AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage took a land-rights squabble with North Woods national park proponents back to the Maine Legislature on Tuesday, introducing a bill that would undo transfers of land that the president designated a national monument.
It’s another shot from the Republican governor at the family of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, which wants 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park to become a national park and has been lobbying President Barack Obama to designate it as a national monument, which doesn’t require congressional approval.
LePage’s bill, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, would require landowners transferring property to the federal government to insert a “reverter” clause in the deed that would put the property back in the original owner’s hands if it was designated a national monument.
However, a Quimby family spokesman shot back, saying it’s not clear the plan “would pass legal or constitutional scrutiny.”
It’s an issue LePage has waded into before: In 2014, he submitted a bill that would have required legislative approval of land transfers of 5 acres or more to the federal government, but it was rejected by the Legislature, signaling a potential uphill battle this time around.
“I don’t know how much support we’ll have, but I do know that people have to be aware of the issue,” Stanley said. “It’s a major issue that affects a region of the state and this is a chance to open people’s eyes.”
February has been filled with headlines on the park proposal: A day after members of Maine’s congressional delegation criticized the federal government for a letter that was noncommittal on whether Obama would monumentalize the Quimby property, LePage announced that the state would re-establish access to public land surrounded by the property.
State Forester Doug Denico said last week that the move was part of a larger plan to manage state forests, but LePage invoked the park proposal in a news release, saying “this proposal has now changed direction” and “the time is right to clearly re-establish the public’s legal rights.”
Quimby called that “bluster” and on Tuesday, David Farmer, a spokesman for Elliotsville Plantation Inc., a family foundation, said in a statement the foundation was seeing the bill for the first time on Tuesday and “it’s clear that the governor will try anything” to stop the proposal.
“The bill raises more questions than answers and we’re not certain that it would pass legal or constitutional scrutiny,” Farmer said.
Peter Steele, a spokesman for LePage, reiterated the governor’s position.
“Although the Maine people who live in the region oppose the park because it would restrict access and their traditional use of the land, rich out-of-state liberals and people from the Portland area keep pushing to give it to a federal government that is $20 trillion in debt and can’t maintain our country’s existing national parks,” he said.