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Timber firm files to develop Maine woods

One of the nation’s biggest landowners has filed a plan to develop nearly 1,000 camp lots and two resorts in the North Woods of Maine, the biggest undeveloped area east of the Mississippi.
Maine's North Woods is home to wildlife like this young bull moose and it's also an active logging area.Robert F. Bukaty / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

One of the nation’s biggest landowners has filed a plan to develop nearly 1,000 camp lots and two resorts in the North Woods of Maine, an area where Henry David Thoreau roamed 150 years ago.

It’s the largest subdivision ever proposed in the 10.5 million acres of unorganized territories that the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission oversees, and environmental groups have vowed to give the plan careful scrutiny.

“This is not our vision of what the North Woods should be for the people of Maine. This is the biggest undeveloped area east of the Mississippi and its specialness comes from its being undeveloped,” said Cathy Johnson, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Plum Creek Timber Co., which announced the project in December, filed its plan with Maine’s wilderness zoning agency on Tuesday. The Seattle-based company said the project has drawn broad support because it balances conservation and economic development in a part of Maine where job opportunities have lagged.

“Over the past several months, we have met with more than 25 interest groups and numerous members of the community to discuss our plan,” said Jim Lehner, Plum Creek’s general manager for the Northeast. “During this process, we have listened to the feedback we received and, in many cases, we have adjusted our plans based on that feedback.”

Project details
Plum Creek said the project involves a total of 426,000 acres, of which about 10,000 are slated for development. About 4,500 acres would be set aside for camp lots, along with 3,500 acres for two “nature-based” resorts.

Land also is earmarked for economic development and low-income housing in Greenville, the tourist town that serves as the main springboard to the North Woods.

Most of the remaining 416,000 acres would remain working forest under a 30-year management plan that would allow Plum Creek to continue existing logging operations but preclude further development.

As conservation incentives, the deal includes permanent hiking and snowmobile trail rights for the state and shorefront conservation status for 180 miles of shoreland, including 55 undeveloped, “pristine” ponds.

Activists fear 'turning point'
The land use commission’s review process is expected to take at least a year.

By late spring or early summer the commission hopes to hold a series of public workshops in the Moosehead Lake region to provide information about the project, said Aga Pinette, a land use planner for the commission.

Although the Natural Resources Council has yet to take a stance on the project, size and location remain its key concerns, said Johnson, who suggested that development be sited closer to population centers.

“I’m afraid that this is really a turning point for the North Woods. We have another half dozen landowners that are watching this very carefully. If Plum Creek is allowed to do this on 400,000 acres, we could get 20 more of these things all across the North Woods.”