July 14, 2008

Plum Creek Mostly OK With Changes

By KEVIN MILLER; OF THE NEWS STAFF

Plum Creek officials said Friday that they can accept most of the changes that state regulators proposed to the company's historic development plan for the Moosehead Lake region.

After several years of heated public debate, the Land Use Regulation Commission is nearing completion of its review of Plum Creek's proposal for 975 house lots and two large resorts near Moosehead.

In late May, the commission and staff crafted a list of changes that they said would be necessary for the agency to approve Plum Creek's immensely controversial plan.

To the dismay of Plum Creek's critics, however, LURC did not propose eliminating house lots or reducing the scope of development near Lily Bay.

On Friday, the last day for public comments, Plum Creek officials indicated they could live with most of the changes.

"Plum Creek is pleased that we agree with LURC on the majority of their amendments to the plan," Luke Muzzy, project manager with Plum Creek, said in a statement.

"However, there are also issues that we need to have clarified and some amendments that are not completely workable. We've always said that we wanted to meet as many interests as possible with this plan, including Plum Creek's."

Plum Creek has agreed to these changes:

. Require the company and its conservation partners to complete several privately negotiated land preservation deals encompassing roughly 300,000 acres within 45 days of final LURC approval.

. Increase from 91,000 to 95,000 acres the amount of land Plum Creek would donate to offset the impacts of development.

. Reduce by half - from 110 to 55 - the number of house lots proposed for Long Lake, located between Rockwood and Jackman.

But the company disagreed with a LURC proposal to remove nearly 3,000 acres from the 4,358-acre development zone on Lily Bay and add that land to the acreage slated for conservation. Instead, company officials want the figure reduced to 2,600 acres.

Plum Creek officials also said proposed amendments to the conservation easements undercut efforts to maintain the land as a working forest. Any plan must be workable to Plum Creek, local residents and the environment, company officials wrote to LURC.

"It must give the company, LURC and the public assurance ... that the plan can be implemented," company officials wrote. "Approval of 975 residential units and two resorts of a plan that did not have a good chance of being implemented would be a false step indeed."

Several groups intervening in the Plum Creek proceedings have criticized LURC for not proposing more changes to the plan, particularly to the number of house lots and development near Lily Bay.

Plum Creek's proposal has deeply divided Mainers. Supporters insist the plan will bring much-needed growth and jobs to an area of the state in economic distress. But opponents predict the houses and resorts will harm the region by ruining the rural and scenic qualities that draw tourists.

LURC will consider all of the comments received during the past month before deciding whether to amend the plan further. A final vote on the rezoning application could come in late summer or early fall.

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