Hearing set for Plum Creek project

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AUGUSTA (AP) – State regulators have approved a tentative plan to begin hearings in May on Plum Creek Timber Co.’s controversial development project in the Moosehead Lake region, but some environmental groups say the sessions should be delayed.

The Land Use Regulation Commission voted 4-2 Wednesday in favor of the hearing schedule that calls for the first daylong public comment period to be held in Greenville on May 19.

That hearing would set the stage for a series of “technical” sessions involving interested parties certified as intervenors. A second public comment session would then be held June 2 in either Bangor or the Augusta , potentially followed by a third week of hearings.

“I do feel this is a reasonable timeframe to be proposing,” LURC director Catherine Carroll told the board. “After all, we have had the application since April of 2005, and we have been reviewing the proposal non-stop.”

Plum Creek’s plan to develop 975 house lots, two resorts and an affordable housing complex in the region surrounding Maine’s largest lake has drawn intense public interest, with an estimated 1,000 people attending four “scoping sessions” held by LURC in the months after the plan was announced.

Plum Creek officials claim that revisions in their development plan address many of the concerns expressed at the scoping sessions. The company removed lots on remote ponds, relocated a proposed resort closer to Greenville and offered to protect permanently more than 400,000 acres of forestland through easements and land sales to conservation groups.

Critics, however, maintain that the plan would bring sprawl to the principal gateway to Maine’s North Woods, changing its nature and character for all time.

In response to questions about whether two public comment sessions would be sufficient and suggestions that sessions be scheduled in southern Maine.

Carroll said the commission can always add public hearings.

Representatives of Maine Audubon, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other groups likely to seek intervenor status urged commissioners to move back the hearing dates until July at the earliest.

Critics of the tentative schedule questioned whether intervenors would have sufficient time to prepare responses to reports that Plum Creek is scheduled to submit in March. Groups also noted that many seasonal residents of the Moosehead area don’t arrive until June or July.

“This enormously complex proposal involves tens of thousands of acres … in an area of enormous significance to the people of the state,” said Harrison Richardson, an attorney representing Maine Audubon and the Natural Resources Council. “I see no reason why there needs to be a hearing in May.”

But LURC Chairman Bart Harvey said no date will please everyone. He said the commission must move forward with its review of Plum Creeks plan, which is only one of several major issues pending before the board.

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