WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Angus King wants the National Park Service’s leader to hear what Katahdin region residents have to say about a proposed North Woods national monument, he said Friday.
King wrote Director Jonathan B. Jarvis that while President Barack Obama has the authority to create a monument via an executive order, Jarvis’ attention would help the federal government understand local residents’ feelings on the issue.
“I continue to believe it is critical that the Department of the Interior focus its attention to the proposed conditions outlined in our previous letter,” King, I-Maine, wrote Friday, referring to a November letter he and other members of Maine’s congressional delegation sent to President Obama.
“I was pleased to note in your response that the Department of the Interior is sensitive to traditional land and forest practices in the region, and that you personally put a premium on local concerns and ideas regarding any possible designation,” King added.
The latter referred to a letter Jarvis wrote dated Feb. 4, in which Jarvis said he would welcome further discussions about the proposed national park and monument. Jarvis visited the proposed site in 2014 as an invited guest of leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair.
“I strongly believe that the voices of those who call the Katahdin region home and who create and sustain jobs there are a fundamental part of this ongoing discussion,” King added.
Some representatives of the pro- and anti-monument groups were receptive on Friday to the idea of Jarvis visiting. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, who opposes a monument, said in a statement that Jarvis could hear some local residents’ “grave concerns about the impacts of this possible national monument designation.”
“I also hope that a visit would allow the director to see firsthand the road and access issues that not only have the potential to cripple our logging and timber industries but also pose serious safety concerns for families that would visit the proposed monument,” said Poliquin, who represents the area, which is in the 2nd Congressional District.
“I think everybody would appreciate an opportunity to be heard,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, which opposes the monument. “It has been pretty clear that the National Park Service has been only getting one part of the story.”
Meyers was among several anti-monument representatives including Poliquin who met with White House officials on Monday to help dissuade Obama from signing an executive order creating a monument. The White House staffers seemed unaware of how trafficked the proposed monument roads are with logging trucks, of East Millinocket and Medway residents’ votes last year against a park, and how neighboring landowners oppose the idea, Meyers said.
“The bottom line is, people in the area don’t want it. Their expensive consultants can paint all the pictures they want but nothing they say can change that,” Meyers added.
St. Clair spokesman David Farmer called King’s letter “a major step forward.”
“It continues the ongoing dialogue about the creation of a national monument in Maine,” added Farmer, who said that support is growing for a monument as an interim step to a national park.
Son of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, St. Clair has proposed giving about 87,500 acres of family land east of Baxter State Park to the National Park Service, first as a national park and then, when support wasn’t forthcoming, as a monument.
Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce President Gail Fanjoy, whose organization supports a monument, called a Jarvis visit “a step in the right direction. The conditions as outlined through his talks in the region are important to making this a successful visitor experience.”
Spokespersons for Jarvis, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Republican Gov. Paul LePage, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. Collins has expressed reservations about a monument, while LePage opposes it.