Friends of the Maine Woods: North woods no stranger to public aid (Dec. 12, 2011)

There are a lot of Friends of the Maine Woods these days, but none quite as generous as Uncle Sam.

Last year, he took over a polluted landfill so the buyer of a shuttered paper mill in East Millinocket would close the deal and put 215 people back to work, many making $11 per hour, at least for a while.

Uncle Sam recently gave the new company an early holiday loan of $1 million so it could pay its personal property taxes, and reduced the property tax bill.

Senator Snowe and Governor LePage, both Republicans, are asking Santa Sam to build a natural gas pipeline and railroad tracks to this area of Maine for Christmas, a subsidy to help keep the struggling pulp and paper industries viable.

And, thanks to the federal government, $25 million of taxpayer dollars is being used to connect the Maine woods to the rest of the world with a world class fiber optic network.

Chronic unemployment rates between 17% and 22% mean vast numbers of people in this part of Maine are relying on Uncle Sam’s unemployment and other government benefits.

With a relatively small national park up the road, the National Park Service would be only the latest — and perhaps most sustainable — example of public-private partnerships in the north woods. To think some oppose the proposal on the grounds it is a “government takeover” is almost laughable, given the track record listed above.

To manage the park, NPS will hire up to 25 full time people, and contract with local businesses for the work that will need to be completed to create the park. Construction, design and engineering professionals will build the park’s visitor center and roads.

Once completed, small businesses will provide canoeing, rafting and guided tours in the park. Visitors will buy food and spend money on lodging, gas and local art. Photographers will work, as will biologists and other scientific researchers. Young people will be hired in the summer to offer walking tours, clear trails and answer questions.

Because of increased opportunities for work and business, there will be a demand for housing, and real estate values will increase, leading to a net gain in property tax revenue.

Being “anti-government” is hip these days. It’s a cause celebrated by opponents of the Maine Woods National Park, who call the proposal a “government takeover.”

By our accounting, that “takeover” is actually a partnership — one that already is producing results  made necessary by a faltering, one-industry economy.

By any objective measure, local, state and federal governments are part of the way forward for the region, as they have been in the past, present and — given the above proposals, sponsored by top Republicans such as Snowe and LePage — the future.

Opponents who think this part of the Pine Tree State is self-sufficient and doing just fine are not dealing in reality. And those who would turn away private donations of land and a $40 million maintenance endowment to spur tourism- and hospitality-related development in the name of anti-government ideology are barking up the wrong tree.

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