PORTLAND – State and national conservation groups have teamed up to fight the largest commercial development proposed for Maine’s North Woods in the past three decades.

The groups announced Tuesday at City Hall their intention to scuttle Plum Creek Timber Co. Inc.’s 9,000-acre proposal that would include two resorts and nearly 1,000 home lots around Moosehead Lake.

Jonathan Carter, the two-time candidate for governor who championed an anti-clear-cutting campaign in the 1990s, called Plum Creek’s plan “wilderness sprawl.” Carter, who heads up Forest Ecology Network, pledged with the other groups to oppose the project during state review, then take the matter to court and even launch a statewide referendum, if necessary, he told reporters.

“We’re going to be attacking from all sides,” he said.

Jym St. Pierre, director of RESTORE: The North Woods, said, “We are getting whacked with the biggest real estate scam in our state’s history.”

Carter and St. Pierre said the Seattle company misrepresented its long-range goals when it started buying up Maine land in the late 1990s. Carter said company spokesmen assured him they were mainly interested in timber harvesting.

“They deceived the public,” he said. “They did not tell me the truth.”

Jim Lehner, Plum Creek’s general manager for the Northeast region, said when contacted later by phone that his company continues to pursue timber harvesting on its nearly 1 million acres in Maine.

“That’s our primary focus,” he said. But, where different use is appropriate, his company will go into development mode, he added.

Plum Creek plans to develop 9,000 of the more than 400,000 acres it owns in the Moosehead Lake area, Lehner said.

The rest would be used for hiking, snowmobiling and ski trails and be protected by conservation easements.

Two national conservation groups joined the effort to head off the project.

John Demos of American Lands said Maine is poised to lose one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land east of the Mississippi River.

State Rep. John Eder, a Green Party member from Portland, said the project would “forever change the character of Maine.” He vowed to galvanize support in the Maine Legislature to block the planned development, possibly through a moratorium.

“The people of my district are very concerned,” he said.

It remains to be seen how concerned people in the Greenville and Rockwood areas will be.

Lehner said Plum Creek sought input from area residents and businesses before submitting formal plans to the state’s Land Use Regulatory Commission in April.

LURC Director Catherine Carroll said the state would start holding public meetings in the Moosehead Lake area starting in mid-August. Plum Creek’s application is incomplete and has not been accepted by her office, she said.

Carter said even a scaled-back project is wrong.

“This type of development does not belong in Maine,” he said. FEN members from the area agree, he said.

He expected his efforts to fight the project would cost at least $100,000. He planned to start raising money soon for the campaign.

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