In April 2005, Seattle-based Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Corporation rolled out a proposal for an unprecedented massive development on remote lands zoned for forestry uses in the Moosehead Lake Region. It sent shock waves throughout the state, especially through the Moosehead area.

As a local resident and a Maine guide, I know and love many of the places that have been targeted for development. I have to believe there is a better way to boost our local economy, while preserving what is special about the area. I am not alone.

In August 2005, more than 1,000 people attended a series of public meetings to express serious concerns. Many were concerned the proposed 975 house lots and two big resorts would be too much development, located in too many special places around the beautiful Moosehead Lake area.

They were concerned that development of this magnitude spread out across so many lakes and ponds, far from town, would undermine the foundation of the character, beauty and allure of Moosehead. People said these special places deserved permanent protection.

Subsequently, in 2006, Plum Creek submitted a revised proposal to the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission, claiming they had listened to Maine people.

But the development in this revised proposal looked very similar to the previous version. It still included 975 house lots – the same number as before. Ninety percent of the development remained in the same location as well. It was spread out over seven lakes and ponds in the area.

In late January, Plum Creek again sensed that its proposal needed revisions to meet the expectations of Maine people and Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) rules, and said it would again update their plan.

This is a critical moment and the future of Maine’s North Woods as we know it hangs in the balance.

Plum Creek has a tremendous opportunity to come forward and improve their plan to truly honor the people and communities around Moosehead Lake, the beauty and character of the area, and the goals of LURC’s land use guidelines, “smart growth” principles and future generations of Mainers.

“Location, location, location” is critical, as the old saying goes. Placing the house lots and resort developments strategically, within a few miles of Greenville, Rockwood or the existing Moose Mountain ski area, would be a great first step.

The sprawling nature of Plum Creek’s current development proposal would cost local residents money in terms of providing power, roads and emergency services, and would drain towns of the vitality to thrive and prosper.

People who buy a house lot for $150,000 or more, 40 minutes from town, are unlikely to send children to the schools. A full-service upscale resort on the remote Lily Bay peninsula is unlikely to boost locally-owned and operated businesses many miles away in Greenville.

In addition to location the development sensibly to avoid sprawl, Plum Creek has an opportunity to protect the best of Moosehead for the enjoyment and long term economic benefit of all.

By preserving shorelines and surrounding hillsides for all Mainers to enjoy, people who purchase house lots from Plum Creek, people who have lived in the area all their lives, and people who visit from away can all enjoy these irreplaceable special places forever.

If the company needs to raise money to be reimbursed for some of these lands, they should aim to do so.

Areas where Plum Creek has proposed development that are in need of permanent protection include: the historic and remote Northwest shore of Moosehead Lake (Big W Township); the pristine shores of western Brassua Lake, Upper Wilson Pond, the north shore of Long Pond and Indian Pond; the Lily Bay peninsula across the bay from Lily Bay State Park, and the moose watchers mecca of Prong Pond.

If Plum Creek wants to make a lasting mark on Maine for the good, while receiving a lucrative return on their investment, I believe they have an unprecedented opportunity to create this legacy. I sincerely hope Plum Creek grabs this opportunity as it moves forward with its revisions.

If the company does so, I’ll be the first to congratulate it.

Bob Guethlen is a community advocate for outreach and planning in the Moosehead Lake region. He lives in Rockwood.

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