katahdin, moosehead lakes

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In the past week, we’ve seen two thoughtful and fair compromises worked out in private land sales to preserve and protect Maine.

The first, and less contentious one, on Katahdin Lake. The second, more emotional one, on and surrounding Moosehead Lake.

In each case, competing arguments of preservation and development were fully aired in public meetings, giving adequate time and opportunity for us all to have a say in the future development of these great areas.

In each case, the compromises are imperfect. But that’s the heart of compromise – a workable arrangement of concession among multiple parties.

While it might be nice to think Maine can be preserved as ever wild, nice is not always achievable. The concept of nature-based tourism is not new, but it is expanding into more and greater areas of wilderness as development creeps across our forests and around our lakes. Now, with every fourth home purchased in this country established as a second home, it would be foolish to think that unchecked development and recreational interest would not eventually erode the culture of Moosehead and Katahdin lakes – especially in a state that promotes such tourism and development – so it just makes sense to plan for and control that inevitable development.

The compromise at Katahdin is pretty simple: split the parcel and the land management between the Bureau of Public Lands and Baxter State Park and permit mixed uses across the land. Hunting, fishing, trapping and other recreational activities will be permitted in the north, but existing restrictions on these activities now employed at Baxter park would extend in the new acreage to the south.

The compromise at Moosehead, which is far from a done deal, is much more complicated and, for a timber company that lugs along a controversial reputation for land management, is reasonably crafted in solid consideration of people who live and recreate there.

Last year, when Plum Creek Timber Co. announced its development plan for Moosehead Lake, there were immediate cries of alarm. The company, to its credit, scaled back the proposal after hearing those cries in what was a very public comment process.

On Tuesday, immediately after the company’s new plan was released, environmental groups leaped on the plan as permanently harmful to the landscape. In particular, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has been critical and preempted Plum Creek’s revised plan with its own plan. Problem is, the NRCM doesn’t own the land. Timber Creek does, and Maine traditionally has allowed landowners great control over use.

In order to win Land Use Regulation Commission approval for its plan – which is probably a year away – Timber Creek must conform to existing regulation. It appears to have done that by curtailing the size and scope of its project, walking away from its plans to create house lots on multiple remote ponds, dropping plans to construct a marina, relocating a resort from Rockwood to Moose Mountain (next to an existing but tired private ski resort), and limiting campground size. Further, it will set aside 400,000 acres in permanent protection for recreational use and assess a fee on the sale of each house lot for deposit into a community fund to assist with local education and recreational costs.

This unabashed for-profit timber company has, it would be fair to say, voluntarily left some profit on the table in favor of community support. Timber Creek will make money, to be sure, but Mainers are certainly getting something in return.

We support wise development and land use across Maine. We believe, at Katahdin and nearby Moosehead lakes, the solutions offered for these areas this week are responsible for Maine, now, and in the future.

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