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Lawmakers Vote to Block National Monument in Maine

Fred Bever reports on a bill to block a national monument in Maine's North Woods.

In a preliminary vote today, Maine’s House of Representatives passed a measure backers hope will help convince President Obama not to designate a National Monument in Maine’s North Woods.

Millionaire landowner and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby wants to donate thousands of acres near Baxter State Park to the federal government, and she’s seeking a presidential declaration of the area as a National Monument — a declaration that would not require congressional approval.

She’s backed by the state’s environmental community, but it’s a deeply divisive issue in the Katahdin region. The Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce supports the idea. Some outdoor recreation and forestry groups oppose it.

Medway Democrat Stephen Stanley comes down against the proposal, and he says the state should resist federal interference where it can.

“No matter if we make a national monument or don’t make a national monument, the hard feelings are there. It’s going to take a generation to get rid of these hard feelings,” says Stanley. “I know we can’t stop it. I think we should go on record saying we are not in favor of a national monument.”

At Gov. Paul LePage’s request, Stanley proposed a measure which would withhold the state’s consent to a presidential designation of a National Monument. Stanley and other opponents of the National Monument acknowledge that the president likely does not need the state’s consent – but they want the Legislature to send a message.

Richard Campbell, an Orrington Republican, says, “We have an opportunity, whether it is questionable or not, to support the people of the upper Penobscot River region. We need to send a message to Washington and to this president in particular, that we know best what’s good for us.”

But supporters of the monument proposal argue that it will bring much-needed economic development, particularly in the form of outdoor recreation, to a region hard hit by the paper industry’s decline.

Christopher Babbidge, a Democrat from Kennebunk says, “We have heard from many businesses in the area that think that given the economic circumstances of the present, this is a vehicle by which we look forward to a more optimistic future. So I say let’s not handicap anybody’s ability to gift their land for the benefit of all of our descendants.”

Several others from southern Maine spoke against Stanley’s bill. But enough of them – including a handful of Cumberland County Democrats – joined him to give an amended version initial approval on a narrow vote of 77-71.

Here’s how each lawmaker voted on the bill.

David Farmer, a spokesman for Eliotsville Plantation Inc., Quimby’s landholding nonprofit, says the measure is unconstitutional, and lawmakers are simply kowtowing to the governor.

“He’s used a lot of misinformation and fear to convince a majority in the House to support this sloppily written bill. we’re hopeful that in the next few days members of the Legislature will take another look at this,” says Farmer.

There are more House votes to come, and both sides will be working hard to sway a few votes their way before the measure heads to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Copyright 2016 Maine Public