LEXINGTON TOWNSHIP — Wallace Stegner once wrote: “We simply need the wild country available to us even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, part of the geography of hope.”

Saving Moosehead from the sprawling Plum Creek development plan represents Stegner’s “geography of hope.”

After five years of protracted and grueling efforts, I wish I could tell you that wild Moosehead has been protected forever. The truth is we are going to need to redouble our efforts to make sure that the Plum Creek plan never sees the light of day again.

The court challenge by the Forest Ecology Network and Restore: The North Woods to the Plum Creek plan to build 975 high-end houses and two massive resorts around Moosehead Lake has been sustained.

IT’S A BIG WIN

This is a great success story. If it were not for our lawyers, Phil Worden and Lynne Williams, and their outstanding legal talents, the outcome could have been very different. The people of Maine owe them a great deal of thanks.

The court basically agreed with our contention that the Land Use Regulation Commission violated its own regulations and statutory authority when it crafted the amended proposal which was passed by the commission without public input.

It was clear that Superior Court Justice Thomas Humphrey believes that LURC should not have rewritten Plum Creek’s proposal, but should have simply restricted itself to evaluating Plum Creek’s application as submitted.

He noted that the changes in the rewritten plan “were not mere technical corrections, but substantive and significant.”

In his 40-page decision, Humphrey’s wrote “LURC’s regulations regarding burden of proof and concept plans strongly suggests that the commission should have voted up or down on Plum Creek’s petition as it stood at the end of the public hearing.” As a result, the court has vacated LURC’s decision and remanded the application back to LURC for new hearings.

While we have won this round of legal challenges, the fight to save Moosehead is far from over. Plum Creek has already filed an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

It is questionable whether the Court will hear the case, which would mean that LURC would have to revisit the issue and hold more public hearings.

The decision by Justice Humphrey has profound implications for the way LURC reviews large-scale development applications.

Allowing LURC applicants and LURC staff to significantly alter proposals after the review process has started is clearly not acceptable.

Consider the fact that more than 1,500 citizens spoke out in opposition to the proposal, thousands of pages of testimony were presented and hundreds of hours of oral arguments were given based on the original application.

LURC and Plum Creek then changed the original application, thus making the comments by the public and expert witnesses moot. Hopefully, LURC has learned that it cannot change applications at will, thus making them moving targets. This is patently unfair.

JUST A BIT SAFER

While our persistence has paid off in that, as a result of statutory and procedural failures, the development has been stopped.

Wild Moosehead may be a bit safer today from becoming just another paved-over paradise.

However, what we really need is a comprehensive plan, not Plum Creek’s, for Moosehead and the great North Woods which will ensure that future generations will always have Stegner’s “geography of hope.”

It is becoming increasingly evident that a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve is the way to protect the unique and beautiful wildness of Maine.

– Special to the Telegram