Obama creates Monument
Monument Declared As Expected
On August 24, President Obama declared 87,563 acres of land east of Baxter State Park a National Monument following the transfer of the deeds to the property a day earlier from Roxanne Quimby's Elliotsville Plantation to the National Park Service. The designation is the first step in the campaign to Quimby's quest to have the former industrial forest become a national park. The move came after years of often bitter debate between local residents, environmental groups and a number of statewide organizations including the Maine Snowmobile Association. Other leaders in the opposition include the Maine Woods Coalition, Maine Forest Products Council and the Maine Professional Logging Contractors.
The campaign to create the monument heated up over the past several months, as Quimby pushed to reach her self-imposed goal of having the land under federal control by August 25, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In April, Patten residents voted to oppose the monument 2-1 in an advisory referendum, mirroring similar votes in Medway and East Millinocket the previous year. In May, Senator Angus King hosted "listening sessions" with NPS Director John Jarvis in East Millinocket and Orono. The East Millinocket meeting was a frank discussion of the issue, but it was overshadowed by the circus-like Orono event where environmental groups bused in hundreds of supporters from as far away as Portland and turned the event into a pointless pep rally for a national park.
On June 1, Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, traveled to East Millinocket to hold a committee hearing on the proposed monument at the invitation of Rep. Bruce Poliquin. MSA Executive Director Bob Meyers presented testimony at that hearing. Around the same time, Poliquin successfully added language to the 2017 National Park Service budget that prohibited any funds from being expended on a monument in Maine. The budget is under consideration in the Senate.
The campaign has been led by Quimby's son, Lucas St Clair, since 2012. While the park goal never changed, St Clair was perceived as a more credible and reasonable proponent than his mother. St Clair first proposed the adjoining national recreation area, which would allow traditional activities like hunting and snowmobiling that were being prohibited in the proposed park. The area became a significant talking point for St Clair, although only 20% of the proposed recreation land was ever purchased by the group.
At stake for snowmobilers is the continuity of ITS-85 between East Millinocket and Shin Pond which runs through a portion of the property as it approaches the East Branch of the Penobscot at Whetstone Falls. Four of the thirteen deeds transferred to the Park Service mention snowmobiling as an allowed activity, so it appears in the near term that snowmobiling will be allowed to continue.
Reaction from Maine's political leaders ranged from strong opposition to tepid support. "While opposed to a unilateral decision, ignoring the votes in the local towns, the Maine Legislature, and Congress, I will continue to work with everyone to move this project forward in the right way in order to build a stronger economy that creates more and better paying jobs in the Katahdin Region and in Maine," said Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a statement.
Senator Susan Collins released a statement saying, "While I recognize that the President has the legal authority to designate national monuments, I believe he should not have used his executive authority given the objection lodged by the Maine Legislature, the lack of consensus among Mainers who live in the area, and the absence of Congressional approval. Bypassing Congress and taking this action without the support of the state and the local communities circumvented discussions of alternatives such as the creation of a national recreation area or management by the Forest Service Ñ proposals that might have had broader support than the President unilaterally designating a national monument."
Senator Angus King said, "I believe that the President's proclamation, along with the binding commitments in the deeds conveying the land, address the essential elements of those conditions, and that, as a result, the benefits of the designation will far outweigh any detriment and Ð on balance Ð will be a significant benefit to Maine and the region. This conclusion is confirmed by the comments made by Secretary of the Interior Jewell shortly after the designation was announced, explicitly mentioning hiking, canoeing, fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing."
Far from being the end of the debate, the monument designation promises to be the beginning of the discussion over Quimby's ultimate goal of turning the land into a national park. The president created the monument via an executive order under the authority granted to him by the Antiquities Act. Any effort to create a national park would require an act of congress and to date, only Chellie Pingree, Maine's first district congressperson, has expressed support for that.
The Park Service has hired a supervisor for the monument, and public listening sessions are scheduled to begin the week of September 12. The MSA will be sending notices of these meetings out via the e-mail alert system and on social media.
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