The Universal Notebook: North Woods park? Raye says nay

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On one hand, I’m sure the vast majority of Maine citizens want to protect Maine’s precious natural environment. On the other hand, I’m guessing the majority of Maine citizens do not yet support, as I do, the creation of a North Woods National Park in Maine.

Thanks to a sneak attack by the underhanded Maine Legislature last week, however, it may not matter what anyone in Maine thinks.

Without public notice or public hearings, Republican State Senate President Kevin Raye slipped a resolution through the Legislature that would, if President Obama gave a lemming’s butt what Kevin Raye wants, prevent the state and federal government from even considering whether a national park might be a good idea.

In the waning hours of the legislative session, Raye, the same Downeast mustard maker who wants to get rid of the Land Use Regulation Commission, introduced SP 519, “A Joint Resolution Memorializing the President of the United States, the United States Secretary of the Interior and the United States Congress to oppose the creation of a National Park in Maine’s North Woods.”

It resolves “That We, your Memorialists, oppose the creation of a national park in Maine’s north woods and request that the President of the United States and Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar deny requests to conduct a feasibility study concerning establishing a national park in Maine’s north woods.”

In other words, don’t even think about it. Mean Mr. Mustard, chief of the Maine Thought Police, has spoken.

Several northern Maine communities – Bangor, Greenville, and Millinocket – passed similar resolutions back in 2000-2001, scared that RESTORE: The North Woods might be gaining ground with its promotion of a North Woods National Park. Now that Burt’s Bees philanthropist Roxanne Quimby has actually bought up tens of thousands of acres of woodland in support of a national park, folks up north are petrified.

Quimby has been promoting the idea of a 70,000-acre national park along the eastern border of 204,000-acre Baxter State Park and an 80,000-acre national recreation area along the East Branch of the Penobscot River that would allow hunting and snowmobiling.

Something to think about. But Raye and his unindicted co-conspirators in the Legislature don’t want you to do so. They also don’t want you to know what they did. There was no roll-call vote in the House of Representatives and there wouldn’t have been one in the Senate either, if not for Sen. Dick Woodbury, U-Yarmouth, who ended up being one of only three senators who voted against the resolution (the other two honest public officials being Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, and Sen. Phillip Bartlett, D-Gorham).

While there are certainly a number of reasons why someone might be opposed to a North Woods National Park, there is only one reason why anyone would want to ban a feasibility study – fear of what such a study might tell us about the upside of a national park: Preserve the environment, stimulate the economy, create jobs.

“This bill is bad politics, worse policy and reprehensible process,” Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of RESTORE: The North Woods, told me the day after the vote. “It is an example of why so many people have become so cynical about government. No one in the Environmental Priorities Coalition knew about it until one of the groups noticed yesterday’s Senate roll call vote this morning. It was a very effective stealth attack by Raye during the last moments of the legislative session. No notice, no hearing, no due process. That does not excuse those, unlike Woodbury, who voted for it, but it explains why we had no prior knowledge of it.”

So what do you think? Was Baxter State Park a good idea? Was Acadia National Park a good idea? Would a North Woods National Park be such a bad thing? What’s wrong with studying the feasibility of a national park? Defy the dirty tricksters in Augusta. Think about it.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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