Up Plum Creek without a paddle

Enviro tactics
By YANNI PEARY  |  November 28, 2007

Plum Creek Public Hearings | with the Land Use Regulation Commission | 10 am-6 pm | December 15 | Holiday Inn by the Bay, 88 Spring St, Portland | in Greenville Dec 1 & 16, at Greenville High School | in Augusta Dec 2, at Augusta Civic Center
As public hearings on Plum Creek Timber Company’s controversial development plan for 20,000 acres of Maine’s North Woods begin (they come to Portland December 15), a company official has admitted that perhaps his firm should have thought more, and earlier, about environmentalism. But not all of the project’s eco-activist opponents appear to have thought much, either, about the specifics of what they want to see. Those failures have set the stage for the woodland-development debate to be, if you’ll pardon the pun, at loggerheads.

One of the country’s largest private owners of forestland, Plum Creek wants to build nearly 1000 housing units (including single-family residences and condominiums) and two resort hotels along the edge of Moosehead Lake.

And despite pressure from more than 30 environmental advocacy groups, who have filed extensive objections with the Land Use Regulation Commission (the “planning board” for rural areas of Maine), Plum Creek has stood fast.

Well, sort of. The company’s regional project director, Luke Muzzy, told the Portland Phoenix over the summer that the company’s then-current, third-time's-a-charm proposal was final, and that despite continuing (or even mounting) objections, the company would not budge.

But in recent weeks, the company has made some changes — including limiting the number of subdivisions and providing better recreational access to its land — in hopes of bringing a few more supporters to its bandwagon as it gears up to face LURC.

Muzzy says the company “extensively” considered environmental concerns when making its plans, which amount to a 500-plus page quagmire of legal rhetoric and jargon largely incomprehensible to all but the most dedicated conservation lawyer. Sure, the company’s press releases paint verdant pictures of conservation easements and pristine lakes. But the environmentalists reading the fine print see problems, like Muzzy’s statement that 9000 acres Plum Creek owns near existing developments in the town of Greenville are not intended for residential development “at this time.”

So it’s no surprise that the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sierra Club, and others are bombarding LURC with complaints about sprawling communities, small-town roads choked with traffic, boats ruining waterfront relaxation, and clearcuts damaging the forest.

And some of them, like the NRCM, even have specific ideas — like halving the number of proposed homes and moving construction sites farther from the water’s edge. But the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s leading environmentalist organizations, has no specifics to propose, other than repeatedly asking Plum Creek to “be visionary” in its planning.

But the Portland Phoenix asked the question nobody else has put to Muzzy: since the company admits sustainable development is the wave of the future, why not embrace it from the get-go? There are two glaring omissions from the company’s plan: it does not include mitigating clear-cutting by using those specific trees for lumber to build on the newly cleared land, and there is no specific effort to use solar or wind power as a way to reduce carbon emissions.

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