Allagash suffers under a new law

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Perhaps, it seems, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway is destined to become just a long, skinny state park, complete with parking lots and bathhouses.

We hope not, and we think most Mainers would be aghast at the idea.

Yet, while attention was focused on adding the Katahdin Lake area to Baxter State Park, a bad bill sweeping aside years of careful consideration and compromise on the Allagash was passed into law.

Disappointingly, Gov. John Baldacci, despite advice from the state’s own administration, decided not to veto this bill. Instead, the governor opted to do nothing, allow the bill to become law and is now calling for an “Executive Task Force” to examine options for better governing the Allagash.

More likely, as critics suggest, the governor hopes the new task force will provide the illusion of a solution to the Allagash problem until he gets through the November election.

The bill, submitted by Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, basically locks in motorized vehicle access at 11 sites, including six sites where cars and trucks can go right to the water, and 19 access points for snowmobiles.

It also declares permanent six watercourse crossings, contravening the 1966 Allagash Act and the 1970 “wild river” designation. Both state and federal laws and guidelines allow only for temporary crossings.

There are hundreds of miles of river in Maine, and there are thousands of places that Mainers can access those rivers with everything from snowmobiles to jet skis to house boats.

But, we believe, that most Mainers want the Allagash to be different, preserved as nearly as possible in a wild state, protected from overuse.

And, over the years, a variety of groups, courts and layers of state and federal government have worked to craft a variety of compromises designed to protect the waterway: the 1966 Allagash Act (approved by Maine voters); the 1970 Wild River Designation; the 2002 Memo of Agreement between the state and the National Park Service and the 2003 River Drivers Agreement.

Unfortunately, the hasty and ill-conceived bill that will become law dismantles much of that good work.

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