Archive for January, 2008

I got a few more pieces together on my harbor puzzle. The lobster boat and some of the piers are done too. Funny thing is, I can’t seem to find a couple of edge pieces that keep the whole puzzle inside it’s boundaries. Boundaries are important, you know. They’re the rules that keep all the little pieces in their proper place. Sometimes your little brother or sister comes along and pounds on a piece until it fits where they want it to fit, but of course, it still doesn’t fit. And sometimes a little one will grab a piece, and run off with it. And you can never find the missing piece, so you end up with an unfinished puzzle. A story undone.

That seems to be the case involving Maine and the Moosehead region issue at hand. There’s a lot of missing pieces. Question is, are they there and we just can’t see them, or did some little bugger run away with them? Either way, with thousands of pages of web sites, articles, newspaper clippings, press releases, financial statements and so on, I can’t seem to find answers to some of my questions. Why do some of the pieces in the puzzle exist, and how do they connect?

I’ve already talked on and on about the big piece in the middle of the puzzle, Plum Creek Timber, and how it connects directly to another big piece, The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Last week Plum Creek released their financial statements for the year ending December 31st, and they are looking pretty good. Once again they came out ahead in the stock game when share values rose after another sale of land was announced in Montana. A deal that was brokered by TNC, who benefitted from it, and the taxpayers footed the bill by buying the land. All the while having easements on it giving TNC control and allowing Plum Creek to still harvest timber, as I understand the articles.

But another interesting piece was thrown onto the top of the pile in the way of this Carbon Offset Trading (COT) agreement Maine seems to have gotten in to. COT? What’s that you ask? And what in hell does that have to do with providing Greeneville with jobs? Well, see, that’s where the issue gets kind of sticky, and why this ‘global warming’ stuff is going to help destroy Maine as we know it. I’m probably going to piss a lot of people off in the next few days, or weeks, but that’s the way things go when you talk about controversial issues.

I’ve made mention more than once about the trouble that can happen when your feelings or emotions are not balanced with facts. It’s like this; Say Timmy falls down the well, and Lassie comes and gets you. Lassie says “Hey you!(bark) Stupid boy (bark) fell in hole (bark) third time this month (bark, bark) don’t you (bark) teach him nothing (bark, bark, bark)?” So you go to rescue Timmy, and your first instinct (emotion) is to jump in the hole and help the poor boy who’s bleeding and looks like he broke his leg. Kids all twisted up and looks like he’s trying to kick himself in the ear, you know.

If you follow your first emotion, you jump in the hole and voila! You’re at the bottom of hole with an injured kid, looking up at a circle of rapidly diminishing daylight, with a dog barking down at you because you were stupid enough to jump in a hole. Without facts to back up our feelings, we can end up doing the wrong thing. This may be the situation here in Maine with this lake concept plan.

The taxpayers of this country have given Plum Creek hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, maybe even into the billions? Who knows for sure. These deals were brokers via easements and other tools that can be used to manipulate the paperwork. Much of the land has been sold to private interest, such as individuals, as well as to major developers. And in a growing number of cases, the original easements are beginning to appear as if they haven’t held much weight. But much more land was transferred to the federal and state governments as park and preserve land. Of course, the land was sold to the government without profit to TNC, how magnanimous of them.

Exactly what is going to happen with the ‘conserved’ land around Moosehead? Is it going to be sold down the road to private interests? Say Ted Turner decides he wants to build a backwoods retreat and buys some of this prime Maine wilderness from TNC. Under the contracts, it can be done, so long as he abides by TNC’s desires. Will it be sold to Maine, or the federal government as some sort of wilderness reserve? Will Plum creek be able to continue clear cutting for timber on this land? All of these scenarios can take place, according to agreements. Everybody talks about the fine print in a contract, and how that’s the part that gets you, but in reality, it’s the spaces between the lines that get you in the end.

I had a few comments about newspapers and how the three Maine papers owned by the Blethen company seemed to have more positive stories than negative on the issue, and queried as to whether the fact that Plum Creek’s president sits on the board of Blethen had anything to do with it. After all, there are a lot of questions nobody seems to be asking, and that’s what a reporter should be doing. Digging for the facts and reporting them, no matter how distasteful or controversial they may be. Like the following article by Ryan Blethen on how the media is controlled by the government in China.

