Plum Creek’s plans have almost been around for so long, they’ve become part of the Maine landscape.

But the recent arrest of four protesters in the offices of the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission reminds us how contentious and difficult the decision-making process has been regarding its unprecedented proposal.

Maine has never seen a project like what Plum Creek wants to do. The Seattle timber company wants to build a kingdom in the North Woods: two resorts and 975 house lots in the pristine wilderness.

Regulators held three and a half years of hearings, dealings, reviews and re-drafts of the Plum Creek proposal. Finally, this week, LURC presented its final offer to Plum Creek, which will likely decide the development’s fate.

It was a milestone moment, not just because of what happened in Maine, but nationally too: an epic financial meltdown, framed by divisive debate in Washington about escaping the country’s rank financial miasma.

This is another measurement of the proposal. If anything could have killed it, it was this.

When Plum Creek’s plans were first announced in April 2005, the nation was ensconced in boom times of cheap credit, inflated housing prices and rampant construction. New homes in attractive places like Arizona, Florida and Nevada were stacked like cordwood.

Plum Creek’s idea fit that business landscape. But now, with foreclosures piling and credit nonexistent, its proposal seems alien. Nobody is building anything anywhere, yet it still wants to build where there’s nobody, near to nowhere.

This makes its plans seem as inevitable as the sunrise.

Maybe Maine should start looking at it this way.

Neither protests, vandalism, three insufferable years of review nor global financial meltdown have dissuaded Plum Creek from its appointed plans. This indicates the company is either completely immune from economic forces, which is unlikely, or its belief in its proposal is near-fanatical.

We think the latter, which means pressure on the North Woods and Moosehead Lake is far from over, because the copious potential for development could outweigh even the fiercest environmental, social or financial concerns.

In the Plum Creek negotiations, at least, conservation of 400,000 forested acres was secured. Given the amount of northern timberlands in private hands, preserving this broad swath must be considered a victory for the state.

And it puts future forestland developers on notice: this state demands significant contributions toward protecting the region’s wilderness character, which is of utmost importance to the residents and advocates who cherish it.

Of all precedents set by this proposal, this is the best.

We don’t know whether Plum Creek will take LURC’s take-it-or-leave-it offer. What is known is nothing short of the apocalypse has stalled the company so far.

So, maybe Plum Creek will say no.

But it’s more probable the state negotiated the best deal possible, with a company nothing could stop.


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