Monday, December 17, 2007

Plum Creek and Paranoia

This past Saturday, Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission held a public hearing in downtown Portland to vet public concerns over the massive development project that Plum Creek proposing for Maine's Moosehead Lake region. Several hundred Mainers turned out, and the majority came to declare their opposition to the project.

Frankly, Plum Creek's plan doesn't get me all that riled up. Environmental groups here in Maine have made much of the company's plan to subdivide 975 houselots in the remote Moosehead region - which sounds like an awful lot, but really, it's roughly the equivalent of adding another Limington (1141 households) or Readfield (867 households) into the north woods (source: US Census). I grew up next to Limington, and to tell the truth, those 1141 households across the Saco River were pretty benign.

So until Saturday, I'd been inclined to look at the Plum Creek "debate" as yet another instance of well-to-do, self-styled environmentalists getting worked up about the quasi-mystical Nature on the frontier in order to avoid thinking about the nature we use and abuse every day. After all, while the hearings were going on and street thespians were prancing around in moose costumes, international diplomats in Bali were struggling to drag the United States to sign a watered-down agreement that may end up being little more than an eleventh-hour doomsday pact. How's that for perspective?

But then I met the Plum Creek supporters - or rather, two particular supporters - who reminded me that as foolish as the environmental movement can sometimes be, at least it's not as blatantly desperate, greedy, and stupid as the fools who swallow and serve the gospel of a corporate panderer.

Upstairs from the big hearing room, Plum Creek had set up a hospitality room "for supporters only," and naievely thinking that I might have an intelligent conversation there, I moseyed inside. Within five steps of the door, a grumpy old man with a rental-cop authority complex stopped me and told me I had to leave, because the room was only for supporters.

Now, the guy's little bulldog demeanor was funny enough, so I laughed him off and asked him how he was so sure I wasn't a supporter. He essentially told me that I fit the profile, which I can only assume to be someone under thirty years old (I don't think my clothing - a hooded high-school football team sweatshirt, Dickies, and an olive green jacket - screamed "environmental terrorist"). I explained my position, gave him the name of my employer, which has adopted a neutral position to try to negotiate a consensus compromise, and generally assured him well enough to leave me alone for a while.

I took a picture of the room and helped myself to some coffee. But the geriatric bouncer really didn't like the photography, because he stormed back over and told me to use a styrofoam cup. This confused me - was my choice of a reusable ceramic cup how he was profiling me as an antagonistic Earth Firster? But no: he just wanted me to leave, immediately.

This was at the head of the buffet line, and within earshot of everyone in the room. I wondered loudly how Plum Creek could have its reputation as a steward of public access when this was how it treated sympathetic members of the public in its "hospitality room."

A second fellow came over and tried to lead me away from the small knot of supporters in the buffet line - the "good cop." His name was Ron. We had a slightly more productive conversation, but at one point he complained that "you people" want to cut off public access to the northern forest. I told him that I wanted no such thing, but that Plum Creek's sale of one thousand McMansions would fairly certainly restrict public access to large portions of the forest immediately, and introduce thousands of future complaints about hunting and industrial forestry from newly suburban neighborhoods in the forest. After about five minutes, he ended the conversation fairly amicably, and also asked me to leave.

Thinking back on it, I came to see these guys and their paranoid lack of perspective as representatives of all the things that are terribly wrong with Plum Creek. The corporation and its supporters have been working hard to establish an "us against them" mentality in northern Maine, and they were particularly resentful that they were subjected to a hearing in Portland. But these divisions are bullshit, and counterproductive.

The two men I spoke with, like many Plum Creek advocates, act as though they are defending a terribly abusive relationship. Plum Creek has worked hard to promote the idea of Greenville as a struggling town in need of a savior. As a result, Greenville and its more gullible citizens have resigned themselves to low self esteem and a slavish devotion to the company's plans. Sure, Plum Creek knocks us around sometimes, but we deserve it. We need it. And damn anyone who thinks otherwise.