Well, on the one hand,Maine has a company building an increased presence here in the state. People on Medicare will be able to have better interaction with the company providing the service. But on the other hand, Medicare is a taxpayer funded health care payout.

Well, on the one hand, the world realized just how dependent they are on America’s presence in the world. But on the other hand,our sub prime debacle sent the worlds economy into a tailspin,nearly flaming out of control.

Well, on the one hand Bush and Congress worked together for a change, and developed a package to stimulate the economy. But on the other hand,the Senate is doing their best to bung it up and delay implementation of the bill. Either way, you and I are still going to be paying for it.

Well, on the one hand Bush gave his final State of the State address,without presenting any earth shattering plans or developments, sealing his legacy as just another President.But on the other hand, it means we get to go through several more months of political ads,spitting out attacks and innuendos by candidates who don’t want you to see the little man behind the curtain.

The Fight Continues

Posted: 30/01/2008 in Uncategorized

The puzzle of Maine will continue to be pieced together long after I am gone. It’s too bad, too. We once had a reason to be proud of ourselves. Fierce pride and an independent spirit that was once thought to be unassailable. That’s what Maine used to be. Whether you hauled lobster traps or a hand-line, harvested potatoes, raised cows or worked in the woods, your job was yours. You put food on the table and kept a roof over your head.

But not so today. Maine has changed. And not for the better. This issue over the Plum Creek ‘lake concept plan’ won’t be the last to be presented. Especially if the LURC approves the plan, which I believe they may have made their mind up about a long time ago anyways. Instead of blazing our own path, we allow people from away to call the shots. From simple corporate policy to state legislation, the earmarks of the way we live here in Maine are gone.

I’ve been in every part of the state, so I can vouch for the varied world we live in. Rich and poor alike are affected by the changes taking place here in Maine. Rising fuel and food costs are mixing in with the real estate downfall, placing us in a recessive climate, economically speaking. I have spoken out against this proposal for the Moosehead Lake region for many reasons. And I firmly believe it will be to the detriment of the state to allow this plan to go forward. Many people have been against my position, but I refuse to change my stance on the issue.

Even though certain publications appear to have dropped my news/alert accounts because of my speaking out against the powers that be, I will continue to fight and speak out against this incursion from away. The Plum Creek proposal may be a dead issue as far as the general media is concerned, and in fact it may be so, but until someone can convince me that I am wrong on the issue, I’m staying in the ring. Developments of this sort are not in the best interests of the state of Maine. Too often we look upon the wilderness as plots of land. Areas bounded by lines drawn on a map that pen us in, or keep us out.

But wildlife doesn’t adhere to human desires. Their world is habitat, not land. Unless we change the way we look at Maine’s growth, there will continue to be a decline in the available habitat for many species that depend on their world remaining free from human encroachment. Political infighting and greed needs to be put aside, and it needs to be done now. We need to take care of the needs of one special interest group that has no spokesman. That group is wildlife. While the animals and plants of this state do not pay taxes, they have the right to be protected, just the same as any other special interest group.

Please take some time to look around at what is happening in Maine. Find a way to participate in the maintenance of these precious habitats. Many are disappearing, and will never return. The species that need these areas are disappearing along with them. I intend to continue on until the end, no matter how close that end may be.

Over the last few days I’ve been comparing the state of Maine and the Northwood’s as a bit of a puzzle. I did that to show how even though we do not realize it, many things are connected as pieces in a puzzle to complete a picture. We often forget there is more to life than the crisis of the moment we are dealing with. Just because we are looking at one piece of that puzzle, holding it in our hands and trying to decipher the exact location of its resting place, it doesn’t mean that it is any more important than all the rest of the pieces. Neither is it any less important. Each piece is necessary, and if even just one piece is missing, we are left with an incomplete picture.

One of my biggest fears over this issue of the Moosehead and their proposed concept plan is the fact that there are so many un answered questions that haven’t seemed to have been asked yet. Questions revolving around infrastructure and other taxpayer supported expenditures. Many pieces of this puzzle cause me to have this concern. Some of the pieces don’t even seem like they belong to the same puzzle. At least that’s what I thought at first. Researching through all of the thousands of items floating around the net, I found that two pieces of the puzzle kept coming up attached to each other.

