This view of Katahdin from Patten shows some of the lands donated to the U.S. government by Roxanne Quimby in the distance. PHOTO BY EARL BRECHLIN

Effort to undo Katahdin Woods designation would involve mountain of red tape

ELLSWORTH — An effort by Governor Paul LePage to have President Trump undo the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters as a national monument would involve untangling layers of contracts, according to Lucas St. Clair, who helped shepherd through the designation.

St. Clair is the son of Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, whose Elliotsville Plantation Inc. donated more than 87,000 acres to the federal government Aug. 23 for use as a national park.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order at the same time declaring the acreage a national monument.

“The federal government has it, they accepted it and they entered into legal contracts with us and the park service to manage it and steward it,” St. Clair said. “It’s like a car. When you sell a car, you turn over the title. What’s done is done.”

Many national parks, among them Acadia National Park, were national monuments before they became national parks.

LePage, who has opposed the national monument designation all along, asked President Trump in a Feb. 14 letter to undo what President Obama did.

LePage referred to the national monument designation as a “grave injustice” to the local economy.

“Those cold timid souls who neither know victory or defeat argue that you, as President, cannot undo a national monument designation because it has never been done before,” LePage wrote. “They also never envisioned President Trump.”

At the least, LePage said, the land should be transferred to state custody and managed as a state park.

Three members of the state’s congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) — agree the designation should remain, despite contrary sentiments at the time it was signed by President Obama, according to news reports.

St. Clair said undoing the national monument designation would present a number of legal challenges.

“When we transferred these deeds over to the federal government, there were issues that had to be resolved, indemnification issues,” he said.

“EPI (Elliotsville Plantation) agreed to take on some of that liability with the park service,” he said. “So we made the agreement and signed the contracts. The Department of Justice reviewed all these things. They would have to violate contract law in order to undo this.”

“From a legal standpoint, I don’t think they can,” St. Clair added. “From a logical standpoint, why would they?”

He said there is new interest in the area with the formal designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters.

“Since the monument has happened there has been tremendous economic interest in the region, more than there has been in years and years,” St. Clair said.

He listed a number of positive developments in recent months:

  • A local nonprofit known as Our Katahdin is overseeing redevelopment of the former Great Northern Paper mill and its 1,400 acres in Millinocket.
  • One plan under consideration is to refashion the space into a bio-industrial park.
  • An Alabama company has signed a deal to purchase the biomass power plant in Stacyville and reopen the wood chip-fueled power plant.
  • Bangor Savings Bank is planning to build a state-of-the-art facility in Millinocket.
  • Real estate is reviving in the area.

Gilbert Butler, founder of the Gilbert Conservation Fund, announced he will build a $5-million outdoor education facility in the area. His interest pre-dates the national monument, but the facility will come within less than a mile of the park.

“Overall, visitation to the area has grown exponentially,” St. Clair said.

And not least of all, St. Clair said, would be the disappearance of the $20 million Quimby pledged as an endowment for the national monument along with an additional $20 million she pledged to help raise.

“It cannot be spent on anything else other than a National Park Service unit,” St. Clair said.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]