The fate of nearly a million acres of Maine timberland will be announced "within days," and those who hoped at least some of the land would go to the people of Maine are worried. "I'm hoping we get an announcement, but I'm fearful of what it's going to be," Jim Glavine, owner of Beaver Cove Camps on Moosehead Lake, said Wednesday.
Sappi Fine Paper is selling 911,000 acres, including some of the most valuable undeveloped recreational land in Maine. The vast Sappi forests stretch west from the Quebec border near Eustis, through Jackman and Greenville, and south to Kingfield and Solon.
The buyer will be announced "in the very near future - within days," Melanie Otero, a Sappi spokeswoman, said Wednesday. The company had said earlier it hoped to close the deal by Sept. 30.
The state made an offer in early August to purchase prime scenic areas, which likely include sites along Moosehead, Nahmakanta and Flagstaff lakes, or Holeb Pond. So far, the state has received no definite response to its offer. Some state officials remain hopeful.
"It's our understanding that they were seriously considering (the offer)," said Tom Morrison, director of the state Bureau of Parks and Lands. "The last information we had from them, which would have been late last week and early this week, is that they would be getting back to us. "
Jill Fileo, Gov. Angus King's acting press secretary, said Wednesday that an announcement was likely by the end of this week.
But with no deal yet, many who supported the state's effort to purchase part of the land are losing hope.
Glavine, a spokesman for a "moderate" conservation coalition that includes groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said he's concerned the state's effort was "too little, too late."
Jym St. Pierre of Restore: The North Woods, also said Wednesday that if the state's proposal is being seriously considered, it's odd that "nothing has been finalized with the deadline so close."
St. Pierre, whose group is pushing for creation of a national park in northern Maine, thinks it's likely that Sappi may just leave the question to the new owner. "They may have decided it wasn't worth the headache," St. Pierre said.
Like many in the conservation community, St. Pierre and Glavine have heard that the buyer may be Plum Creek Timber Co., a Seattle-based firm.
If Plum Creek is the buyer, "that would be extremely bad news" for those who don't want Sappi's 60 miles of Moosehead shoreline to be lined with "vacation homes and marinas," Glavine said.
A Plum Creek spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Charles Raines, a project director of the Sierra Club's Cascades chapter in Washington state, described Plum Creek as "very much a '90s kind of company. The bottom line every quarter is what drives the company."
The company logs its lands aggressively and sells parcels that can't be cut to developers, Raines said. But it does allow recreational use of its lands, Raines said, adding "the only gates on their roads are at the request of the wildlife department."
Plum Creek worked on a habitat plan for some of its Washington lands that did protect some streams, Raines said, "but we don't think the environment came out of it very well."
"I think people should be very cautious and keep a very close eye on them absolutely," Raines said. "We've been critical of their logging practices in the past, which were terrible, though they're better now. I just see them as a very shrewd, capitalistic company that has done very well for themselves. "
But the rumor that a timber company would purchase the land was welcomed by some residents of the Moosehead Lake area on Wednesday. After months of speculation, many in the region just want the decision to be made.
"I'd just as soon see a paper company get it and keep things going as they have been going," said Brad Scott, owner of Moosehead Bait and Tackle in Rockwood. "I don't want to see any big developments up here, but it's almost at the point now that whatever is going to happen, will happen."
Kathy DiPalma, who runs Lawrence's Lakeside Camps with her fiance, Bob Lawrence, felt much the same.
"I'd really prefer to see it go to a paper company rather than the state if they can carry on in the same respect as Scott Paper and Sappi," DiPalma said. "I really believe they've done well by us."
Both Scott and DiPalma praised the vast road system that forest-products companies created. Those roads allow access to timberlands for recreational as well as industrial uses. They doubted access would be as great under state stewardship.
"It just seems to me the state would go overboard and we'd see gates all over," Scott said.
Glavine, though, believes that residents have been so frightened by Restore: The North Woods' proposal for a national park that they've refused to get behind a moderate plan to protect traditional uses, including forestry and recreation.
"There are some people who think anyone who isn't a representative of a timber company is an environmental wacko," Glavine said. "But there is a middle ground."
However, Scott said he had faith that Maine's forestry laws and changes in the industry's cutting practices will protect the timberlands.
"I'm sure the state is going to monitor this very closely," he said. "If they have to put in some new laws on development they can. I can't see getting all upset at this point in time."
DiPalma, of Lawrence Lakeside Camps, said many Greenville residents are leery of state control, tired of the issue and becoming deaf to all the voices most from outside the Moosehead community debating the sale.
"I followed it pretty closely to begin with, but it just got so overdone that I lost interest," she said. "We've been so inundated up here. It's been as bad as the Clinton stuff."