PATTEN, Maine — Residents voted 121-53 with three abstentions against supporting a proposed national park in a nonbinding referendum on Tuesday, officials said.
At the urging of resident Steve Crouse, voters were asked as part of developing a nonbinding resolution, “Do you favor the designation of a national monument or the creation of a national park and national recreation area in the Katahdin region?”
One hundred and twenty-one voted “no” in response to the question, and 53 voted yes, officials said. Three abstained.
Patten, which has a population of approximately 1,000, is about 10 miles east of the proposed recreation area and farther east of the proposed park land owned by entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby.
Resident Myron Baldwin, who supports the park, said he did so with misgivings and wasn’t too surprised at how the vote went. He thought people voted against the park because they didn’t “know what they were getting into.”
“It could be bad, it could be good, there could be no change, but they don’t really know,” Baldwin said Tuesday. “I voted for it because I understand that the mills aren’t doing too well and something better change. Whether or not the park is the right thing to do, I have no idea.”
Robert McNeally said he voted against the park because he believed that it would hurt the company he works for, which is about 50 miles away and makes laminated strand board. He believed that the park would force the raising of air quality standards that his company would have to spend money to meet.
“Maine is an industrial state,” McNeally said. “Everybody [who supports the park] claims that there will be new jobs with it but I don’t see it.”
Leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, has said a national park would generate 450 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills, and coexist with operating industries.
Park opponents have said they fear a park would bring federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2 million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s. They also express skepticism about the job-creation estimates and the idea that St. Clair’s plan is substantially different from that originally proposed by Quimby in 2011. Quimby’s plan was opposed by the governor, Legislature and several local governments.
St. Clair switched gears and started campaigning in November for a national monument, which can be created by a presidential executive order, instead of a park, which only Congress can create.
Patten joins East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket as municipalities known to oppose the proposal. Bangor’s City Council endorsed the park concept, while East Millinocket and Medway residents voted to oppose it last year. Millinocket’s Town Council opposes it and the monument and the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce endorses the park and monument. A survey of 500 respondents across the 2nd Congressional District last year showed that 67 percent favored a proposed park and recreation area, St. Clair has said.
Of Patten’s 652 eligible voters, 177 cast ballots in the nonbinding referendum, Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Schmidt said.
“Normally, for this time of year, we get less than 5 percent,” Schmidt said Tuesday. “It’s a bigger turnout than we’ve had in a number of years.”