PORTLAND (AP) – The state plans to bill Plum Creek Timber Co. tens of thousands of dollars for the cost of security at public hearings on its controversial development plan for the Moosehead Lake region.

The Seattle-based company, which has been a target of vandalism in Maine, says it has no objections to the extra costs.

There were no signs of protests or vandalism at the first three hearings before the Land Use Regulation Commission, held this month in Greenville, Augusta and Portland. The fourth and final hearing is set for Jan. 19 in Greenville.

Plum Creek’s plan to rezone 400,000 acres of timberlands and develop two large resorts and 975 house lots in the Moosehead area has stirred strong emotions. State officials wanted to be cautious because cars owned by Plum Creek employees had been vandalized during preliminary hearings on the project two years ago.

The security surrounding the Plum Creek review process is believed to be unprecendented for a development plan in northern Maine. At least a dozen police officers were at each of the hearings, patrolling parking lots and searching bags and briefcases of attendees.

There also were an unknown number of private security agents, hovering in the audience and around Plum Creek’s employees. The same security teams have been watching over employees’ homes and Plum Creek’s offices for the past two years.

Plum Creek offices were hit by vandals after the company announced its plan in early 2005. Later that year, vandals damaged homes of company employees and office buildings in five Maine communities.

The investigation, led by the FBI, is still ongoing. There have been no arrests.

As the state’s wilderness zoning board prepared for its formal hearings, state officials and police were concerned about managing large crowds and possible large protests.

“Due to the numbers of people, intelligence that we had gathered – which I’m not going to get into – and previous vandalism,” police agencies created a security plan for all of the hearings, Maine Public Safety Commissioner Anne Jordan said.

The absence of any disturbances at the first three hearings doesn’t mean the security was excessive, she said.

“You don’t do that kind of second-guessing,” Jordan said. “We plan based on what we think is necessary.”

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-12-25-07 1240EST

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