March 16, 2010

Agency: Plum Creek plan needs work

JOHN RICHARDSON

— By

Staff Writer

The state agency reviewing Plum Creek Timber Co.'s plan for homes and resorts around Moosehead Lake wants development areas scaled back and conservation lands protected by tougher restrictions.

The Maine Land Use Regulation Commission's staff recommendations, detailed in a 127-page document released Tuesday evening, do not take a stand on whether the project should ultimately be approved. But they include a long list of changes that the agency's planners and consultants believe are needed before the project moves forward.

Major recommendations include scaling back the proposed Lily Bay Resort area by nearly 3,000 acres to protect sensitive highlands and wildlife habitat, and scaling back a residential development around Long Pond from 110 units to 55 units.

The document is the first public feedback from the state agency that has been gathering information and testimony on the rezoning plan for three years, and it marks the beginning of the formal review process that could lead to a final decision later this year.

Members of the commission, a panel appointed by the governor, will take up the staff's recommendations during a two-day meeting next Tuesday and Wednesday in Augusta.

It's unclear if Plum Creek will be willing to make the changes. A company official said Tuesday it will need time to review them.

Plum Creek wants to rezone about 20,000 acres in the Moosehead region for 975 house lots and two resorts, which could include an additional 1,000 condos, homes or other accommodations. It has also pledged to permanently protect more than 400,000 acres in the region through easements and land sales.

It is the largest subdivision plan ever in Maine's North Woods and its fate could either speed up or slow down other development throughout the region.

Plum Creek officials, as well as a long list of critics and supporters of the plan, were eager to read the recommendations, which were posted on the land use commission's Web site. Here are some examples:

n Remove nearly 3,000 acres from the 4,358-acre proposed Lily Bay resort and add it to conservation lands.

n Reduce the residential development plan for Long Pond from 110 units to 55, and shift nearly 600 of the 1,500 acres of development area to conservation lands.

n Take more than 100 acres from the proposed development zone near Big Moose Mountain and add it to conservation lands to protect wildlife habitat, including waterfowl habitat and deer wintering areas.

n Reduce the maximum height of commercial structures from 100 feet to 60 feet.

n Limit the number of docks and boat launches at various lakes, such as a limit of one on Upper Wilson Pond.

n Strengthen the role of a state-run management advisory team to monitor conservation lands.

n Rewrite conservation easements to increase and clarify protections for ecologically valuable lands.

n Require that a separate $10 million conservation deal to protect 266,000 acres be completed before construction.

Plum Creek's project manager, Luke Muzzy, did not return a message left after the document was posted, but said earlier on Tuesday that it will take time to sort through the details. The company also is eager to hear from the commissioners themselves about the need for any changes, he said.

''I'm just waiting to see what they have to say before we make any decisions,'' Muzzy said.

Critics of the plan also were reviewing the recommendations late Tuesday and are expected to issue statements and responses later this week. And despite the call for significant changes, at least some opponents are sure to object to the process.

''We've said there can be meaningful development in the Moosehead region, but that Plum Creek's proposal doesn't come close,'' said Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of RESTORE: The North Woods.

St. Pierre, a former member of the land use commission's staff, said the agency has never before given a landowner a list of what it needs to do to get a rezoning application approved.

''What LURC should do now is say to Plum Creek, 'The law only allows us to give a yes or no answer,''' he said. ''LURC should say 'No' to Plum Creek and allow them to go back to the drawing board if they choose to.''

Commission members are expected at some point to provide clear guidance to the staff -- as well as Plum Creek -- about which changes they believe are necessary.

Those recommendations are likely to be published early this summer, when the commission will accept another round of public comments.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

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