EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — About 320 of the town’s 1,266 registered voters had cast ballots as of 3 p.m. Monday in a straw poll on whether the town supports a proposed North Woods national park, officials said.
“The turnout has been excellent so far,” Election Warden Sharon Goddard said. “It’s been very steady.”
Monday’s referendum comes six days after Medway residents rejected the national park and recreation area 252-102 in another nonbinding referendum. The vote might be crucial to whether the proposal backed by Lucas St. Clair and noted entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby receives support from the state’s congressional delegation.
The East Millinocket vote count is approximate. The precise count will begin at the sole polling place, the town office on Main Street, after polls close at 8 p.m., Goddard said.
Medway voters addressed the national park exclusively on June 23, but East Millinocket voters on Monday also are deciding whether to ratify the town school system’s proposed $3.87 million budget.
Through its nonprofit foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the Quimby family owns about 87,500 acres within the proposed park and recreation area boundaries. That’s about 66,000 acres within the park area and 21,500 in the multiuse recreational zone. The land is east of Baxter State Park.
Proponents said the plan would generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin-region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills, and coexist with existing industries while preserving the area’s recreational and manufacturing heritage. Quimby offered the donation as a gift to the nation and as an attempt to preserve a small portion of the largest tract of contiguous forest in the northeast.
Park opponents have said they fear a park would bring unwanted federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries with tight restrictions, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2 million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s. Opponents also criticized St. Clair for failing to reveal until mid-June the approximate number of acres his family owns in the area.
St. Clair has said the precise acreage is irrelevant and an attempt by the proposal’s opponents to distract residents from the proposal’s merits. The family has backed the idea since at least 2010, but it gained new life when Millinocket officials revealed on Feb. 7 that U.S. Sen. Angus King asked for their requirements of a park should legislation be written seeking one.
Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.