By Ramona du Houx
Supporters of a new national monument administered by the National Park Service in the Katahdin region of Maine today faced down a lopsided Congressional field hearing, stacked with opponents of the proposal.
“Our region needs help, not another rehash of the same old arguments against new investment,” said Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce. “A new national monument would bring new jobs to our communities and help to revitalize our economy, while also protecting outdoor recreational activities, such as snowmobiling and hunting. And this proposal includes a $40 million endowment to help pay for operations and maintenance.”
The US House Natural Resources Committee field hearing, organized at the request of Rep. Bruce Poliquin, included only witnesses who oppose the creation of a national monument. No witnesses in support of the plan testified, and no Democrats from the committee attended. Nonetheless more than 45 supporters attended the meeting to show their support and to speak after the field hearing during public comment. Supporters from the region outnumbered opponents who spoke after the field hearing ended.
“This wasn’t a hearing to learn about the proposal or to answer questions. It was a political stunt meant to capture headlines and give the false impression that the region opposes a new national monument,” said Matt Polstein, a local businessman and supporter of the national monument. “Support for the national monument continues to grow. This show trial is an embarrassment and nothing more than an effort to turn us into props in an attack on the president.”
On May 16, more than 1,200 people attended a public forum in Orono organized by US Sen. Angus King. Supporters overwhelmingly outnumbered opponents of the national monument. During that forum, Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, addressed directly every question asked by opponents of the national monument designation.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree recently wrote President Barack Obama urging him to make the National Monument designation."I believe the case for the creation of a National Monument is strong and is supported by most people in the region and throughout the state," Pingree wrote.
“For several years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of supporters and opponents in order to have an open conversation about the proposed national park. This has been an open, honest effort,” said Lucas St. Clair. “Rep. Poliquin has been uninterested in hearing the details and learning the facts. He has declined numerous invitations to visit the land in question, and he has ignored the very real concerns of many of his constituents. The economy in rural Maine is hurting. Rep. Poliquin doesn’t have the answers. Instead, he opposes, without a good reason, a plan to invest $100 million in the Katahdin region and create hundreds of jobs.”
After significant media coverage about the lopsided nature of the hearing, Poliquin invited St. Clair to speak at the public input session and the Natural Resources Committee invited Polstein and St. Clair to testify at the hearing. All the invitations came after the initial list of witnesses was released.
“This hearing is not a real examination of our community’s situation and the park proposal,” said Anita Mueller, a park supporter. “Our kids are leaving, mills are shuttered and housing prices collapsing. How can Congress be so blind?”
St. Clair is the president of the board of Elliotsville Plantation, which is the non-profit foundation that has proposed donating 87,500 acres to create the new national monument in the Katahdin region. In addition to donating the land, the foundation will create a $40 million endowment to support ongoing operations and maintenance at the monument, which would be managed by the National Park Service.
The proposal, which could be an interim step to the creation of a new national park and national recreation area in the Katahdin region, includes permanent protection for traditional outdoor activities and represents a $100 million investment in the Katahdin region.
A recent independent study found that 10 of the national monuments designated by President Obama have generated more than $156 million in local economic activity annually, supporting more than 1,800 jobs. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 3.9 million people visited the newly designated monuments included in the study.
The National Park Service reports that Acadia National Park attracted more than 2.5 million visitors in 2014, generating $271 million in local economic output and about 3,500 jobs. Visitation to Acadia increased to 2.8 million visitors in 2015.
National Monuments have become National partks in the past, which would bring investment to the entire region, as they have done in other areas of the USA.
For more information, visit: http://mainewoodsnationalmonument.org