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New National Monument Established in Maine, but Debate Rages On

QuimbyLand0816-copyPresident Obama designated more than 87,600 acres of forestland in Maine’s North Woods as a national monument Wednesday, capping a years-long quest by a controversial conservationist on the eve of the National Park Service’s centennial.

With a unilateral stroke of his pen, Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in an area that was once the heart of Maine’s logging and papermaking industry, but now faces an uncertain economic future. Within hours, the National Park Service was in the process of opening offices in the Katahdin region while inviting visitors to discover the monument’s “rivers, streams, woods, flora, fauna, geology, and the night skies that have attracted humans for millennia.”

Supporters hope the monument designation – on lands bordering Baxter State Park that were donated by Roxanne Quimby – will lure additional jobs and economic development while highlighting the region’s natural beauty and history. Proponents also argued that the monument will prove a powerful draw to some of the nearly 3 million annual visitors to Acadia National Park, which ranks among the National Park Service’s busiest destinations.

“Katahdin Woods and Waters is an exceptional example of the rich and storied Maine woods, enhanced by its location in a larger protected landscape, and thus would be a valuable addition to the nation’s natural, historical and cultural heritage conserved and enjoyed in the National Park System,” reads the executive order signed by Obama.

But his executive action infuriated opponents who don’t trust the federal government or who fear the designation will scare away potential industrial-based opportunities, leaving only seasonal tourism jobs.

Gov. Paul LePage, a vocal critic of both Obama and Quimby, declined to speak Wednesday to a group of reporters in Portland, but in a written statement accused the president of “taking unilateral action against the will of the people.”

“The Legislature passed a resolution opposing a National Monument in the North Woods, members of Maine’s congressional delegation opposed it and local citizens voted against it repeatedly,” LePage said. “Despite this lack of support, the Quimby family used high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to go around the people of Maine and have President Obama use his authority to designate this area a National Monument. This once again demonstrates that rich, out-of-state liberals can force their unpopular agenda on the Maine people against their will.”

On Tuesday, after reports surfaced that Quimby’s nonprofit foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., had transferred the acreage to the U.S. Department of the Interior, LePage issued a statement that said in part that “that’s one way to get out of paying taxes to the state of Maine. It’s also an ego play for Roxanne Quimby and Senator Angus King.”

David Farmer, a spokesman for Quimby and the foundation, called the governor’s remarks “ridiculous.”

“To suggest that a nonprofit philanthropic organization would give the American people $100 million to avoid property taxes is silly. It’s crazy on the surface,” Farmer said in an email. The land is valued at about $60 million, and the foundation also created a $40 million endowment to help operate and maintain the monument.

Farmer said the foundation paid $120,208.29 in property taxes to several unorganized townships at the property transfer closing this week. He also said the federal government will make payments in lieu of taxes to local governments to compensate for the loss of annual property taxes resulting from the monument designation.

“We believe Penobscot County will actually see an increase in revenue, not to mention an increase in jobs and economic activity,” Farmer said.