GREENVILLE (AP) – Speakers at the last of four public hearings on Plum Creek Timber Co.’s development plan for the Moosehead Lake region were divided on whether it would be an economic boon or an environmental curse.

Dozens of people testified Saturday before the Land Use Regulation Commission on the plan to create 975 house lots and two resorts on 20,000 acres around the state’s largest lake.

Seated in front of a huge painting of Moosehead Lake on the stage of the Greenville High School auditorium, LURC members were told how enrollment in the town’s schools has dropped by more than 100 students, or more than 25 percent, within the last decade.

While speaking neither for nor against the Plum Creek plan, Superintendent Heather Perry told of the challenge the community faces as enrollment declines and shrinking state subsidies shift more costs onto local taxpayers.

Perry’s comments underscored the hunger for economic growth in a community that is struggling to maintain a critical mass of people and jobs to support its schools and hospital.

Edward Olivier, chief financial officer of C.A. Dean Memorial Hospital, said the small hospital is under utilized and can’t get any smaller without ceasing to be a hospital.

“The simple solution for C.A. Dean is more patients. The Plum Creek plan will bring jobs and will bring new tourists and new residents, some of whom will need services at the hospital,” Olivier said.

Health care, he said, is at least as important as the natural environment to the people who live and work in the community.

Critics of the project expressed fears that it would forever mar an area that has long served as a mecca for sportsmen and nature lovers.

Joan Welsh of Rockport, former president and CEO of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, said the school has been drawn to the North Woods by its beauty and remoteness. She said staff and students have contributed to the local economy for decades.

She said that if sprawling development compromises the wilderness environment, the integrity of courses taught in the North Woods will be jeopardized.

Nevin Christensen, of Simsbury, Conn., came to the hearing after visiting Moosehead Lake over the summer.

“As I used to go to school, cows used to cross the road and the bus had to stop,” he said, describing his home town. Now, he said, that rural environment is replaced by urban sprawl and it is unsafe to even ride a bike.

Christensen said he came to the hearing to fulfill a promise to his 3-year-old son.

“So I could look him in the eye and say I did what I could to preserve Moosehead Lake,” he said.

LURC will hold four days of party sessions next week, giving lawyers and experts with legal standing in the process an opportunity to question witnesses.

Information from: Morning Sentinel,

AP-ES-01-20-08 1040EST

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