The Plum Creek bouncers have a lot in common with the working stiffs who want George Bush to keep burning coal until we've got the Inferno on Earth. You could say "screw 'em," but they're already screwed beyond all hope.

Listen, Greenville, you've got a lot going for yourself - Moosehead Lake, mountains, and millions of acres of wild Maine forest. Stick up for yourself and don't take any more crap from Plum Creek's political machinations.


Anonymous said...

What nonsense. Piscataquis County should remain forever undeveloped, not even replacing a part of the tourist facilities and economic activity we had 100 years ago, just because you were asked to leave a hospitality suite in Portland.

Maybe if your office had been burglarized and your home spray-painted with epithets, you would have a different perspective. But then, the "environmentalists" get a free pass when they engage in terroristic conduct, because their cause is "just".

What nonsense.

C Neal said...

See what I mean? "Anonymous" here exemplifies the simplistic, self-victimizing attitudes I'm talking about in the blog post above.

NO ONE is saying that Piscataquis County "should remain undeveloped", but these sad sacks continue to insist that this is an impossible-to-resolve disagreement between the economy and the environment. Sorry anonymous, but the real problem with your "hospitality suite" wasn't that I was asked to leave: it was the pervasive cloud of bullshit you guys still can't see through.

Anonymous said...

The following could well be from Plum Creek's communications plan for Moosehead Lake:

- People from out of state and southern Maine want people in Grrenville to be poor

- Only locals from places like Greenville are entitled to say what should be done to Moosehead

- Plum Creek approval will bring great jobs (eben though their own tourism director Vail conceded at the recent meetings that is would not improve the unemployment rate

- Plum Creek's approval will bring tourism to Maine (even though Plum Creek's economic advisor Charles Colgan admits most tourists will be sourced at the expense of other Maine destinations they already frequent

- The people against Plum Creek are all Democrats or leftists or Commies

- If you oppose putting 500 McMansions on the shoreline you are a "whacko" or "environmental whacko"

- all the environmental groups are whackos

- some so called environmentalists have seen the light and support Plum Creek (even though they are on PC's payroll, e.g.,

- It's Plum Creek's land and they are allowed to do whatever they want with it (even though it is zoned strictly for timber use which is why it cost them only $200 an acre, not the $200,000 an acre they want to sell it for. And even though rezoning could make it impossible for them to build anywhere)

Finally, please let it be known far and wide that the CEO of Plum Creek sits on the board of the Blethen Corporation which owns the Portland Press-Herald and other papers in Maine.

This is the most important story in years as it will determine the future of all Maine's north woods. But the Press-Herald basically ran a news blackout of the 10 days of intervenor meetings where Plum Creek was on the run.

Also, it was revealed earlier this year that Plum Creek got the feds to back off on Lynx protection. The person who gave the verbal "resigned" but there has been ZERO followup of what could be called Lynxgate in the Maine press. Read about it here:

Jessica said...

Wow, Christian, you really convinced Anonymous.

Corey Templeton said...

Interesting view from the 'supporters only' room. My dad and that side of my family is from Greenville so I know enough about the area to make up my opinion of this big development. I grew up next to Limington too (Buxton, thankfully) and the comparison of the Plum Creek development to Limington paints a good picture.

MizSilverman said...

i think that what c neal is trying to get at is that this situation does not have to an either/or issue. In general, corupt realestate developers are big dicks and environmentalists are easily cast as whacko extremists when they dress as moose-es. However, in these times it seams very hard to believe that we can end development. Even development of pristine wilderness. But does it have to be in the vein of gross and ugly McMansions? I am picturing N. Main just filled with like 947 Tony Sopranos(tacky-New-Jersey-fat, not so much mob-bossy.) Anyway, since not enough people see the light around ugly, wasteful, unsustainable, cash-out while you can development, I am in favor of agressive zoning and laws that will tightly regulate the environmental impact of development--or at least make developers pay for it! Whether environmentalist or not--doesn't it just piss you off that the PC folks are gonna get filthy rich off their oportunistic land exploits? Shyuuuh!

