MEDWAY, Maine — At an early afternoon rally, dozens of area residents joined with local businesspeople, state officials and the leaders of the state’s largest sportsmen’s group to express their opposition to a proposed national park. In the evening about 120 people gathered at a forum at Schenck High School in East Millinocket to hear supporters and opponents debate the proposed national park. Medway residents voted against the national park by a wide margin in a non-binding referendum June 23 and East Millinocket residents will hold a similar referendum on June 29.
The Maine Woods Coalition, which is leading the effort against the park, also released a list of 229 businesses employing more than 5,000 people that are opposed to the park .
“Most of these businesses have direct ties to this area and the Maine forest products industry. They know that a national park will hurt their businesses, not help them grow,” said Bob Meyers of the Maine Snowmobile Association, who helped compile the list.
Speaking for Gov. Paul LePage, Brian Doyle of the Department of Economic and Community Development said the Governor stands with the businesses opposed to the park and feels that it will prevent the region from using its core strengths. “Maine people need to control this area, not the federal government,” Doyle said in passing along the Governor’s concerns.
“The forest products industry is alive and well,” said Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service, adding that the state now has to import wood because it can’t harvest enough to meet the demand of Maine manufacturers and wood processors. “Every acre we take out of production costs the state $450, so when you’re talking about tens of thousands of acres, that adds up pretty fast.”
Speaking of the Katahdin Region, Denico acknowledged the loss of the paper mills, but noted that the region is still rich in assets with vast forests, an extensive road system, hydropower and rail. “If I had to pick one place in Maine, this is the one where something positive can happen, if not right away then in the very near future.”
Tom Gardner, a local landowner and sawmill operator who employs 150 people, said he has “serious concerns” about having to deal with the federal government. Gardner, who has plans to continue to grow his companies and create more jobs, owns a large tract of land within with the proposed park and recreation area boundaries.
“Bringing the federal government in here won’t help,” he said. “Everybody I’ve ever talked to who has had to operate near federal lands has told me that it will be devastating if the federal government and a national park are next to my land.”
Jimmy Busque of Millinocket, treasurer of the Fin & Feather Club of Maine, a sportsmen’s group boasting more than 500 members, said his group is known for fighting for access to land and has been opposed to the idea of a park since 1992, when a 3.2 million acre national park was first proposed.
“Access is a major issue,” Busque said, “and when you are dealing with the National Park Service, access becomes a big problem. Roxanne Quimby and Lucas St. Clair are making promises they can’t keep, because once the federal government takes over, their rules apply.”
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, questioned the park proponents’ jobs claim, saying, “When doing business in Maine credibility and integrity is the only commodity that matters. Pro-park supporters have destroyed that trust by misleading Maine people about the amount of land they own and could legitimately commit to a park and a recreational area.”
The study that Elliotsville Plantation is using for its job projections was conducted by Headwaters Economics. Information on the park proponents’ website states: “Headwaters Economics conducted this economic analysis under the assumption that there would be up to 150,000 acres of land donated to the National Park Service, of which 75,000 acres would be in a National Park (NP) and 75,000 acres would be in a National Recreation Area (NRA).” Park proponents now admit that they actually own less than 60% of the land in question.
Their entire study is not worth the paper it was written on,” Trahan said. “It was based on the false information; consequently, estimates about jobs created are useless. Unfortunately, the people of the Millinocket region have been fed a false sense of hope that a park would create jobs and prosperity. “
Kim Marston, a longtime East Millinocket resident whose family owns two camps near the proposed park area, is concerned about their close proximity to the proposed national park area and future access. As a mother of two teenagers, she said she is also “concerned about the false information that my kids will be able to graduate from high school and go right to work in the park. I know there are businesses interested in coming up here, but with this cloud overhead, people are very leery.”