I’ve lived in New Brunswick alongside Maine for most of my life. Apart from really serious problems related to its historical use of natural resources, the state has remained famous for its environment and its smart governance of its natural heritage. In fact people still thing of Maine as being famous for its beautiful landscapes, delightful rural towns and villages, it’s lakes, rivers, coast and special islands and the interesting people and things to be seen on the way to visit the next awesome lighthouse. And then there is the delicious bounty from the land and sea, its wildlife and natural wonders.
But in recent years it seems to me that the news is all bad as Maine heads down the same road as New Brunswick where folks are really just waking up to the destruction of our natural ecosystem by clear cutting, systematic spraying with proven toxicants, and the gradual elimination of our rural communities. The story is not pleasant and some of this will be published here. Hopefully, Maine residence take note and beging the process of cleaning up their politics and management of public lands and resources.
This latest article suggests that those who are elected to serve you may well be serving other interests. Read this and you be the judge.
That’s how I see it tonight. Art MacKay
Last modified Dec. 08, 2015, at 10:12 a.m.
Winding around mountains and through a dramatic gorge in western Maine, Cold Stream flows 14 miles from its source, Cold Stream Pond, to empty into the Kennebec River. Named for its particularly cold waters, the stream is known as an important place for brook trout to spawn in the fall and find cool refuge in late summer.
“It’s remarkable how many people I know who’ve been fishing there since they were kids — me being one of them,” Jeff Reardon, Maine brook trout project director for Trout Unlimited, said. “It’s a pretty special place.”
So special, in fact, that several organizations have been working for years to conserve the waterway and surrounding ponds, tributaries and forestland. Altogether, the Cold Stream Woods project would conserve more than 8,000 acres in Somerset County, including 3,000 acres of deer wintering habitat.
Trout Unlimited has partnered with federal and state agencies, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and The Trust for Public Land to purchase the property from its owner, Plum Creek. The Trust for Public Land has been awarded $6.5 million in federal funds and $1.5 million by the state’s Land for Maine’s Future program to make it possible.
Therein lies the problem.
Gov. Paul LePage has refused to release $11.5 million in voter-approved LMF bond funds for 36 conservation projects located throughout Maine — the Cold Stream Woods project prominently among them — unless the Legislature adopts his initiative to expand timber harvesting on public land. Last month , some $6.5 million of those bonds officially expired, muddying their future.
Now the future of LMF funding is poised to be a signature conflict of the upcoming Legislative session and a key test of whether lawmakers and LePage will find compromise on an issue that seemingly has had broad public support: funding land conservation efforts.
Several of the 36 projects have found alternative funding sources and are moving forward. But many, such as the Cold Stream Woods project, are at a standstill.
“I wish there were people around writing $1.5 million checks,” Reardon said. “But realistically … it took us five years to raise those two sources of money.”
‘Amazing places in jeopardy’
Since it was established in 1987, the Land for Maine’s Future program has protected more than 560,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands, 315,000 acres of commercial forest, 37 farms and two dozen working waterfronts.
The program has helped preserve parts of some of Maine’s most iconic wild places, such as Grand Lake Stream, Mount Kineo, Cutler Coast and Camden Hills. In six separate ballot questions since LMF was created, voters have never failed to support funding for the program.
“The voters have told us what they want, and we owe it to them to do all we can to bring these projects to fruition,” Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe said. “The governor’s refusal to release voter-approved bonds could mean lost opportunities for outdoorsmen and -women, tourism, farming, forestry and fishing in our state.”
The release of state bonds requires the governor’s signature, and LePage has said he will not release the fund unless the Legislature agrees to his plan to increase timber harvesting on public lands to fund a home heating program for low-income Mainers. A legislative panel recommended against that plan Monday.
“The governor’s stance has not changed with regard to LMF bonds,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett wrote in an email to the BDN. She reiterated the governor’s position that more funding is reserved for public lands than could be necessary.
“The governor believes it is better to spend this money to help the needy than to simply let the funds sit in this account,” Bennett said.
LePage has withheld the issuance of bonds before, on several occasions, to further his agenda, including during his first term in order to urge the Legislature to support his plan to repay the state’s Medicaid debt to hospitals.
But the governor also has taken special issue with LMF to the point he ordered an investigation of the program by the Maine Office of Policy and Management. Details of the investigation will be released in the coming weeks, according to Bennett.
In addition, at an event in Brunswick in June, LePage said conservation projects are driven by wealthy people who ask “poor people [to] pay for it.”
This statement has irked some Maine legislators.
“He’s said that this is preserving land for rich people, but I’d say the opposite is the case,” Democratic Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford said. “The rich people generally have every opportunity to buy and gate and post land, and those of us without those means are running up against those postings. I think [LePage] is really misguided there.”
“If it wasn’t for programs like LMF, I wouldn’t have a job, and my children wouldn’t have the recreational opportunities that they have,” said McCabe, executive director of the 320-acre Lake George Regional Park in Canaan, which was established in 1992 with the help of LMF funding.
“When you look at the [LMF funded] projects and what’s happening with this land, it’s actually creating public access,” he said. “I see the future of recreation here in Maine, and it’s going to be related to public access. All of the time access to amazing places in Maine are in jeopardy.”
Eight projects funded
In an unexpected move, LePage in October freed the Land for Maine’s Future board to allocate approximately $2.1 million it had from previous bonds to fund some of the 36 projects. At their November board meeting, the LMF board had decisions to make.
John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, told the BDN eight projects were decided to receive funding, based on their readiness and ability to be “accomplished efficiently.”
The eight are as follows:
— Save Eagle Bluff in Clifton
— Crooked River Forest in Otisfield and Harrison
— Central Maine Sportsman’s Access Project in Emden, Burnham, Detroit, Cambridge and Ripley
— Kennebec River Estuary Fawcett Parcel in Bowdoinham
— Pleasant Bay Wildlife Management Area in Addison
— Kimball Pond in New Sharon (PDF)
— Winterwood Farm in Freeport
— A&R Enterprises working waterfront project
Save Eagle Bluff is a project to purchase a 165-acre parcel of land in Clifton that includes most of Eagle Bluff, which has long been a popular rock climbing, bouldering and hiking destination.
BDN political writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.