Pardon my French on Katahdin Woods and Waters Monument

C’est la vie. It is fait accompliSeisin of thousands of acres of Maine has been signed over to the federal government. Maybe the Obama administration will rename Quimbyland something French.

Or maybe not. Within hours of the deeds becoming public, the name and mailing address of the new “monument” were announced via a canned, pre-made website: “Katahdin Woods and Waters,” care of Boston, Massachusetts.

It is an interesting name, one that takes its cue from the only iconic natural feature of the area: Mount Katahdin, which, of course, this new national monument does nothing to protect. “The mountain of the people of Maine” had already been protected by a Mainer. And he did it without help from the federal government — actively opposing their involvement — or money earned by moving businesses out of Maine.

With Roxanne Quimby and President Barack Obama’s action, the opinions of so many — whether bipartisan majorities of the Maine Legislature, or communities in Penobscot County, or Gov. Percival Baxter himself — were trampled underfoot. Why? To wrap themselves in symbolism on the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. And because the Obama administration is in its waning days; they were forced to act, as the clock is ticking.

Many Mainers had, and continue to have, significant concerns about this action. Others were supportive. But it is remarkable to watch the outpouring of support for “private property rights” from those advocates on the left. “It’s her land, let her do what she wants” is the thrust of their argument.

It’s a good point. I would welcome this newfound consensus on the rights of private landowners if so many of those suddenly offering it weren’t found fighting against development projects in other parts of the state. Or pushing government price mandates in the form of “rent control.” Or burying the property of others under ever-mounting regulations. Their spontaneous support of Quimby’s “property rights” seems convenient, at best.

That said, they are right. The land belonged to Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., and Quimby was free to do as she pleased with it. That included closing trails, prohibiting traditional public uses, or letting easement roads to state-owned parcels fall into disrepair. Her land, her rules.

But it is not her land anymore. The grantee of transactions recorded Tuesday was “The United States of America.” Or, more succinctly, us. That makes it a matter of public concern. And public concerns should give significant heft to the voices of those most directly impacted.

When decisions are being made about shrimping or groundfishing in the Gulf of Maine, Maine and Massachusetts’ opinions should outweigh Nebraska’s. Policymakers addressing the challenges of western droughts and water rights should listen to New Mexican and Californian voices much closer than ours in Maine.

So, too, should it have been with this national monument. Alternatives like donating the land to Baxter — a jewel that sets the standard for state parks nationwide — were never seriously explored. Instead, D.C.-based lobbyists were hired and economic development reports — full of flaws — were commissioned. Many thought the fix was in; the canned federal website bolsters that theory. But at the end of the day, the voices of Maine’s Legislature and the local towns were drowned out. The men and women of Millinocket, Patten, Medway, and elsewhere deserved better.

In the near term, we will just have to hope this “good intention” of federal control doesn’t euthanize everything that made the Maine woods unique. But it might not be over. In the longer term, Congress, with a receptive president, could undo this monument. So while Quimby, in concert with the Obama administration, has accomplished one of her long-term goals, she will need to work doubly-hard to elect Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein in order to keep it.

The stakes in November in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District — both for Congress and electoral votes — are now higher than ever. If Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s advocacy on the issue can carry him past Emily Cain and her milquetoast non-position, then the GOP stands a strong chance of holding Congress. And if the Electoral College sends a President Donald Trump or a President Gary Johnson to the White House, “Katahdin Woods and Waters” might very well be returned to the authority of the local communities or the state.

For park opponents in the 2nd District, the election could be their chance for a riposte.  

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.