Two of this puzzles pieces are Plum Creek Timber, and The Nature Conservancy. Both pieces are integral in this proposed plan. The sale of easements and property to The Nature Conservancy are contingent upon Plum Creek’s ability to gain approval of this plan. As I read through the voluminous files of the LURC, NRCM, and newspaper and web articles, as well as various DEP (Dept. of Environmental Protection) and DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) documents from many states, the two names became synonymous with one another. Why was that?

There was a pattern in place where Plum Creek Timber would place huge tracts of land up for sale, or would propose a development for the parcel(s) in question. Ems as though almost all of them had very little actual marketable value to Plum Creek on their own merits. Much of the land bordered waterways or other land not suited for building on. some of the land contained habitat areas for threatened or endangered species. Other properties contained areas of habitat delicately balanced upon the precipice of destruction. Few, if any of these areas would likely see construction of any large scale housing or industrial development, based on the proximity of these areas.

But logging was still a viable use for many parcels being put up for sale. Deals were entered into by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Plum Creek (PC). Just like here in the Maine Northwoods. Maine, Georgia, Florida, Montana, Washington, Oregon and other states all saw the transactions between TNC and PC. Public outcry gave impetus to the trend for TNC to obtain control over these lands. Sometimes the property would be purchased outright. Other instances resulted in a tool called an easement to be applied. Either way, TNC obtained control over the land.

The control involved placing restrictions on activities allowed on the property. All building and recreational activity had to conform to TNC requirements. In most of these property deals, the land was further transferred to local, state and federal entities, all at taxpayer expense. Lands that were transferred into private hands was strictly regulated with control of the property still resting with TNC at the helm.

  • In 2003, Plum Creek sold almost 41,000 acres to TNC for 30 million dollars. The deal contained an option for TNC to purchase an additional 47,900 acres for an additional 38 million. That’s 68 million dollars in PC’s pocket. The contract allowed PC to continue to harvest logs on the land. According to a HelenaIR article, Kathy Budnik was quoted as saying “the company recognized that the Blackfoot River Valley is a special place, which is why the company sold 11,700 acres to the Nature Conservancy of Montana in 1996.” The article went on to say…..
    The Nature Conservancy has a “no-net-profit” policy when selling land to public agencies, so the cost to any state or federal agency will reflect the Conservancy’s purchase price and direct costs associated with each transaction. Potential agencies include the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management…

  • A New York Times article of 20 Oct ’06 reported the following….A three-way land deal among the Federal Government, a timber company and an environmental group has protected a 10-mile scenic corridor along one of Montana’s most celebrated rivers. The Nature Conservancy of Montana announced on Wednesday that it had acquired 11,730 acres of land along the Blackfoot River from the Plum Creek Timber Company for $18 million. The land will in turn be sold to the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which will eventually pay for the purchase by selling parcels of public land elsewhere.
  • Here is another article from December of ’06……….The Nature Conservancy of Montana purchased 13,970 acres from Plum Creek Timber Company, bringing the total number of acres purchased as part of the project to 68,076. Also, the Conservancy sold 2,480 acres of previously purchased land in the Ovando Mountain and Lincoln areas to the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. With this transaction, the Conservancy has re-sold a total of 26,480 acres of former Plum Creek lands to public agencies, in accordance with a community-developed plan led by the local landowner group, the Blackfoot Challenge.

  • A Business Wire article from 12 Jan ’99….WEST MONROE, La.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jan. 12, 1999—-Valuable red-cockaded woodpecker habitat to become part of the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge– The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana (TNC) announced today the purchase of approximately 4,750 acres from Plum Creek Timber Company, L.P. (NYSE:PCL). The Nature Conservancy plans to transfer the tract to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) over a five-year period to add to the existing Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge for migratory bird conservation.

  • A 12 Feb ’03 AP article….
    Ellensburg, Washington (ENS) – The Nature Conservancy has launched a project to save more than 10,000 acres in the Tieton River canyon west of Yakima, Washington. The group has already purchased almost 700 acres from Elk Haven Timber Co., LLC, and has signed an option to buy 9,700 acres in phases from Plum Creek Timber Company….. As public funds become available, the national forest and the state wildlife area are expected to take ownership of much of the acreage the Conservancy plans to purchase from Plum Creek.

