Tue, Oct 21, 2014 ●
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The Universal Notebook: Conservatives must learn to conserve

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: Conservatives must learn to conserve

As he stumbles around the state in the early days of his administration, Gov. Paul LePage frequently gets worked up about out-of-state ownership of Maine’s prime lakefront and oceanfront property, complaining about the influx of people from Massachusetts and arguing that Maine land should belong to Maine people.

Maybe that’s why the Guv thinks it would be such a fine idea to open 3 million acres of Maine’s unorganized territory to development. As with most things, our benighted governor is wrong.

Had he proposed such a wholesale attack on the natural environment during his campaign, LePage would have been lucky to get elected dog catcher in Waterville. Not sure who he thinks is going to develop all that forest land, let alone who is going to purchase it, but it sure as heck isn’t going to be Maine people.

When it comes to where the lines are drawn in America’s culture wars, some of the clearest demarcations are between the forces of conservation and those of development, between public land and private property. Ironically, conservatives like LePage are the enemies of conservation.

Mainers have a strong conservation ethic that is at odds with the governor’s vision of the North Woods as a subdivision three times the size of Los Angeles. That’s why we overwhelmingly support Land for Maine’s Future bonds and why we should thank our lucky stars that there are people of means in Maine who understand the importance of preserving open space and public access.

Posterity will never thank you for developing a vast tract of land, but it sure will for protecting it. Just imagine Mount Desert Island if Rockefeller hadn’t created Acadia National Park, Mt. Katahdin if Gov. Baxter hadn’t created Baxter State Park. For that matter, imagine Scarborough Beach as condos-by-the-sea if the Sprague family hadn’t had the vision to preserve the beach and public access to it.

We can only hope that cable TV baron John Malone has conservation rather than development in mind for the 900,000 acres of the North Woods that he just purchased. Add Malone’s woodland holdings to those of Roxanne Quimby, who buys whole townships to keep them from being developed, and you have the makings of something grand and glorious.

You get the impression that LePage and his drinking buddies are so giddy with his surprise victory that they are just sitting around thinking up all the mischief they can do before the public catches on.

“Hey, Paulie, let’s get rid of the frickin’ Bureau of Environmental Protection!”

“Let’s dump LURC, too, while we’re at it.”

“Screw vernal pools! Who gives a damn about frogs!”

“Let’s allow skyscrapers on sand dunes!”

“I’m sick of returnable bottles. Let’s throw the g-d bottle bill out, too.”

“OK, boys, whatever you want. Just pass me another cold one!”

If LePage wants to be remembered as anything other than a short-sighted tool of the tea party, he will have to start taking the long view.

Rolling back decades of popular, bipartisan environmental protections may make LePage a hero to out-of-state developers like Plum Creek and a handful of local outlaws, but it will also ensure that, after he and they are dead and buried, history will remember him only as the governor who tried to sell the state of Maine down the river.

I say “tried,” because I don’t believe for a minute that the people of Maine and their elected representatives are going just stand by and allow that to happen.