TOWNSHIP 4, RANGE 8, Maine — A part owner of a parcel of environmentally sensitive land near Baxter State Park is pursuing legal action to keep state foresters from harvesting wood on the property.
Atkinson resident Charles Fitzgerald filed a petition to partition land near Wassataquoik Stream, a parcel north of acreage owned by entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby east of Baxter State Park, as a first step toward protecting trees and ecosystems on the property. The civil action was filed in Penobscot County Superior Court on March 7, said Fitzgerald’s attorney Bernard J. Kubetz of Bangor.
Fitzgerald shares ownership with the state of about 2,500 acres of land adjoining the stream that the state plans to harvest later next year or in 2017. Fitzgerald does not want to see the land, which is called the Wassataquoik Stream lot, damaged by wood harvesting activities, Kubetz said.
“This tract of land includes some very unique timberland and other natural resources, including bodies of water. Logging operations, harvestry and logging roads have the potential to damage the unique qualities of that parcel of land,” Kubetz said.
“Mr. Fitzgerald is anxious to protect that land, not because he has any individual interests in developing or harvesting that. He wants to preserve it for the state,” added Kubetz, who also represents the Bangor Daily News.
Fitzgerald, who Kubetz said was staying at a Millinocket-area camp out of cellphone range, could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts. John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, declined to comment Tuesday.
Gov. Paul LePage in February announced that the bureau had started to re-establish access to 2,500 public acres surrounded by Quimby’s property that state forester Doug Denico called the North Turner Mountain public lot. The Wassataquoik parcel adjoins the North Turner Mountain lot.
Some of the trees within the Wassataquoik parcel are hundreds of years old, virtually untouched by the intense logging operations of decades past because of the wetlands and waterways that run through it. According to Kubetz’s five-page filing, some of the water runs from East Turner and North Turner mountains into the stream.
“Rising in the high mountain valleys of the Katahdin Range, the Wassataquoik [stream] is probably the cleanest and purest fresh water stream in the State of Maine, containing many miles of superior Atlantic salmon breeding habitat,” the filing states.
Fitzgerald became a part-owner of the land in October 2006, according to the filing. A purchase price or other conveyance is not included in the filing. Both he and the state each acquired a fractional interest in the same parcel of land from owners who themselves previously held such a common and undivided interest, Kubetz said.
Under the petition, a civil court judge will appoint a three- to five-member committee to assay the Wassataquoik land and first determine what percentage the state and Fitzgerald own. Then the committee will recommend how those percentages should be broken out in acreage and location, Kubetz said.
Denico declined to comment on Fitzgerald’s petition Tuesday, but he said in February he made increasing access to all state forests a priority when he was appointed forest service director in April 2015.
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.
The North Turner and Wassataquoik parcels are only a small portion of state land, about 5,000 acres, and will be harvested with a gentler hand due to their environmentally sensitive nature, according to Denico. Only a portion of the parcels have harvestable acreage, and of that, Denico said he expected only about a third would be cut because they are so unique.
Such forestry, he said, helps keep a forest environmentally healthy as well as economically viable.
The state has about 20 days to respond to Fitzgerald’s filing, Kubetz said. He expects the partitioning would be finished late this year.