Plum Creek And The Taxpayer Bank

Posted: 19/01/2008 in Uncategorized
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Going ever deeper and deeper into the history of Plum Creek, I see a disturbing trend emerging with the way they conduct business. Since they have become what some call the largest landowner in the Nation, (I prefer to think of the taxpayer as the largest landowner, thank you) they have learned to navigate the twisted river of politics. They’ve learned that you have to give, if you are to receive. It’s too bad more people are not aware of what they are really giving us.

It’s like that old cartoon where a slick salesman walks up to a potential shill, excuse me, customer, and shakes his hand while patting him real friendly like on the back. But what the customer misses is the salesman picking his pocket. The so called conservation easements could be referred to as our pockets getting picked. In October of 2006 the Nature Conservancy announced it had finalized a deal to potentially purchase conservation easements for 345,000 acres of the Plum Creek lands around Moosehead. Just breezing through the hundreds of articles I’ve come across since becoming interested in this project, it sounded pretty cool. I thought, “Hey, we get to enjoy the land, like getting free ice cream and cake.” But it isn’t like a kid going to a friends birthday party and not bringing a gift. This free ice cream and cake comes with a hefty price tag.

These conservation easements are going to cost somebody $35,000,000 dollars. My understanding of a conservation easement, as allowed under the Feds tax code is a voluntary commitment to refrain from developing wild lands, in order to protect the environment and habitat. The Nature Conservancy assigned a hefty portion onto the Appalachian Trail Club. I was thinking of becoming a member this year, but screw that. I’m not going to pay for Plum Creek to harvest timber on land that they own.

Through a maze of land deals all across this Nation, Plum Creek Timber and the Nature Conservancy has been taking the taxpayers to the cleaners with all of these conservation easements. It looks like a simple operation. Here’s how it seems to work.

  1. Plum Creek decides that a certain property they own is no longer valuable as standing timber.
  2. Plum Creek subdivides the land and builds as many house lots as the property can sustain, either through sale to the public, or through developments.
  3. Environmentalists complain and bog down proceedings, costing Plum Creek money.
  4. The Nature Conservancy steps in and pays Plum Creek millions upon millions over the years to not develop land it owns.
  5. The Nature Conservancy passes the cost on to the taxpayer in the form of donations to various non-profits, or loans the money to state agencies.
  6. The Nature Conservancy retains control over the properties, in essence becoming one of the nations biggest landlords, while reaping millions of dollars a year in donations.
  7. Plum Creek gets paid for land it gets to continue to own.
  8. Plum Creek gets to take advantage of tax breaks allowed because of these voluntary easements.
  9. Plum Creek gets to rake in millions in land sales that are OK because a national environmental group supports the projects, namely the Nature Conservancy.
  10. Plum Creek gets to continue to harvest timber without regard to the environmental or habitat destruction their practices create.

In a sense, it’s a win-win-lose situation, with the taxpayers holding the short straw.

  • Win- Plum Creek wins because it gets to keep everything, and gets paid for it.
  • Win- The Nature Conservancy wins because they get to add to their portfolio of lands they get to control, and people who believe they are helping the little woodland creatures pay for it by their donations.
  • Lose- the taxpayer foots the bill for fire protection of Plum Creeks forests, roadways and bridges to support the Plum Creek developments, sewer and water systems to prevent the pristine lakes Plum Creeks developments may pollute, and on and on.

This concept plan proposed by Plum Creek isn’t about a simple zoning ordinance. The way the plan sits now, any number of scenarios can develop from it. We need a plan for the Northwoods. That is not at question. What is at question is whether we want an outside entity, with a demonstrated lack of responsibility and concern for local issues or environments. The LURC needs to refuse to approve this plan by Plum Creek.

What they need to do is somehow get the ball rolling on a plan made by Mainers that will benefit Mainers, not only in Greenville, but in every section of the state the LURC has jurisdiction over. What direction should we be going in for the future of Maine?

The Taxpayer Bank of America needs to decline this loan to the Plum Creek proposal. The area around Moosehead needs to be developed is a certainty. But each project should be decided upon its own merits. To approve a master building permit allowing an endless array of who knows what kind of projects is insane. Let’s be smart about this one people. let the LURC know how you feel.

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