National Monument: Park director didn't change minds of vocal opponents
PORTLAND, MAINE >> The director of the National Park Service this week sought to allay concerns that a national monument designation in Maine could stymie industrial development or lead to the taking of land by eminent domain.
But his statements did little to sway some of the most outspoken critics of a plan to designate 136 square miles east of Baxter State Park as a national monument.
Kelley Michaud, a member of East Millinocket's Board of Selectmen, said the director didn't provide answers she wanted, including where roads would be built to provide public access.
"There didn't seem to be enough information to see how this is going to help us. I'm going to stick with my 'no,"' she said, reiterating her opposition. "If they do it, it's going against the wishes of the local people, and I think it's too bad."
Park Service Director Jon Jarvis held public forums in East Millinocket and Orono on Monday with a goal of hearing from Mainers before recommending whether President Barack Obama should designate the national monument.
While he was there to listen, he addressed some of the opponents' biggest concerns: Critics say the National Park Service could try to expand the size of the property by eminent domain and that federal air quality standards would preclude factories and heavy industry. They also fear that logging could be limited and that traditional recreational activities could end.
Jarvis told residents none of those things will happen. He said the federal land wouldn't harm economic development or eliminate activities people are accustomed to enjoying.
But critics are distrustful of the federal government and believe Park Service ownership could, among other things, lead to restrictions on hunting and snowmobiling.
Bob Meyers from the Maine Snowmobile Association said the director's "don't worry" attitude was troubling because, in his view, there's plenty to worry about.
"You know how long this has been going on. You'd be hard put to find too many people who've changed their positions since this all started," he said.
The land is owned by a foundation created by Burt's Bees founder Roxanne Quimby. Her proposal calls for donating the land valued at $60 million along with a $40 million endowment to fund operations. She'd like to see it happen this year, during the Park Service's 100th anniversary.
Quimby went public with her proposal in 2011. The foundation has since pressed for a national monument status, which can be awarded by the president without congressional approval.
David Trahan from the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine said his view remains colored by the removal of people from Quimby's land years ago.
"She insulted Maine people and kicked them off the land. That's hard for me to get out of my memory," he said.
He believes the monument will be created whether or not locals want it.
After the public hearings, Jarvis said he wasn't ready to make a recommendation to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who would consult with Obama.
"I have a lot to think about and a big stack of comment cards to read before I make a recommendation," he said.
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