January 15, 2021

Millinocket Wants To Be Heard In Regards to Baxter Land Swap Deal

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The Millinocket town council is not happy that they found about the Baxter State Park land swap in the newspaper after three years of behind the scenes negotiations with state and private individuals and companies. They feel that this deal will greatly affect their community and yet they were not included in any way in discussions.

The Baxter land swap essentially works this way. The State of Maine will sell about 7,400 acres of public land to a private, non-profit entity called Trust for Public Lands, providing of course that the Trust for Public Lands can raise the $14 million for the purchase before July.

The Trust for Public Lands would then swap the 7,400 acres with a 6,000 acre parcel in and around Baxter Lake that is owned by Gardner Land Co. The Trust would then gift back to Baxter Park the 6000 acres. The proposal includes operating the land the same as the rest of the Park, meaning limited access for recreation.

The Millinocket town council has condemned the land swap, yet they unanimously approved a resolution that will be presented to the Maine Legislature for consideration. Here are the bones of the resolution according to an article in the Banger Daily News.

. All traditional uses, including fishing, hunting, trapping, snowmobile and ATV riding, and floatplane landing, be allowed in the lake area.

. If traditional uses are lost within the 6,000 acres, “such loss shall not act as precedent for further loss of access and all current traditional uses in adjacent areas critical to the economic vitality of the Town of Millinocket, and that efforts will be made to mitigate any such losses in other land areas more important to the Town.”

. Town representatives shall be included in any future state discussions for proposed land sales, swaps and conservation easements around Baxter or the Katahdin region that will or might adversely affect the region.

. Any other land acquisitions critical to the area’s economy and involving taxpayer dollars be managed as sustainable forestry.

I am not sure that this resolution will have much affect on the terms of the deal however, before the public lands can be sold to the Trust for Public Lands, the Maine Legislature would need to approve the sale by a 2/3 majority vote. That might prove difficult to do if there is enough opposition.

I have contacted both leaders of the House and Senate asking them to reconsider this swap only because I do not believe it is a fair swap for recreationalists. We stand to lose 7,400 acres of full access recreational land for 6,000 limited access land controlled by the Baxter Park Authority. The long term ramifications of lost public land, I believe outweighs any benefits gained from enlarging the park or protecting from development.

If the state were agreeable to purchase the same amount of land again for public access, I would be in total agreement with the swap. I’m not sure promises of future sales would be good enough for me. I want to see a rewrite of the deal that includes approval by the Maine Legislature for the purchase of at least 7,400 acres of public access lands.

Previous posts here, here, here and here.

Tom Remington

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