MILLINOCKET, Maine — The National Park Service needs to answer more questions before U.S. Sen. Angus King will decide whether to support a North Woods national monument, he said Wednesday.
On the second and last day of a fact-finding tour of northern Penobscot County intended to aid the state’s struggling forest products industries, King acknowledged the inevitability of addressing local concerns about entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby’s proposed gift to the nation, likely the largest issue confronting the Katahdin region.
“Everybody’s trying to get a real handle on what is being proposed and what its impacts will be,” King said Wednesday during a stop at Millinocket Fabrication & Machine Inc.
King, who energized the park debate more than a year ago, said he awaits further response from Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis to a letter that he, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin wrote Nov. 20. The letter called for “a whole series of conditions that we felt had to be addressed if there was going to be a monument designation or park or whatever,” King said.
“The list is very important if this is going to work for Maine,” King said.
“A lot of that [letter] focuses on local control. I am waiting to see how they respond. The good news is they [federal park service officials] haven’t rejected those ideas, but nothing is on paper, so we will see what their response is,” he added.
Jarvis responded to the Maine delegates’ letter with a letter of his own on Feb. 4 in which he said he appreciated them sharing their thoughts “on what you believe would be critically important considerations ranging from public access to private property rights.”
King followed up with another letter on March 25 encouraging Jarvis to visit the region and address the concerns of local residents. Jarvis has yet to respond to the invitation.
“One thing I have learned as a governor and as a senator is that this one-size-fits-all [approach] doesn’t fit anybody, so we have to tailor whatever results come here, if any, to meet the needs of the state of Maine and the region,” King said.
The delegates’ letter to Jarvis states nine conditions, including providing “express permission for all traditional recreation uses” with the monument designation. That includes hunting, fishing and all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile use.
The president also must preserve the “robust forestry activities” such as logging, trucking and timber harvesting and give preference to Maine businesses and products in contracting for monument services. The delegation recommended that the U.S. Forest Service “be considered as an agency to oversee” the monument with assistance from a local and state advisory board.
Jarvis’ spokesperson did not respond immediately to a request for comment Wednesday. David Farmer, spokesman for Quimby’s son, leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair, did not say whether the forest service or another agency besides the park service would be acceptable to the Quimby family.
“We have had a number of very productive conversations with Sen. King and his staff, and we believe that we can address the majority of the concerns he outlined in his letter, including protecting traditional outdoors activities,” Farmer said in a statement.
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 the proposal received heavy state and local government opposition, as a monument.
King spurred the debate anew when Millinocket officials revealed in February of last year that he wanted them to provide him with their requirements for supporting a park.
He met Wednesday with members of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, which supports a monument, before touring the foundry and attending a ribbon-cutting and economic development meeting at DesignLab in which six volunteer economic development groups outlined their progress on other business development issues.
Chamber members clearly favored a monument while a meeting with East Millinocket and Medway selectmen after the Chamber breakfast revealed that the latter “are a little more reluctant,” King said. Both towns voted against a park last year.
He added that “there just needs to be continuing discussion” of a monument despite anti-park sentiments expressed by a majority of area residents. Monument supporters have said that local support is strong and that the monument is a statewide issue.
King said that his tour was unlikely to produce any immediate positive results, but found encouragement in U.S. Department of Commerce officials’ pledge late Tuesday to have an analysis team see what federal aid can come to the region.
The area’s economic problems, King said, “are getting a high level of attention from Washington. That is exactly what we want.”