July 15, 2008

Plum Creek Gives Some Ground, but Not Lily Bay

By JOHN RICHARDSON

Plum Creek Timber Co. has agreed to scale back some of its proposed development zones around Moosehead Lake, but is holding its ground on plans to put 404 homes and resort units next to Lily Bay.

The Maine Land Use Regulation Commission had recommended that the company phase in construction on Lily Bay peninsula to make sure the activity and traffic do not harm Canada lynx or other wildlife in the area.

Conservation groups, meanwhile, have appealed for little or no development there because of the area's value for wildlife and remote recreation. The proposed development is across a cove from Lily Bay State Park.

But in a new round of filings on its historic development plans, the company made clear that the resort and homes at Lily Bay are critical to the overall plan and that even a phased-in approach is "economically unworkable."

More than three years after the landowner first unveiled the largest subdivision proposal in Maine history, the project appears to be heading for a final rezoning decision later this year. Plum Creek, several interest groups and about 1,500 individuals filed written comments before the deadline Friday, and the state's land use commission is expected to meet in September to review the feedback and decide the next move.

Plum Creek wants the commission to rezone forestlands scattered around the lake to make room for 975 house lots and two resorts. The resorts could include as many as 1,050 units, ranging from single- family homes to hotel rooms.

The plan also includes more than 400,000 acres of land to be conserved through sales and easements that limit future development.

The latest volley of comments focuses on a list of recommendations from the land use commission to reduce the project's impacts on the region's character and wildlife, two of the top concerns raised by Mainers during public hearings statewide.

Plum Creek submitted an extensive response Friday and agreed to go along with most of the changes.

It said it will remove proposed development from the north shore of Long Pond, although the home lots would be moved elsewhere.

It agreed to accelerate the sale of conservation easements to permanently protect more than 300,000 acres of working forest as a way of balancing out the impact of the plan. It also said it would reduce the area of the proposed Lily Bay resort by 2,600 acres. The land use commission recommended a reduction of 2,997 acres.

But the company also said there were some things it could not, or would not, change.

Luke Muzzy, the project manager, said Monday that Plum Creek needs a minimum of 1,800 acres of development area near Lily Bay, and it would need assurance upfront that all 404 proposed units can be built.

"We need to get predictability that we can do the 404 units, because you'd still have to build the infrastructure as though it were 404 units," he said.

The company argued in its filing that the proposed amount of development there won't hurt the lynx population on a regional level.

And, instead of studying impacts on lynx halfway through the development there, Plum Creek is proposing a longer-term monitoring program and, if necessary, lynx conservation projects.

"We just feel that we can adequately study for them and mitigate" any impacts, Muzzy said.

The development of Lily Bay has been a concern of conservation groups statewide. Groups such as the Appalachian Mountain Club have called for reducing the development there, while the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon have appealed to eliminate it entirely, even if it means opening up the possibility for future development elsewhere in the region.

Jim Glavine, president of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, said Plum Creek's entire project is still too large and should be scaled back in such places as Brassua Lake and Indian Pond.

"Plum Creek has never been willing to reduce the number of their development lots," he said. "There's no demonstration that the area needs that many."

Lily Bay is a special concern because it is an important habitat area for Canada lynx, a species classified as threatened by the federal government.

"Having a resort there sets a dangerous precedent," Glavine said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]

[Sidebar]

DISCLOSURE

PLUM CREEK'S president and chief executive officer, Rick Holley, serves on the boards of directors of two companies affiliated with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram: the Blethen Corp. and The Seattle Times Co.

BLETHEN CORP. is the majority owner of The Seattle Times Co., which consists of The Seattle Times newspaper, three other Washington newspapers and Blethen Maine Newspapers. Holley joined the Blethen Corp. board of directors in April 2006 and joined The Seattle Times Co. board in January 2007.

BLETHEN MAINE Newspapers includes the Press Herald/Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel and the Coastal Journal. It has a separate board of directors, and Holley does not serve on that board.

Sources: The Seattle Times Co., Plum Creek Timber Co. and the state of Washington's Office of the Secretary of State

RECOMMENDATIONS

PLUM CREEK TIMBER CO. accepted these recommended changes to its Moosehead Lake region development plan:

Eliminate proposed development on the north shore of Long Pond and move half of the 110 house lots elsewhere.

Complete private land conservation agreements covering roughly 300,000 acres within 45 days of final state approval of the plan.

Remove a number of wetlands, wildlife habitat areas and one important view shed from development zones.

Remove nearly 2,600 acres from the 4,358-acre development zone on Lily Bay, although the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission staff recommended a 2,997-acre reduction.

THE COMPANY DID NOT accept these recommendations:

Move forward with the Lily Bay resort and subdivision in two phases to make sure the activity and traffic do not harm Canada lynx.

Transfer primary enforcement of private conservation easements to the state.

Set tighter controls on water and gravel extraction, as well as the development of wind farms, in the conservation areas.

Originally published by By JOHN RICHARDSON Staff Writer.

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