MILLINOCKET, Maine — With President Donald Trump targeting northern Maine’s national monument, Katahdin-area leaders who fiercely opposed its creation now say they want to keep it.
Nineteen officials representing towns near the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument wrote Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke asking him to do “everything in your power to ensure that this monument is a success,” as Zinke’s agency reviews whether President Barack Obama followed the law in creating it.
At least two officials who signed — Millinocket Town Council member Jesse Dumais and Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway — previously opposed the monument. Stanley in 2016 sponsored a bill that would have barred landowners from donating land for monuments.
The letter appeared to be the strongest signal yet that the monument is winning over critics, even as the issue reaches the highest levels of the federal government.
“We understand that there are some who have talked of rescinding the designation of this monument. We encourage you to reject that idea,” the one-page letter, dated Friday, states.
“Although the monument is less than a year old, already some businesses in the region have experienced an uptick in activity,” the letter continues. “The communities have begun to heal from the divisiveness that existed during the [monument] debate. Our communities now have hope again.”
Municipal leaders from East Millinocket, Medway, Patten and Sherman and Sens. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, and James Dill, D-Old Town, also signed. Many were already monument proponents.
A supporter of President Donald Trump and LePage, Dumais said he signed to protect investments made in the area since former President Barack Obama’s executive order created the monument in August 2016.
“I am in fear of other investments not coming to the area if it is rescinded,” Dumais, a former monument opponent, said Tuesday.
Dumais said he disagreed with Zinke’s decision on Friday to include Katahdin Woods among 27 monuments to be reviewed per Trump’s executive order of April 26. Federal officials said the monument might have been designated “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
“In my personal opinion, we have had adequate input. The governor came to East Millinocket himself to testify against the monument,” Dumais said.
A foe of the monument who testified to Congress against it last week, LePage spoke during a Congressional field hearing in East Millinocket on June 1, 2016.
Citing a clause in the Antiquities Act of 1906 that confines a monument size to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” Trump’s administration has signaled that it might seek to rescind at least some of the 27. The majority of targeted monuments are at least 100,000 acres. Katahdin Woods is 87,563 acres.
The letter effort began about a month before Trump’s executive order, according to Richard Schmidt III, a member of the Patten Board of Selectmen, who emailed it to Zinke on Friday. Schmidt finds encouragement in the monument’s developing new fans.
“I know that there are people who have signed it who were not in favor of the monument,” Schmidt said. “The biggest thing is that the majority of our board chose to sign the letter. That speaks volumes.”
Monument critics East Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston and Millinocket council Chairman Michael Madore apparently elected not to sign. Madore hinted his board’s position has softened, saying he and the council majority would take a position on the issue when the federal government makes its monuments plans clear.
“We have to work with the state of Maine and federal government” in crafting an economic development plan for Millinocket, and “taking a side could alienate them,” Madore said.