June 14, 2008

Plum Creek Compromise

A major concern with Plum Creek Timber Co.'s proposal for a major development around Moosehead Lake - expressed by the governor, local residents and several members of the Land Use Regulation Commission - is that it is too large and sprawls over too great an area. Two environmental groups have offered a solution that is worth a closer look..

The Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon this week suggested the company remove development from the Lily Bay peninsula, where Plum Creek has proposed to locate a resort and more than 400 house lots. This is the aspect of their rezoning request that has garnered the most opposition.

In exchange for giving up development at Lily Bay, on the more remote east side of Moosehead Lake, the environmental groups identified 33,500 acres on the west side of the lake that could be removed from land the company would conserve as a requirement for its development.

The suggestion that the resort and house lots in Lily Bay be completely removed from the project - which calls for two resorts and 975 house lots - is unlikely to be accepted by Plum Creek. But a compromise solution, moving the Lily Bay resort closer to Greenville on the west side of the lake, could work. Plum Creek owns parcels between Greenville and Rockwood that include lake frontage that could provide good resort sites.

If Plum Creek accepts this change, the environmental groups should not view this as a green light to seek further concessions.

At a meeting last month, several members of LURC expressed concerns about the amount of development that Plum Creek proposed. They appeared, however, largely satisfied that a 340,000-acre conservation easement the company negotiated with The Nature Conservancy, Forest Society of Maine and Appalachian Mountain Club would offset the development. Plum Creek would be paid $35 million to preserve the land under the agreement.

Commissioners must be careful to keep separate the conservation that is required by the type of rezoning request Plum Creek has made and the voluntary easement. If LURC members feel there is too much development, they must either scale it back or they must require that more land be set aside.

The NRCM-Audubon proposal offers a third way. Moving the resort and house lots out of Lily Bay, where they would radically change the largely undeveloped character of the east side of Moosehead Lake, addresses concerns that the development is too sprawling.

Although not part of the environmental groups' proposal, the Lily Bay land could be put into the paid conservation easement, protecting it forever.

Although it is late in the process, since LURC already has begun deliberations on the proposal, the plan still can be changed. It is somewhat analogous to LURC's handling of a proposal to build wind turbines on Black Nubble Mountain and the Redington Pond Range in western Maine. In that case, as well, NRCM was the mediator, although it came after LURC's rejection of the plan because of concerns about its impacts. The group convinced the developer to propose turbines only on Black Nubble while protecting Redington and encouraged LURC to allow the company to submit a revised application rather than starting the process over. The proposal was ultimately approved.

Addressing a major concern - that its proposed development is inappropriate for Lily Bay - could be a reasonable price for Plum Creek to pay to have the rest of its plan approved.

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