The Maine Northwood’s, Plum Puzzling Part II

Posted: 25/01/2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

The puzzles coming along, slow but sure. I almost have the edges in place where they belong. You know, those red and green pieces actually belong on one of the sailing vessels in the harbor. I’m holding a fourth piece of the puzzle in my hands, but I’m not quite sure where this one goes. I think I do, but so many pieces look all alike when you’re looking a puzzle all laid out in pieces.
The Northwood’s puzzle has a forth piece too. This one’s called The Nature Conservancy. Most people refer to as TNC, so I’ll do that here too. Several people have told me that they feel TNC is doing a great job of conservation. I’m not quite so sure of that. they seem to be more in the business of managing land than they are at conserving habitat.

TNC has developed into a huge nonprofit corporation with assets in the billions of dollars, and they own controlling interest in hundreds of millions of acres around the world. Some of it they own outright through property ownership. And with other acreage they maintain control through a legal device called an easement. It’s the same type of deal they are trying to work out with Plum Creek Timber here in Maine.

That kind of power can lead to a lot of abuse, and I tend to recall the scandal surrounding TNC back in 2003 when the Washington Post ran an expose on their business dealings. According to their investigation, TNC was guilty of numerous ethical and legal violations. It ranged from loaning money to staff members at a reduced interest rate, some which was never paid back apparently, to making deals to drill wells and harvest timber from land they were supposedly protecting.

The scandal led to a Senate investigation where they were apparently found guilty of several acts. It got to the point where when the President of TNC, Stephen McCormick, resigned in October of last year, heavy references were made pointing to the troubles surrounding that series of articles, as well as the ensuing Senate investigation and an IRS internal audit of the TNC financial records.

Here’s a look at some of the leads from the WP series on the issue……

• The drilling foray, on the Texas Gulf Coast, turned into a fiasco. Not only did some endangered birds die after the Conservancy started drilling, but the charity also sold natural gas owned by someone else and kept the profits. The Conservancy and its partners settled a resulting lawsuit last year for $10 million.

• In Virginia, the Conservancy invested in a number of for-profit businesses on the Eastern Shore: a bed-and-breakfast, an oyster-and-clam farm, an “heirloom” sweet-potato-chip operation, a seaside home development. All the businesses failed, leaving a $24 million debt.

• The Conservancy has profited by selling its name and logo to companies, which use the image to gain what one corporate executive calls “reputational value.”

• The charity engages in numerous financial transactions with members of the Conservancy family — governing board members and their companies, state and regional trustees, longtime supporters. The nonprofit has bought land and services from board members’ companies, and it has declined to release property appraisals from the deals. It has sold choice Conservancy land to past and present trustees through its “conservation buyers” program, which offers steep discounts in exchange for development restrictions.

In light of the current state of affairs, and in researching today’s TNC dealings, I have to wonder if they changed their ways as claimed. Did they make any deals with Plum Creek or LURC over this proposal? Is there an ulterior motive behind the current plan?

The TNC countered all charges with a rebuttal at the post, but too many outstanding issues remained unresolved. One would think that if there was absolutely nothing shady going on, there would not have been a Senate investigation that lasted nearly two years and a full IRS audit.

I have read the concept plan and easements along with some other documents provided to the public last year, (about a thousand pages worth of reading, by the way) and see where several strategic points were danced around in the contracts. While the intent is, in theory, supposed to be about habitat conservation, it seems more geared towards land preservation. There are segments that allow quite a bit of leeway that could end in destruction of valuable habitat, as well as various industrial opportunities. And given the LURC’s recent track record, I almost feel as though some deals haven’t already been made. The contract provides a door for allowance of construction of wind power generation facilities, for instance.

So now we’re looking at six pieces of the Northwood’s puzzle. We have;
1. Baldacci’s wood for fuel initiative
2. The Northwood’s
3. Plum Creek Timber Co.
4. The LURC
5. The Nature Conservancy
6. The environmental issues such as global warming, et al

Each of these pieces fit into the picture somehow. They may not all directly connect here, but they are all connected in some way to one another, at least through other pieces. I remain convinced that approval of this concept plan will result in untold regret at a future date. It won’t be in the first few months, but it will happen. Once again, I urge the LURC to reject this concept plan as promoted by Plum Creek Timber.

There are many more pieces to this puzzle, and it seems difficult to see just where they fit in. I’ll add a couple of more pieces tomorrow. And it’s kind of funny how little surprises crop up in the puzzle. Like this one piece I found. It has a funny looking flesh colored blob on it. Confused the bejeezers out of me until I realized it was the head of a man standing on the dock. But we’ll talk more about this piece next time.


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