On September 24th, Maine state regulators endorsed Plum Creek's nearly 1,000-home development plan for the Moosehead Lake region, the largest development ever proposed in Maine and one of the nation’s largest rural development projects. The endorsement by Maine’s Land Use Regulatory Commission, which is expected to be formalized in a vote on Wednesday, October 1, capped more than four years of contentious debate, a series of public hearings and continuing discussions about the balance of conservation and development in the North Woods.
Beginning in late 2005, OSI's Research Program has been conducting a land use and financial analysis of Plum Creek’s plan. Working with the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine and Industrial Economics, Inc, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based private consulting firm, OSI released three reports that quantified the financial value of the plan’s approval to Plum Creek, and the conservation measures it proposed as mitigation for the development. OSI, which neither supported nor opposed the plan, had sought to provide independent, objective information to help diverse stakeholders assess the financial value of the plan, and thus where it might be modified without while ensuring the company an adequate financial return.
What follows is OSI’s closing statement before LURC last week, delivered by OSI’s land use planning consultant, Jerry Bley.
My name is Jerry Bley and I am here today to offer the closing statement of the Open Space Institute that has participated as an interested party in the process, neither supporting nor opposing Plum Creek's proposal.
As you may recall, OSI prepared three detailed analyses examining Plum Creek's plan:
- The first, which we refer to as our “Baseline Development Scenario,” examines the development opportunities potentially available to Plum Creek for its Moosehead lands absent a region-wide lake concept plan through more traditional zoning, subdivision and development practices.
- The second, which we referred to as our “Financial Model,” provided a framework for analyzing the financial value to Plum Creek's shareholders of the company's lake concept plan, as well as the baseline development scenario.
- The final report evaluated the conservation measures in the company's revised plan and conservation that would be likely to occur if the lands were developed absent a region-wide lake concept plan. It also presented an estimate of the financial value of Plum Creek’s conservation commitments.
Our goals in conducting this work were three-fold:
First, to help the commission and the public view Plum Creek's proposal in an appropriate context—that the decision before you is not one of development versus no development, but rather development in accordance with a region-wide plan versus numerous smaller development proposals over time. Our baseline development scenario attempted to provide you with an understanding of what type of development and conservation would realistically occur absent a lake concept plan so that one could better evaluate the pros and cons of the proposed plan versus the baseline development scenario.
Second, we wanted to be sure that the focus of the discussion did not simply focus on the development proposals in Plum Creek's plan, but also gave appropriate weight to the conservation components. OSI looked at the financial value of these conservation commitments, which we recognize is only one way of measuring conservation significance, and found that the conservation proposals being considered as part of this proposal had substantial value.
Lastly, and perhaps most challenging, we wanted to help the Commission better understand the financial value of Plum Creek's proposal to the company and its shareholders. In doing so, OSI concluded that the proposed concept plan offered Plum Creek's shareholders substantial financial advantages over what the company might expect to receive from our baseline development scenario. Our findings suggested that Plum Creek's proposal could potentially be modified to address Commission and public concerns without endangering the financial viability of the project.
As we stand here today, assess the work that has been done by LURC, the interveners and the public over the past year, and look at the report and recommendations now before the Commission, OSI can say, without hesitation, that our goals have been achieved. We make no representations as to the role of our work in reaching this point; rather we applaud all those who have contributed to this extraordinary effort.
As an organization with involvement on conservation matters across the country, OSI can offer a somewhat different perspective on these proceedings than those with purely a local or statewide interest. Of particular relevance is OSI's work with conservation interests in Montana where, like in Maine, the future of Plum Creek lands are of great public interest. The contrasts are striking. The wild areas of Montana, unlike Maine, have no central planning authority such as LURC to guide important development projects and secure important conservation commitments.
County planning agencies are given that task and their powers are quite limited. As you may recall, a county planning official from Montana testified before the Commission and stated that the big battle between the County and Plum Creek was who would be responsible for the cost of paving the road. Contrast that to Maine where LURC has played a key role in dramatically shifting Plum Creek's concept plan since its initial version and is now considering a proposal that includes a conservation component that, to the best of our knowledge, is without precedent nationally. In Montana, conservation efforts have largely focused on buying out Plum Creek's holdings, since there is no planning authority that can exert the type of influence that LURC does in Maine.
OSI recognizes that parties are still deeply divided over certain key components of Plum Creek's plan such as Lily Bay and does not, in any way, want to diminish the importance of the Commission's deliberations on such matters. However, I would like to conclude by offering OSI's recognition to the Commission, along with its staff and consultants, for what we believe has been an extraordinary process that has truly reflected the importance of the resource at stake and the interest of Maine people in the future of the North Woods.