State regulators began delving into the meat of Plum Creek’s development plan for the Moosehead Lake region on Monday, hearing opening statements from some of more than 30 organizations that hope to influence the commission’s decision.
Over the weekend, members of the Land Use Regulation Commission heard hours of testimony from the public on Plum Creek’s historic and controversial proposal.
On Monday, while much of the rest of the state was hunkered down for the season’s first severe snowstorm, LURC began plowing through the lengthy technical hearings that will examine the plan in exhaustive detail.
Seattle-based Plum Creek is seeking to rezone about 20,000 acres in the Moosehead region as part of a concept plan proposing 975 house lots and two large resorts. The company’s plan, if approved by the commission, would trigger permanent conservation of more than 400,000 acres in the area.
Many of the opening statements given Monday were general in nature. Opponents, however, repeatedly urged the commission to scrutinize several specific aspects of the plan in the coming weeks. Those recurring concerns include:
ä The appropriateness of a resort and nearby subdivisions on Lily Bay.
ä House lots proposed for Long Pond, portions of Brassua Lake and near Indian Pond, all three of which are popular destinations for backcountry recreation.
ä Provisions of the conservation easement that could allow cell towers, wind turbines, gravel mining and septic waste disposal sites.
“What the easement does is preserve a commercial forest … and I suggest to you that is different than conserving natural resources,” Phil Worden, an attorney representing the group RESTORE: The North Woods, said during the LURC hearing which was broadcast live online. “Plum Creek has had since 2005 to submit a plan that meets your standards. They have not done it.”
Parties that are supporting Plum Creek’s application outlined their plans to focus largely on the economic aspects of the project, ranging from the dramatic decline of the Moosehead region’s tourist economy that the development could jump-start to the potential for additional jobs.
Supporters also will focus on the amount of unplanned development that has occurred locally in recent decades as well as the growing number of large “kingdom lots” in the area. With a cap on houses and 400,000-plus acres of conservation, the plan offers an attractive alternative, proponents said.
“Is this the silver bullet for the area? Of course it isn’t,” said Plum Creek’s Luke Muzzy. “But it’s an important part of it.”
While public hearings are an important part of any high-profile LURC review, it is during the technical hearings with intervening parties that commission members have an opportunity to truly dissect an application.
Intervening parties also can cross-examine one another. And with attorneys often representing the parties, the proceedings sometimes have a courtroomlike atmosphere. Members of the general public can attend the intervenor hearings but generally are not permitted to participate.
LURC is slated to hold intervenor hearings through Friday of this week and Monday through Friday of next week, all at the St. Paul Center in Augusta. The commission then will hold two additional public hearings – Dec. 15 in Portland and Dec. 16 in Greenville – before returning in January for another week of intervenor hearings.
LURC director Catherine Carroll said last week that all seven commissioners had blocked off the entire two weeks in December to attend the hearings on this important case.
“We have to remind ourselves that they are a volunteer board and they are not being paid to do this,” Carroll said. “They have jobs and employers and families that they are basically walking away from for much of December.”
The Plum Creek hearings can be heard live online at LURC’s Web site, www.maine.gov/doc/lurc.
By Kevin Miller
4 December 2007
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