The great north sham

Well it is finally happening.

With the time ticking away on President Barack Obama’s term in office, it was only a matter of time before it happened. Roxanne Quimby has now transferred more than 87,000 acres of land to the federal government, which was followed in short order by a designation of the land as a so-called “national monument.”

The dream of that national monument is of course really a dream for a national park and preserve, and the 87,000 acres is hardly the end of the dream for Quimby and her boosters.

Quimby made her first land purchase in July 2001, purchasing more than 8,500 acres in Piscataquis County. At the time of the purchase, she disclosed her real motives: to create a 3.2 million acre national park in Maine, known as the Maine Woods National Park and Preserve.

She cobbled together more land with a $12 million purchase in November 2003 of more than 24,000 acres near Baxter State Park.

All along, she made clear that she had no interest in Maine’s forest industry, had no interest in the outdoor legacy of hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and other traditional uses for the land. She also made clear that people who had camps leased on the land, and had always been allowed to have those camps, were going to see their leases cancelled.

Then the gambit got truly serious in 2010, when Quimby was appointed to the National Park Foundation board of directors. This put her in a position to lobby from the inside for a future park, and allowed her the access necessary to convince President Obama that he should begin the process by designating her land as a national monument.

At that point, this entire exercise was basically academic. She had all the right friends in all the right places, and her dream of federal land in Maine was going to happen. It was only a matter of time.

It didn’t matter that it would take giant swaths of land and forever take them out of the Maine economy.

It didn’t matter that the promises of jobs and economic activity from a park were speculative, likely never to be realized, and used to sell a bad idea to a desperate group of people who have seen their economic vitality decimated over the course of decades.

It doesn’t matter that the statistics that are used to sell the park are gibberish, particularly the statistics that center on economic activity that will be generated, and the return on a dollar of investment, proposals of such have been as preposterous as $10 of activity for every one invested. This is nonsense.

It doesn’t matter that  the local population remained very strongly opposed to the concept of a national park in northern Maine.

It doesn’t matter that the transfer of land and ownership is only the beginning, and that more will be coming at some point, possibly even from a federal land grab. Historically, national parks have grabbed adjacent land over and over again.

It doesn’t matter that any national park would require a tremendous amount of government spending on infrastructure and people to even get it ready to be a park in the first place, and be used.

It doesn’t matter that in any best-case scenario, the usage of this park will be extremely low, particularly in comparison to Acadia National Park, and even if it does generate any momentum, it will not be visited enough to turn northern Maine into some kind of economic paradise.

It doesn’t matter that, if she really wanted to preserve this land for Maine people, she should turn her land over to Baxter State Park and allow Maine people, not national bureaucrats, to manage the land.

None of that matters. All that matters is that Quimby wanted it. She found the right access to powerful people to make it happen, and now it is going to happen.

Yes, the land is her land. That is the familiar refrain from all people who support what Quimby is doing. And they’re right, she can do whatever she wants with land she legally owns and has purchased in good faith.

Yet, what happens to the land after it no longer belongs to her is, in fact, a subject that is in bounds for us to talk about, and there is no argument that what she, and now the federal government want to do with that land is anything but wrong for the people of northern Maine.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.