Anonymous said...

To C Neal:

You are still spouting nonsense.

"Simplistic, self-victimizing attitudes"? Get real. People don't survive long in Piscataquis County by feeling sorry for themselves, and I have lived and raised a family here for 18 years. Those who believe that their personal feelings matter more than any other consideration tend to cluster instead in places like . . . Portland. As evidenced by your original blog post. And why was a hearing about a rezoning in Piscataquis County held in Portland in the first place? Couldn't you folks from southern Maine who profess to love Moosehead Lake so much bother to actually come here, at least once? If this is an issue of "statewide significance", why weren't some of the hearings scheduled for Caribou, Houlton or Machias? Are Portland and Augusta the only inhabited places in Maine? Or are Portland and Augusta residents just smarter than all of the "simplistic" people who actually live in the affected area, so that only your opinions should count on this issue? We who live in the area are all "sad sacks" who can't see through "the pervasive cloud of bullshit"? Now those are objective, edifying comments. I wish some of us who live in Piscataquis were smart enough to write things like that. Whose bullshit are you talking about? NRCM? Restore? Sierra Club? ELF? Earth First?

The Plum Creek plan is not a magic bullet that will cure all of the Moosehead region's economic ills. Believe me, everyone who lives up here understands that. However, approval will result in permanent preservation and free public access to more than 430,000 acres. Preservation of this area is essential to support Piscataquis County's own economic development plan (visit by providing long-term certainty for the area's forest products industry and by maintaining public access for nature-based tourism. Concerning the latter, southern Piscataquis is a designated "implementation area" under the State's own nature-based tourism study completed in 2006 by Fermata Corporation. We are well ahead of the rest of Maine and the State itself in implementing the Fermata recommendations. The Plum Creek conservation easements would greatly enhance those efforts. But you obviously have greater wisdom in this area than anyone who actually lives in Piscataquis, so perhaps we should ask you to revise our plan in this respect.

There is indeed a different future for the Moosehead region if Plum Creek's rezoning application is denied. That future includes more private "kingdom lots" with no public access and no assurance of continued forestry use. Two of these exist already, both on Moosehead Lake, both owned by non-resident billionaires. (East Middlesex Canal Grant township - 20,000 acres and northern Tomhegan township - about 10,000 acres). Other prior owners (not Plum Creek) simply sold these lands to the highest bidders, who promptly terminated camp leases and public trail access and erected gates. Northern Tomhegan now as a $50 million vacation home, private airstrip and private marina. How will more of these private "kingdom lots" (if Plum Creek's plan is turned down) enhance nature-based tourism and help to revive the Mooshead region's economy? Tell us, since you are so wise. What is your alternative plan? And don't cite the NRCM proposal that would have placed major residential development in Greenville's upper Wilson valley, thereby destroying the character of a scenic, class V-VI whitewater stream in an area that buffers the Appalachian trail.

girltuesday said...

"like many Plum Creek advocates, [they] act as though they are defending a terribly abusive relationship."

i like this sentiment. it dovetails nicely with some of the ranting here.

trehugger said...

Is it true what anonymous says about the "kingdom lots"? Is there really a $50 million summer home on Moosehead? Has anyone checked? If there is, why did LURC allow it to happen? I looked at the map, and both of the townships s/he mentions are on Moosehead Lake.

I'm having some really mixed feelings about this. If a person in Greenville loses their job at the local sawmill because all of the land around them can no longer be used for forestry, how do we make them believe that's a good thing? Maybe Plum Creek could be required to keep some of its land in timber production, instead of chopping it all up for these huge private "kingdom lots". And LURC should require Plum Creek to sell some of its land to conservation groups, not just to rich out-of-staters.