March 11, 2010

Suggestion to split state
reveals concerns of north

An Aroostook County lawmaker is once again proposing that the south be part of Massachusetts.

For those who believe there are two Maines and want it that way, Rep. Henry Joy, R-Crystal, has an idea: Split the state.

If a bill he has proposed gets any traction – a possibility he called "slim to none" – there would be a "real Maine" up north, and the rest would become "Northern Massachusetts."

"Some of them are sort of upset because I call this Northern Massachusetts, but their lifestyle is like those in Massachusetts," he said.

Joy knows something about the Bay State. He traces his lineage to the first Joy in Boston, Thomas Joy.

Crystal, his hometown in Aroostook County, is far different from Boston. In 2000, it had 285 residents, with a per-capita income of $14,338.

"I'd rather have my roots in Maine," Joy said.

The new Maine that Joy imagines would encompass Oxford, Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, Franklin, Penobscot and Washington counties, and part of Hancock County. All others would be Northern Massachusetts.

The Legislative Council, whose approval is needed for bills to be heard this session, is scheduled to review Joy's proposal March 25.

Joy has asked the Legislature to consider the idea twice before, without success.

The latest attempt was spurred by an appeal for federal conservation funds by the Great Maine Forest Initiative Steering Committee.

The panel of state officials, environmental advocates, businesses and landowners is asking the federal government to help finance conservation easements and provide tax rebates for sustainable timbering.

Joy sees the effort as a federal taking that would force people off private land in a huge swath of the state.

"If people don't get their dander up and come out and oppose this (timbering), then they are going to get railroaded out of the state," Joy said.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who is on the steering committee in his capacity as a director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, strongly disputed Joy's claim.

"As far as kicking people off land, or eminent domain, I can't think of a worse way to go about it," he said.

Nonetheless, Dunlap added, Joy's anger is valid.

"There is a sentiment, especially in rural Maine, that rural Maine is seen as a playground for the rich," he said.

Dunlap said many people in Maine struggle to make ends meet by harvesting timber and farming, and they might instinctively oppose cooperating with the federal government to secure access to private land.

But, he said, "This whole proposal is an opportunity to secure the forest for the forest products industry and also to secure access for recreational purposes well into the future."

The committee is working to provide financial incentives for landowners to provide public access, harvest wood in a sustainable way and not subdivide their land, Dunlap said.

Joy said, however, that the committee has worked in secret.

"You've got proposals that they are going to put forward to the national government," he said. "But are they going to tell anybody in Maine about it?"

Gov. John Baldacci announced the program in his State of the State speech Jan. 21.

"For as long as I can remember, people have been talking about 'two Maines,'" the governor said then. "I've always rejected that notion. We are one people, united in the things that matter most."


MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: Rep. Henry Joy has asked the Legislature to consider the idea twice before, without success.


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