September 26, 2020

Something Smells Really Bad Around Baxter Park And Hunters Will Lose – Again

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I have repeatedly said that we haven’t heard the last in the Baxtergate land swap debacle and that we are barely scratching the surface in terms of the backdoor politicking and deals that took place.

According to articles this morning in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News, Governor Baldacci’s group that he pulled together to further study the Baxter land swap and aquisition project revealed new and disturbing information about the efforts of conservationist Roxanne Quimby.

As best as I can explain it, here’s the deal. Governor Baldacci’s administration, through three years of secret negotiations that excluded Maine’s citizens and its lawmakers, agreed to trade out some of our public lands combined with purchases of other private parcels, in exchange for 6,000 acres of land adjacent to Baxter State Park and surrounding Katahdin Lake. It’s a complex operation utilizing the efforts of the Trust for Public Lands (scroll down for links).

Through misinformed negotiations that were prompted by the Baldacci camp’s urgings that time was of the essence, the rushed through compromised deal would set aside 4,000 acres around Katahdin Lake for the exclusive use of the Baxter State Park users – meaning no access for hunting, trapping, snowmobiling, ATVs, etc. – and setting aside a whopping 2,000 acres for “traditional” uses.

This latest development comes as no surprise to me and I am shocked to think that anyone involved in any of this knowing the track record of Roxanne Quimby, would be surprised. Quimby’s foundation, known as Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., has purchased around 23,000-25,000 acres adjacent to this 6,000 acres that Baxter State Park is about to acquire.

In short what this means is there will be no access to the 2,000 acres that was part of the deal to guarantee hunters and other traditional land users, access to the land – all part of the negotiated deal.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine along with the Maine Snowmobile Association are asking Baldacci to take another look at this land swap deal. It is pointless for Maine to swap out land, around 7,000 acres of public land, and end up with 2,000 acres of unusable woodlands.

Furthermore, as part of the overall picture, Maine is contemplating using some of the monies generated from its undervalued selling price of the 7,000 acres, to purchase 8,000 acres on the east side of Baxter State Park. Once again rendering the land useless should Quimby post her land to prohibit access across it.

The citizens of Maine deserve at the very least for the Governor to revisit this issue and I believe an investigation is in order. The investigation should look into whether or not there were other behind the scenes deals made by Quimby, members of the Baxter Park Authority and other so-called conservationists. This entire deal smells of a bunch of dirty rats.

What also angers me are the comments being made by those who think we should just move ahead and hope things work out. This is how Paul Carrier put it in his article in the Press Herald.

But other participants at the meeting, which was held at the Department of Conservation, said state officials should first meet with Quimby to determine how she plans to use the 23,000 acres purchased from Lakeville Shores Inc. in Winn and from R.A. Crawford and Son Land and Timber Inc. in Lincoln, and what activities will be permitted.

Is it in the best interest of the overburdened taxpayers to be left at the mercy of a land owner who has a track record of buying and closing land? Why should Maine negotiate with someone whose objective is to buy up land and close it off?

Members of this group that met recently also said we should consider looking into “value swaps” with Quimby. What’s a value swap?

A value swap would allow the state to ban hunting on its proposed purchases if Quimby allowed hunting on her foundation’s land south of Katahdin Lake.

Others still insisted that we should work with Quimby on finding solutions.

“I would hope we could work with the landowner and find some solutions,” said Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop.

Flood said he does not expect the deal that the Legislature approved this year to fall apart, despite the concerns raised by Smith and others, because it took “so much will and energy” for the Legislature to cobble it together in the first place.

This is total irresponsibility on the part of this committee and our Legislature if they don’t take a closer look at this issue. If they plod along hoping for the best while being at the disposal of Roxanne Quimby, simply because this was a long involved and complicated negotiation, is flat out wrong. So what! Who really cares how complicated it was! Two wrongs don’t make it right.

Baldacci’s aid, following this case for the Governor and Conservation Commissioner, Patrick McGowan, both think we should just do the best we can with what we have so far.

Davies, the governor’s aide who is following the issue for Baldacci, said what is more likely is that all of the interested parties will try to reach agreement on limited changes that could then be ratified by the Legislature, without having lawmakers rehash the entire transaction.

“I don’t think the Legislature is likely to go back on this thing,” said Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan. “We have to work around it,” he said of the Quimby land purchase.

Roxanne Quimby has every right to buy as much land as she wants. She also has the right to post it or open it or limit its uses. This is not what is at issue here. If there were negotiations that went on prior to and during the first negotiations to acquire the Katahdin Lake parcel, with the intent to deceive the people, then this is wrong. We the taxpayers deserve to know for sure. We also have to have absolute guarantees of access to our public lands for recreation, otherwise this would be the worst investment anyone could ever make.

For our lawmakers not to take a second look at this would be blantant disregard in looking after the interests of the citizens of Maine. Personally, I have a strong feeling that this whole Baxtergate landswap involved a lot more than any of us know. I also have a stinking suspicion we will never be given the opportunity to find out.

Follow this link to a story about the Baxter land swap. At the end of the story you’ll find all the links to all the stories I’ve written about this issue.

Tom Remington

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