Maine environmental group releases alternative proposition to Plum Creek's developmental proposal

PORTLAND, Maine , August 1, 2007 () – Maine's largest environmental organization on Tuesday proposed gathering in a far-flung development proposal for the Moosehead Lake region and cutting in half the number of housing lots proposed by Plum Creek Timber Co.

The "alternative vision" presented by the Natural Resources Council of Maine would eliminate development on environmentally sensitive land by directing development to areas near existing towns and the ski mountain in Greenville.

"All of that development scattered across the landscape -- we focused on bringing it to Rockwood and Greenville and Big Moose Mountain," said spokeswoman Cathy Johnson.

The council's proposal calls for up to 450 housing lots, roughly half the total in Plum Creek's original proposal. Its proposal also would ensure permanent conservation of woodlands beyond 30-year conservation easements proposed by Plum Creek.

Another important feature would be a Maine Woods lodge and recreation area to be built near the ski resort in Greenville, Johnson said.

Plum Creek's original, oft-criticized plan called for rezoning land around the lake for 975 house lots and campgrounds, along with two resorts. The total project involved 426,000 acres, about 10,000 of which would actually be developed.

But Regional General Manager Jim Lehner announced in December that Plum Creek was taking a "fresh look" at its proposal. Changes under consideration include relocating a proposed resort, scaling back another one and clustering homes closer to Greenville.

Plum Creek also has been seeking to identify ways to ensure that woodlands will remain forested beyond the 30-year easement, he said.

Lehner said Tuesday that he was gratified to find that Plum Creek shares common ground with the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

"I'm pretty darn pleased that many of the proposals that they've included in their plan are things that we've heard from all of the people we've talked over the past year," he said by phone from his Fairfield office.

Plum Creek's original proposal for reshaping the state's famed North Woods has aroused passions both in support and against it.

Critics have denounced the project as an opening for wilderness sprawl while supporters hailed the blend of conservation and development. Plum Creek's offices and the home of one of its employees have been vandalized.

The environmental group's proposal, which was unveiled at Bangor City Hall, is being offered as a concept "for interested parties to consider, evaluate and improve upon," Brownie Carson, executive director, said in a statement.

Liz Munster, a Rockwood native and a real estate broker, said the problem with the original proposal was that it's too much, and in the wrong places.

"There is room for some growth in Rockwood, but not great big resorts that would change the atmosphere and character and hurt the fishing, hunting and the life of those who live here year-round," she said in a statement.

Lehner said Tuesday that Plum Creek's revised proposal will be offered in a couple of weeks. And it will incorporate many changes suggested by Mainers in a series of "scoping sessions" across the state, he said.

"It's quite a juggling act to come up with a proposal that pleases everybody.... but we've come up with compromises that we think will be acceptable to the broad spectrum of Maine people," Lehner said.

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