Blue Mecca and Plum Creek

Posted: 14/12/2007 in Uncategorized
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Blue Mecca. Otherwise known as Wal-Mart, or more affectionately as Wally World. What are they doing to us here in Maine, and is it worth it?

As a person employed in the retail sector I can more closely appreciate the good and the bad of any retail venture than a lot of other non-retail people can. The general consensus is that Wal-mart does good for the communities they do business in. Job opportunities are provided where none existed, and they claim to work at improving life for the working poor. Not in those words exactly, but that’s what it boils down to. But are they really doing that?

I wonder if they really do care about quality of life? One of the issues that make me question the validity of the claim is the issue revolving around Plum Creek Timbers proposed development in the Moosehead Lake area. The plan calls for new homes, in the thousands, ( I question the validity of that number, sounds like a lot for me.) presumably to improve the housing opportunities in the area. But with the average price of these homes approaching, and sometimes exceeding the half million dollar mark, exactly whose housing opportunities are being improved?

Included in the plan is the construction of two shopping centers, one of which I hear Wal-mart is to anchor with a superstore. Lets pick apart the presumed facts. The Moosehead region is a vast forested area of the state, with a declining forestry industry and shrinking population levels. No problem there, Jim Batey, executive director of Somerset Economic Development Corp, even says so in a Kennebec Journal article from 24 November, 2007. He goes on to say that the Plum Creek proposal will provide jobs and opportunities etc. etc.

Well, the plan will provide jobs all right, but what about the quality of life in the area. First of all, the homes are going to be marketed and sold in the range of up to one half million dollars each. How many local people are going to be able to afford these homes. And as to employment, what long term opportunities will exist? Supporters of the plan claim that large retailers and other service companies will bring in jobs. And that is where the Blue Mecca comes into question. Quality of life.

I read a study (from Wal-mart) that claims that the average wage for their Maine employees was $11.50 per hour. That sounds like a good claim, but I don’t buy it. If they take away management wages and distribution wages, then what is the average wage of a Wal-mart employee? The only Wal-mart people I know of that make that much are distribution center employees and management staff. The average Wal-mart employee workers that I know on a personal basis make more in the range of $7.00 to $8.00 per hour, and most of them get far fewer than fulltime hours. Full time hours, for those of you not in retail is thirty hours per week, not forty as in other trades.

Batey goes on to extol the virtues of the Plum Creek conservation efforts in the area. Hmm. Let me see. An area now thickly settled with wildlife and a woodland environment is going to be chopped up and paved over with petroleum based asphalt, so that Wal-mart can provide poverty level jobs to people who cannot afford to live in the houses that Plum Creek is going to build. Sounds to me like they are more interested in providing domestic labor for rich people from away, who could care less about the state of Maine.

And let’s look at another development connected to Plum Creek. For those of you who feel that the interest of Maine is truly at the foundation of their hearts, you may want to find another page to read.

Excerpt #1; (Montana River Action webpage)

In 1992, Plum Creek Timber Co., a subsidiary of Northern Pacific Rail Road Company sold their lands on the Gallatin National Forest to Tim Blixseth and the McDougal brothers, foresters from Oregon. Blixseth consolidated his lands by trading with the Forest Service in 1998 and developed the 13,400-acre Yellowstone Club gated subdivision. Members of the Club must show a worth of at least $3 million, pay a membership fee of $250,000, annual dues of $16,000 and only members and their guests and employees pass the gate.

Several developments are proposed in the plan. Ski areas included. What assurances can Plum Creek Timber provide that this type of sale or lease will not happen in the Moosehead area?

Excerpt #2;

Violations of natural resource laws began in 1998 when Blixseth obtained only 9 permits for work that was much larger in scope than was permitted. Seven permits were suspended. In 2002, the Club was accused of 60 violations of the federal Clean Water Act when they dumped dredge and fill material into 2 miles of streams and on 10 acres of wetlands. The Yellowstone Club was also fined $86,000 for 400 violations of stream pollution, killing of trout, diversion and obliteration of streams, putting earth dams across streams, breaking down stream banks and operating heavy earth moving equipment in streambeds, draining and destroying streambeds and pumping water, stemming from constructing a golf course, roads, bridges, culverts, ski lifts and ski runs without a permit. State and federal regulators accused the Club of ignoring state stop orders, violation of state and federal water quality laws, state sanitation laws and building more condominiums than permitted.

What assurances can Plum Creek Timber provide that will guarantee this will not happen here in Maine with contractors and other firms connected to the redevelopment plan?

Excerpt #3;

In the 1860s, following the Civil War, the federal government granted large tracts of land to the Northern Pacific Railroad. Following World War II, the U.S.A. unfortunately began to dismantle the nation’s railroad system and Northern Pacific Corp. began to log and sell their lands. In the 1950s, environmentalists began to press the railroad corporation to return their lands to the federal government because they failed to maintain the railroads. The Northern Pacific Railroad immediately formed the Plum Creek Timber Company to avoid litigation and gain a tax dodge. Over the 1950s and 60s, they began to methodically clearcut their lands and sell them to developers when these lands became more valuable for subdivisions than for logging, grazing and mining. Plum Creek Timber Co. is now the largest real estate business in Montana.

Sounds to me like these people have no problem at all with manipulation of laws and regulations to avoid responsibility. Is this how Plum Creek Timber is approaching their Maine redevelopment project?

And lastly, excerpt #4;

Highway US-191 along the Gallatin River between Four Corners and Big Sky is the second busiest highway commute in Montana as a result of the building boom in Big Sky. MT Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that 5,300 to 7,500 drivers make the commute every day. Between 2000 and 2004, there were 467 crashes, 111 resulting in injuries and 5 fatalities.

I somehow fail to equate quantity of life and quality of life as the same thing. This development may mean more employment in the way of low paying retail and service opportunities, but the possibility of higher wage jobs will decrease. The development will clearly attract more out of state buyers, and part time residents to the area than it will local residents. This will result in a level of life quality that will change to suit these people from away.

People from away will want more conveniences, more law enforcement, fire protection, shopping and recreational opportunities and so on. The state of Maine is changing in ways that will forever destroy the way of life that has so often been referred to as “Maine, the way life should be.” We are changing because our greed for what other people have, but don’t really need, has overshadowed our desire for quality over quantity. Plum Creek and Wal-mart have their place in society, but in my opinion, Maine can do without either.


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