  • An undated article from the Georgia Telegraph …..A partnership between the state, Plum Creek Timber Co. and The Nature Conservancy helped create Flat Tub Wildlife Management Area, a 3,597-acre tract of sandy pine forests and rolling hills dotted with cypress-fringed wetlands. The WMA already is open for turkey season and also is open to hikers and bikers, said Allen Mills, area manager. The uplands were purchased from Plum Creek for $2.5 million as part of the state’s new land conservation program.

  • A 14, March ’07 press release from the Georgia DNR…..
    Mr. Snow’s work played a key role in the State’s acquisition of 1,935 acres of land in the Broxton Rocks region in December 2005. DNR purchased this property from The Nature Conservancy, which had previously acquired it from Plum Creek Timber Company. This acquisition was part of a larger innovative public and private partnership between DNR, The Nature Conservancy and Plum Creek that resulted in the establishment of the 3,597-acre Flat Tub Wildlife Management Area.

  • I could go on for several pages with articles and memos, all describing Plum Creek selling land to The Nature Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy then selling it to various agencies, paid for with tax dollars. While this might seem to be a perfectly acceptable business pattern, and perhaps it is, there is more to this little piece of the Northwood’s puzzle. It’s a decade long pattern.

    In investigating the relationship between TNC and Plum Creek, I found out a couple of interesting things. One of the charges that have been leveled at Plum Creek is the way it harvests timber. Plum Creek counters by saying that it adheres to the strict guidelines required by the SFI, or Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The claim is that the guidelines promoted by SFI are sound and lead to preservation and conservation practices. They also say that TNC supports SFI and the practices they promote. Rick Holley, President and CEO of Plum Creek Timber is on the board of directors of SFI. Need I say more?

    There is a second interesting fact that disturbs me even more, and maybe a lawyer or Attorney General can say whether I have reason to be concerned. I have no legal training, so this is just an observation on my part. In investigating these two entities, and some of their operations, I discovered another connection between the two.

    Many people operate under the presumption that TNC is a struggling eco-supporter group. Underfunded and in need of your precious dollars to support its goals. TNC is actually a global nonprofit organization with billions of dollars of assets at its disposal. The money individuals send in by way of donations is miniscule in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars it collects every year from corporate sponsors.

    TNC sells its name and images to be used in advertising in return for a cut from the corporations renting the name. In addition, many major corporations make huge gifts to TNC. MBNA, whom we are all acquainted with contributed more than five million with their credit card program. Tom’s of Maine gave them half a million in 1998.

    TNC also offers what they call seats on their “International Leadership Council” for contributions of a minimum of 25 thousand dollars for a seat. Some members of the council contribute more. In one year, 2002, Exxon contributed 5 million, Georgia Pacific 3 million, General Motors 22 million. What does this have to do with the Northwood’s? Why do these pieces connect in the puzzle?

    Plum Creek, as of Oct ’07, held a seat on The Nature Conservancy’s International Leadership Council. So here we have these three pieces in the puzzle. Plum Creek, who holds a seat on a TNC committee, sells land to The Nature Conservancy, who then turns around and sells it to you, the taxpayer, while allowing Plum Creek to harvest lumber from the land, as long as they adhere to SFI standards, an organization of which Plum Creek’s president and CEO sits on the board of directors, and which TNC is an advisory member of.

    Maybe it’s just me, but this just seems wrong in so many ways. Sigh. That’s my Maine view.

    Ps. Perhaps opponents of the proposal should share some of my research. The truth needs to be spread. All this stuff can be found on the web. How come these issues haven’t surfaced yet?

Some people wonder why I am using the puzzle analogy in this discussion concerning Maine’s future and the Moosehead region. Why am I against an opportunity for development? Why do I wish to prevent these people that live in the area from having a chance to obtain employment? The answer is pretty simple. I’m not against development. I’m all for it. But I think it’s time for Maine to grow up and start taking control of our own destiny.

This puzzle of Maine has lots of little pieces to it, and right now, they’re scattered all over the table. We need to sort them out, and take a look at the picture on the box to see where these pieces go. I mentioned in the last couple of posts a few of the pieces involved, and took a look at how they should fit together. A couple of the pieces seem out of place for what the picture should look like, and that bothers me.

Analysts predicted a coming recession quite some time ago, and events are taking place that indicate that it is right on schedule. There are a couple of reasons behind some of what I have read that support those predictions, and why a development of the sort Plum Creek is proposing would not be to Maine’s benefit at this time.

