AUGUSTA – Plum Creek Timber Co. on Tuesday unveiled a scaled-back development outline for northern Maine’s Moosehead Lake region, which deletes some chunks of the original plan but keeps the number of residential lots envisioned earlier.
In addition, the Seattle-based company’s plan calls for setting aside more than 400,000 acres that would be permanently protected from development and kept open for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. Plum Creek calls the conservation easement one of the nation’s largest.
The new development plan reduces the number of shorefront lots planned along Maine’s largest lake, Moosehead, by 95 to 480. It also removes all housing lots from remote ponds, scuttles plans for a marina and focuses most of the development south of Rockwood and north of Greenville at the southern end of the 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake.
“Wow. As a lifelong resident of Greenville, that’s my reaction,” said Craig Watt, a business owner and member of a group that has monitored the development plans for a region of the state that’s prized by outdoors enthusiasts but has been buffeted by high unemployment, low wages and declining population.
Plum Creek’s original plan called for 975 house lots, two resorts and recreational-vehicle parks, a marina and rental cabins in the heavily forested region.
After a series of forums in which the public was invited to critique the plan, Plum Creek announced in December it was taking a fresh look at its proposal in response to what it heard from the public.
“We clearly heard that members of the community wanted more permanent conservation in the plan,” said Jim Lehner, Plum Creek’s general manager for the Northeast region. The new blueprint, whose details will be presented in about a week to the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission, attempts to strike a balance between development and conservation, he said.
“We certainly made our share of requests and are delighted at the response,” said George Smith, executive director of the 14,000-member Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
The scaled-back plan that emerged Tuesday drops plans for dozens of lots on remote ponds and along the Moose River, reduces a resort at Lily Bay along Moosehead from 3,000 to 500 acres and moves a resort that was planned at Rockwood to Big Moose Mountain, where a ski resort is already located.
Plum Creek foresees developing a 35-50 kilometer cross-country ski course. In addition, it proposes 74 miles of snowmobile trails and 70 miles of hiking trails.
Residential lots are moved closer to towns, and sporting camps and campgrounds would be allowed only within the development area and only after 30 years, said Lehner.
Plum Creek’s land asset manager, Luke Muzzy, said the company stuck with 975 residential lots in order to maintain a “critical mass” for its project. The plan that emerged “gives us a comprehensive plan for economic opportunities,” said Mark Scarano of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.
“This is a part of Maine that desperately needs jobs,” Scarano said. A study by a University of Southern Maine economist projects that the Moosehead development will create 1,300 jobs.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which supported Plum Creek’s original plan, applauded its proposed expansion of conservation acreage and refocusing of other components of the plan.
Chamber President Dana Connors said Plum Creek had again demonstrated its commitment to economic growth in an area that badly needs it.
While some conservation organizations last week expressed support for the land set-aside portion of the Plum Creek Plan, they have chosen to defer on the development portion to LURC, which regulates development in Maine’s unorganized lands.
One of the state’s largest environmental groups, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, has taken no public stand on any portion of the plan so far, but urged caution.
“We will look at the full plan when it is finally submitted,” the NRCM’s Cathy Johnson said. But she added the plan as described Tuesday includes “a lot of red flags,” such as no decrease in the number of house lots and land being held open for future development.
A statement released by the council said Plum Creek “is proposing too much development in the wrong places, which would destroy the character of the region.”