AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage reiterated his opposition to a proposed North Woods national monument Thursday and seemed miffed that he wasn’t personally notified of meetings next week between the National Park Service’s leader and residents chaired by U.S. Sen. Angus King.
The governor’s office did not receive any information regarding the meetings set for Monday before they were made public by King on May 5, LePage said in a prepared statement.
“I think notifying the governor’s office would have been appropriate,” LePage said Thursday. “They seem like they have already made up their minds. Town after town has voted against federal control of the North Woods, and the Legislature passed my bill to limit federal jurisdiction over a national monument.”
“Clearly, they don’t want an open dialogue on this issue,” LePage added, later stating that “the fix is in” and questioning whether King supports the monument “against the will of Mainers.”
King’s spokesman, Scott Ogden, denied LePage’s claims. Ogden announced on May 5 that Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the park service, will participate in forums at noon Monday, May 16, at Katahdin Region Higher Education Center in East Millinocket and at 5 p.m. the same day at the University of Maine in Orono. The public is invited, Ogden has said.
Ogden said Thursday that King’s office informed Maine Forest Service Director Doug Denico about the meetings before King’s announcement and was told by Denico that he would personally notify the governor. LePage’s staff also told King’s office on Thursday morning that Avery Day, LePage’s chief legal counsel, would attend at least one meeting.
“Contrary to the statement released today by the Governor’s Office, Senator King has openly and repeatedly expressed his concern about a monument designation, and he intends to express those concerns to the director directly at the two public meetings,” Ogden said in a prepared statement. “Senator King firmly believes, as he always has, that Director Jarvis must hear directly from Mainers firsthand about this issue, because an open and public dialogue is necessary, and that’s exactly why he urged Director Jarvis to visit the state.”
“Senator King is looking forward to Director Jarvis’ visit, to having a representative from the governor’s office participate, to having the facts of the proposal presented, and to hearing from both opponents and proponents about it. Senator King is committed to, and he hopes for, a frank and open conversation because that’s what the people of Maine deserve on such a significant issue,” Ogden added.
It was unclear whether the first forum on Monday would feature a question-and-answer session. The East Millinocket forum will be attended by East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket, Patten and Stacyville government officials and school boards, Ogden has said.
Both sides were gearing up Thursday for the forums. Sierra Club Maine announced that it will charter a free bus enabling Portland-area residents to attend the UMaine meeting. One of the leaders of the anti-monument movement, Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers, said opposition groups were circulating fliers advertising the meeting and the oppositional stance regarding the monument.
LePage, the state Legislature and the governments or residents of most of the towns closest to the proposed monument — East Millinocket, Millinocket, Medway and Patten — oppose the monument and a national park proposal that preceded it. The Penobscot County Board of Commissioners, which governs unincorporated lands around the monument lands owned by entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, also opposed the park.
Bangor’s City Council, the Katahdin Area and Houlton chambers of commerce and the state’s Penobscot Indian tribe support it.
“The National Park Service, by their own admission, cannot adequately maintain our existing public lands with existing resources,” LePage said. “It defies logic that we would create a new national monument right next to Baxter State Park when the federal government is facing a massive deficit that amounts to over $58,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. Rather than creating a new, unsupported national monument in Maine, the focus should be on maintaining the lands we already own.”
Quimby announced for the first time publicly in 2011 that she intended to give approximately 70,000 family-owned acres east of Baxter State Park to the park service in 2016, the service’s 100th birthday. Her son, Lucas St. Clair, took control of the campaign late the next year after it drew almost universal local and state government opposition.
King effectively revived the often-contentious national park debate when he asked Millinocket officials for their requirements for a park should congressional delegates write legislation seeking one. Millinocket officials disclosed in February 2015 that he had sought their requirements for a park should legislation be drafted. Only Congress can create national parks, but presidents can use executive orders to create monuments.
St. Clair announced in November that he had discussed with White House officials a monument designation for his family’s land, when it appeared that no federal delegate was likely to draft a park bill. Since then, King joined U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, both R-Maine, in expressing “serious reservations” about a monument in a letter to President Barack Obama. They also felt that Jarvis’s letter in response was nonresponsive and during a tour of the Katahdin region King said that the federal government’s response to local concerns would be crucial to his support of a monument.
Jarvis’ visit on Monday comes at King’s request.