The biggest reason has to do with the changing economy. Why is there going to be a recession, or are we in a recession today? In the first place, I think the definition of a recession is a dangerous one, at best. For us to have two consecutive quarters of negative GDP and declining personal income and expenditure means we have to wait until after the fact before action is taken to remedy the problems that are already out of control.

The current issue involving the subprime mortgage market is sending the credit industry into a tailspin. People simply cannot pay off their bills because the payments have become too onerous. There just isn’t enough real money around to enable them to do so. Wages or income simply is not keeping pace with the credit market. Put it this way; if you receive a 3% raise at your place of employment, how much more money will be put in your pocket? Let’s say you make $10.00 per hour. A 3% raise puts another.30¢ in your pocket. That’s $12.00 a week, gross. What is it after your taxes?

If you have purchased a lot of items on credit, or even just a house, how much do your payments amount to? How much have they gone up since last year? Do they exceed your raise? You can see where I’m going with this. The cost of living keeps increasing, but Maine’s income doesn’t keep pace. Some individuals may be able to, but as a state, we fall short of what we need to keep up.

This reflects in the state income plans vs. their expenditure ratio formulas. You all know what kind of trouble the Maine budget is in. Granted, it’s the administration’s own fault for not paying attention to reality, but none the less, Maine is in a financial bind. The planned developments Plum Creek wants to create in the Moosehead region are not going to provide the expected returns. There is no way that can happen in light of the trend the national economy is taking.

The job opportunities that will result from this development proposal will culminate in a collection of service level positions, and little else. At first, there may be some higher paying construction work for a few individuals, and maybe some small contractors may get lucky. But in the long haul, there just won’t be any meaningful employment opportunities. I’m talking about ones where skilled labor is needed with full time hours and decent, livable wages. Jobs where a man can expect his children to work into when they get old enough to work. Jobs which will give people a sense of accomplishment and stability. Jobs where people won’t be constantly talking about pulling up stakes and moving away.

In the thousands of pages of material I’ve read through over the last three months, I see not one long term benefit for allowing this project to go forward for the state of Maine. It will provide high priced second and third tier housing that very few people in Maine can afford. And those that can, already live here. The properties will have to be marketed out of state to a new breed of newcomers. It will provide high priced resort areas for people from away to vacation at. A seasonal market at best, and one that depends on a strong economy for it to work.

Instead of benefits, I see increased taxes to support the types of infrastructure development and maintenance that these new constructions will require. Nothing in the proposal provides reimbursement to the state for reconstruction of parts, or all of route 6/15 to accommodate the increased traffic loads. There is nothing to pay for the repairs and installation of new traffic control in Greenville to accommodate the increased population. Not one word about sewer and water supply issues in any of the communities affected.

And what about the construction of new retail centers. Do we really think these people are going to do all of their shopping at the locally owned markets? How about all the zoning issues surrounding the development that will accompany the Plum Creek developments? Will the local airport be able to handle greater air traffic without improvements being made? And so on through an endless box of puzzle pieces. If the plan is approved, it will be like buying a 1000 piece puzzle without a picture on the box. What’s it going to look like when we are done?

Like I’ve said before, we need a plan for the Northwood’s and the Moosehead region, but it needs to be a plan that addresses Maine’s needs. Not a plan that takes care of the income or interests of special groups, whether it be a corporation, or a nonprofit group such as The Nature Conservancy. We need to step back before making a decision and look at all of the pieces, and figure out if we’re going to like the picture thirty years from now. Habitat and land are two separate environments. Land is something that man is used to. It’s bounded by lines and measurements on a plot map. It belongs to a man and can be given to another man.

Habitat is where we live. It doesn’t end at a granite post at the edge of fire road number sixty three and extend to the steel post over at the corner of another woodlot. What are we going to do when our habitat is changed to the point where we no longer find it comfortable to be in it? Are we going to migrate away like the Caribou did? Or the wolves when their food source left?

The puzzle of Maine is complex. We have the privilege of possessing the largest remaining tract of true wilderness east of the Mississippi River. Even the National Wilderness park in New York State doesn’t have what we have. We have an opportunity to do the right thing here. Let’s try not to blow it for the sake of picking up some chump change.