5 observations from a pointless meeting on a Katahdin-area national monument

As you may have seen, there was a big, important meeting regarding the so-called “Great North Woods National Park” and the potential designation of the area as a “national monument” by the president, held Monday. I attended the meeting, and five things stood out to me as important.

1. This designation does not meet the threshold laid out by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

According to the language of the law, the president is authorized to declare a national monument by public proclamation for “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

I challenge anyone to explain to me how Roxanne Quimby’s 87,500 acres fit this bill. The last time I checked, simply having a view of Mt. Katahdin, a resource already protected by Baxter State Park, does not meet the criteria for a monument and certainly does not meet the standards of a national park.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis at Monday's forum in Orono. Micky Bedell | BDN

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis at Monday’s forum in Orono. Micky Bedell | BDN

During Monday’s Orono meeting, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis pointed out that nothing like this parcel is currently accounted for in the National Park system. Well sir, I certainly hope not. The truth of the matter is, this land has been heavily logged for generations. It is a working forest that is far from pristine, let alone significant enough to draw enough tourists to save the local economy.

2. What was with the armed security?

Attendees were required to go through armed security to get in. Bags and purses were searched, signs disallowed, people with cameras turned away. I even heard a story of a woman prevented from bringing in hand sanitizer strapped to her purse. And once all of the hoops were jumped through to get in, no one (aside from press) was allowed to take any photos or record the event, even with a cell phone. Why all the secrecy?

This seems like an odd way to conduct a hearing. I hope that this isn’t a model for how public hearings will be held in the future.

3. Six busloads of proponents seemed like major overkill.

Do you know how many charter buses it took to get monument opponents to attend? Zero. Yet people from all over the state showed up to voice their opposition to federal control of more land in Maine. In fact, the number of speakers were nearly dead even.

In spite of the six giant buses, the fancy hats, stickers and T-shirts provided to supporters by environmental groups, opposition to this designation is strong in the Katahdin region, the State House and beyond.

4. The proposed solution for sharing the logging roads was insulting.

Many attendees, including Bob Meyers, the executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, voiced strong concern for the safety and feasibility of tourists sharing the roads with logging trucks. Bob said, “Vacationers will be mighty surprised when they come around a curve and encounter 250,000 pounds of wood coming towards them.”

In spite of being reassured that this issue would be taken care of (or at least seriously), Jarvis’ answer only deepened these fears. He suggested public education, signs and road closures to address the matter. I’m not sure how much time any of you have spent on logging roads, but they are definitely built for one purpose: getting logs from the woods to market. They are narrow, they are winding and no amount of signage will make them safe for high volumes of tourists.

5. Jarvis made me more certain than ever that we can’t afford this.

Several attendees inquired about how a department with an $11.9 billion backlog is seriously considering expanding further. Someone else wanted to know how the county would afford losing 87,500 acres from the tax rolls. Jarvis’s explanation for both questions demonstrated exactly how our federal government has gotten itself $19 trillion into debt in the first place.

According to Jarvis, the backlog will be eased because Congress just passed a transportation bill that will put $300 million annually toward National Park Service roads and transportation. In addition to that, the National Park Foundation is looking to raise $300 million in private donations through their centennial project. Anyone who can do simple math knows that those numbers do not add up to a solution for the chronic underfunding at the Park Service.

As for the county taxes, according to Jarvis, this won’t be a problem because the federal government will cut a check to the county government in lieu of taxes. He somehow failed to grasp, however, that National Park Service dollars are still tax dollars.

When it comes down to it, this stunt by the environmentalists to demonstrate support for Quimby’s unpopular idea was a big waste of money on their part. At the end of the day, it was all pointless. Unlike national parks, which require the consent of Congress, the decision to designate a monument is left solely to one person, the president.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.