January 28, 2021

Millinocket councilors blast Quimby purchase

MILLINOCKET – Two council members sharply critical of what they called the preservationist movement of northern Maine had strong words Thursday for Gov. John Baldacci and conservationist Roxanne Quimby.

Councilor David Cyr called Quimby’s recent $10 million purchase of 23,000 acres in Township 3 Range 8 and Township 2 Range 8 just east of Baxter State Park “an assault on our way of life” because it restricts traditional use of the land.

“We won’t have the ability to use the land or cut timber there anymore,” Cyr said. “We need to be proactive in some kind of response to this. We will have nothing left in five or 10 or 15 years.”

Cyr lamented the loss of manufacturing and tourism dollars caused by such purchases, an ironic stance given that he has often written columns for local newspapers deriding “trinket jobs” created by tourism.

“We have discussed problems of doing business in Maine,” Cyr said. “The biggest problem is that the preservationists believe in taking away our right to make money in this area. They are taking away what is ours to use and putting it away” forever.

Quimby and her representatives have said they buy land to preserve Maine’s pristine wilderness against encroaching development. She also has supported a national park to complement the 202,000-acre state park, an idea Councilor Jimmy Busque finds abhorrent.

Busque expressed dismay at Gov. Baldacci’s recent visit to Millinocket in which he announced a state-built road bypassing Quimby’s purchase to preserve hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and other traditional uses.

“I was quite surprised that the governor would come up here and talk about access after his administration created this mess we have up here right now,” Busque said, referring to the state-engineered $14 million Katahdin Lake deal.

Signed in April after more than 100 hours of legislative deliberations, the deal is designed to attach 4,040 acres to the park, which contains Mount Katahdin. The state will manage an additional 2,000 acres where hunting and snowmobiling will be allowed, and a Lincoln logging company will get about 21,000 acres of prime timberland.

Busque said the deal locked up much of the land around the lake, transferred traditional uses to lands much farther from Millinocket and was not satisfactory. Busque, Cyr and Town Manager Eugene Conlogue advocate annexing more land or stripping from preservationist purchases tax breaks intended to keep land forested.

That could backfire, Councilor Matthew Polstein warned.

“There is a risk [to all landowners] in trying to go after people who might want to manage land in a way you would not like,” said Polstein, who is planning a $50 million high-end resort proposed for about 1,450 acres of Township 1 Range 8, outside town lines.

Incentives would work better than measures that might seem punitive, Polstein said.

The brief discussion on Thursday might have been a prelude to a battle that could start between adversaries Polstein and Cyr once Cyr assembles a council subcommittee to address annexation and town economic development, among other issues.

During a nasty fight last year, Polstein opposed and Cyr supported annexing Township 3 Indian Purchase and Township 1 Range 8, including the site of Polstein’s proposed resort; Lake Road to the Piscataquis County line; and part of Millinocket Lake past Powers Point. The proposal died in a 3-3 vote.

One of the new committee’s first tasks might be defining how much land is available, or desirable, for Millinocket and how much has been preserved by people such as Quimby within the Katahdin region.

Quimby owns about 90,000 acres statewide, with 53,000 acres near Baxter. Millinocket is 5.4 square miles, or 3,456 acres, within the 2.17 million acres, or 3,396 square miles, of Penobscot County. East Millinocket is 1 square mile, and Medway is about 107,392 acres, or 167.8 square miles.

If the Katahdin region, which is not precisely drawn on most maps, is defined as being from Mount Katahdin south to the southern end of Indian Purchase and east to Medway, then it is about 300 square miles, or 192,000 acres.

Appointed by Nelson to chair the committee in early August, Cyr said he is still asking town volunteers to serve on the committee. He hopes to have it convene within a month. About nine people have agreed.

He said he is not looking for people with expertise as much as being confined to the small number of people in town willing to volunteer for such efforts.

Correction: A shorter version of this article appeared in the Coastal edition.

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