By Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine (AP) - Led by Gov. Paul LePage, critics of a proposed national monument in northern Maine sounded off Wednesday during a congressional field hearing.

The Republican governor derided the proposed 87,500-acre gift as a “cut-over” forest lot and criticized those seeking to donate the land as a “wealthy family seeking to create a legacy.” A foundation created by Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby has offered to donate the land.

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee held the congressional field hearing in East Millinocket a day after Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree wrote to President Barack Obama to encourage him to create a national monument east of Baxter State Park.

The two-hour hearing ended without any testimony in favor of a national monument. Critics called it a sham. Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, who’s marshaling the proposal, declined an opportunity to address the committee, said Elise Daniel, a committee spokeswoman.

Testifying against the proposal were Bob Meyers of the Maine Snowmobile Association, Millinocket Town Councilor Paul Sannicandro, Democratic state Rep. Stephen Stanley of Medway, and David Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whose district includes the parcel.

They raised concerns about whether the project would provide a significant economic benefit and whether a private endowment, initially funded at $20 million, would adequately fund operations at a time when the National Park Service is facing a maintenance backlog. They also raised concerns about limiting outdoor recreation and the supply of timber for the forest products industry.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairs the Natural Resources Committee and like Poliquin, also is opposed to a monument designation.

Bishop has accused Obama of abusing his authority by using the 1906 Antiquities Act to create 23 national monuments that have protected 265 million acres of land and water.

“I will not sit before you today and pretend that if the president declares the Maine North Woods a national monument that everything will be OK and life here will be hunky dory,” he said, citing his experience with monuments created out West. “You are wise to be concerned about your future.”

The hearing came a little more than two weeks after National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis came to Maine to listen to people’s concerns about the proposal. Jarvis called the proposal “absolutely unprecedented” and said it could fill a niche in the nation’s park system.

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