that LePage, who opposes the park proposal, or anyone from the governor’s staff had ordered him to do the work. The only abnormality in their approach to the job was their sending officials at James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town, an engineering firm that helps Elliotsville Plantation manage the land, a certified letter the day of LePage’s announcement informing them of the impending work.
“We expected that we wouldn’t be received with open arms, and we wanted to give them recognition that we would be in there,” Denico said.
Farmer still believes politics were responsible for the state’s actions.
“I trust that the state will fulfill its responsibilities to manage public lands appropriately, but this project is politically motivated, which is clear from the governor’s press release and the way the state has communicated its intentions,” Farmer said. “The governor made clear the political motivations.”
LePage’s announcement came a day after U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, criticized the federal government for releasing a letter that was noncommittal on whether President Barack Obama would follow lobbying from the Quimby family and make the property a national monument.
The three federal representatives have resisted pressure to submit legislation that would designate the land a national park, which only Congress can do. Presidents can create national monuments with executive orders. LePage said that rebuilding the logging road will “clearly re-establish the public’s legal rights” to state-owned lands.
According to the easement, the state of Maine — not the Quimby family and Elliotsville Plantation, which oversees the family’s Maine landholdings — is legally responsible for maintaining the road. Denico admitted that the state had ignored the road for decades.
The $160,000 cost includes the gate state workers installed at the Quimby property line and the replacement of a bridge over Katahdin Stream that will cost $60,000 to $80,000. The easement permits pedestrian traffic but allows vehicular use only to state foresters, Denico said.
Denico criticized Elliotsville Plantation for failing to notify the state of the bridge removal and for placing four boulders on the road, saying that these were examples of benign neglect of some landholder responsibilities.
“It is seldom where we had roads where we had to take out rocks and build bridges. No one has taken it to that level,” Denico said. “I can drive on private roads from Ashland to the Canadian border without running into that. Access has been pretty notoriously open in Maine, and that’s been my experience.”
The bridge was removed because it was unsafe, Farmer said. The boulders were placed to block vehicles from accessing the road because they were allowed onto the property in other places.
Boulders, Farmer said, “are an easy temporary restriction to keep people on the roads we want them to be on. We have opened this land for access, but we want to keep the roads safe, and boulders are commonly used as blocks because they are easy for crews to remove.”
The North Turner lot is among about 30 lots attended to annually of the 110 state lots that the bureau is responsible for maintaining. The bureau cuts on average annually about 14,000 acres of the 418,100 acres the 110 lots represent, Denico said.
The North Turner logging operations will likely start in late October. Work on the road through Quimby’s land will finish in April, Denico said.
Denico hopes the cords of wood, which are sold to manufacturers for commercial uses, eventually will pay for the maintenance of boat landings, trails and other recreational uses. He said he is willing to take a short-term loss or reduction in state revenue if it means better forest management, or greater profits for state taxpayers, over the next several years.
A LePage appointee, Denico advised the governor on a governor’s initiative, announced in September 2015, to use timber revenues to establish a program to assist low-income, rural Mainers with heating costs. The Legislature’s Public Lands Commission objected, effectively tabling the proposal.
A good relationship between his department and Quimby and Elliotsville Plantation can happen, he said. Denico said that the foresting community in Maine is “fairly small” and intimate and sometimes hard-nosed, but its members are “aware that we have to support each other to make a success of this industry.”
“We have an opportunity to form a new relationship, maybe one that hasn’t been there before, with the forest industry,” Denico said. “I think there are many opportunities where we [state and Elliotsville Plantation officials] can make this relationship a success and we should really try, for the people of Maine.”
BDN reporter Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.