Shocker in the Maine Woods

Photo by Dennis Redfield

The proposal by the Plum Creek Timber Company to develop thousands of acres of forestland around Moosehead Lake ran into an unexpected roadblock today:

A Maine judge on Thursday halted Plum Creek’s rezoning plan for the Moosehead Lake region and ordered regulators to reopen hearings on one of the largest and most controversial development proposals in state history.

Maine Superior Court Justice Thomas Humphrey did not comment on the substance of Plum Creek’s massive plan for nearly 1,000 houses and two resorts in the Moosehead region — a point that supporters of Plum Creek’s proposal noted Thursday.

Rather, Humphrey invalidated the Land Use Regulation Commission’s decision on procedural grounds, saying commissioners did not follow their own rules and voted on a substantially rewritten rezoning application without first holding a public hearing.

Plum Creek’s supporters argue that the 975 houses and two resorts — to be developed over as many as 30 years — will create jobs and economic development in an area of the state where opportunities are few and many families struggle to make ends meet. Additionally, the conservation deals negotiated as part of the proposal will protect more than 400,000 acres of forestland, most of which will remain open to recreational activities and commercial timber harvesting.

But critics contend the houses, resorts and resulting traffic will mar the scenic beauty that makes Moosehead unique. They also warned that LURC’s decision set a dangerous precedent, allowing Plum Creek to benefit financially from the development as well as the conservation easements or land sales to conservation groups.

Plum Creek's plan, if enacted, would constitute the largest real estate development in Maine history, so you can imagine the emotions it has stirred up. For my part, I've been skeptical that the economic benefits to the Greenville region could ever live up to Plum Creek's promises. Moosehead is so distant from the East Coast's major population centers. I've always wondered who would drive six hours on poorly maintained back roads from Boston to play golf among the biting black flies. Maybe more people than I imagine. Nor do I have any idea what Judge Humphrey's decision will mean for Plum Creek or Moosehead Lake. I suspect I'm not alone in that regard.