Op-Ed Downeast Coastal Press
November 18, 2003

Anatomy of a Land Trust

Land Trustís Tactics Revealed in
Gulf of Maine Times Article

By Erich Veyhl

Largely unnoticed by the general public, an environmentalist activist tabloid circulating this past summer revealed much about the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. The activist tabloid, called the Gulf of Maine Times, featured the trust in a promotion based on an interview with trust spokesman and “senior policy coordinator” Chris Hamilton.

The Gulf of Maine Times is published by a publicly funded environmentalist political consortium generally unknown to the public, the Gulf of Maine Council. The council consists of activist United States (state and federal) and Canadian government agencies and NGOs (private “non-government organizations” collaborating with, influencing, and partially funded by government agencies, with no public accountability).

The tactics and deep pockets of the wealthy, politically and financially sophisticated Maine Coast Heritage Trust, founded and funded by Rockefeller heirs, were described in glowing terms. With an annual operating budget alone reported as $2.25 million, the trust was revealed as operating as a real estate front for government agencies, while its aggressive land acquisition strangles the private economy and kills the dreams of people it drives off land coveted by the trust and its influential backers. The promotion also reveals that the trust is still arrogantly targeting the entire coast from Cutler to Lubec as one of its many strategic agendas.

More than a decade ago, it was discovered that the trust, unbeknownst to most Downeast residents and property owners, was collaborating with the National Park Service and the State Planning Office to seize control of private lands through a variety of government impositions across Washington County. One of the schemes, aggressively pushed by the National Parks and Conservation Association (a high-power lobby operating on behalf of the National Park Service in Washington, DC) and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, would have resulted in direct federal control of most of the county, displacing thousands of people from land coveted by state and national environmentalist pressure groups.

Because of the public controversy and repudiation of the backroom maneuvers, the naked large-scale plans to politically steam-roll landowners failed, resulting in a more incremental approach that persists to this day. Even while the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge expanded with threats of condemnation against private owners while refusing to honor a public promise to leave dissenting owners out of the expansion, the trust continued to promote a “white hat” image, hoping people would forget its ties to government land agencies. But the recent Gulf Council promotion by a sympathetic activist speaks for itself. (See the “Anatomy of a Land Trust” summary that follows below. The full promotion is on the Web at http://www.gulfofmaine.org/times/spring2003/index.htm)

The Maine Coast Heritage Trust and its local satellite organizations are a major scandal. In this country, people who donít owe their existence to the Rockefeller inheritance or government environmentalist grants are not supposed to be prohibited from owning and living in nice places. Many of us take great pride in and work very hard to obtain and maintain our own special places that are of incalculable personal value to us. Moreover, while the economy is strangling under taxes and regulation, there is certainly no lack of publicly accessible land here.

Yet, this wealthy, well-connected organization of political insiders funded by the Rockefeller inheritance and public funds is permitted to repeatedly exert undue influence over government policy in pursuit of an arrogant ideological war against private ownership while strangling the local private economy –all in the name of “protection” of land from its owners and a fanatical PR campaign for “wilderness” “public access” that few will be able to reach. The viros are now up to a quarter of the county with no end in sight. They refuse all limits. The history of their reprehensible goals and tactics show why.

Anatomy of a Land Trust: Sympathetic Activist
Describes Maine Coast Heritage Trust

  1. The Trust has for years suggested it had no intent to sell land to the government, posturing itself as only buying land and accepting donations of easements for private conservation. The Gulf of Maine Council promotion reveals, however, that it does not generally permanently own the land it acquires, rather, “collaboration is key.” The Trust operates
    “through extensive partnering with federal agencies, state agencies and local land trusts, in addition to working with the landowners themselves. Private philanthropy, endowment income and grants fund its annual operations budget of approximately $2.25 million... Unlike most land trusts, Maine Coast Heritage Trust generally does not hold onto the properties it works so hard to acquire. Of the 850 land protection deals it has completed, the trust only owns 48 properties outright. It holds conservation easements, which place limits on future development, on 95 others. It has transferred the remaining properties and easements to its partners. One of its partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), identifies important habitats for migratory and endangered fish and wildlife. The trust works with the owners of these areas to determine if there is an opportunity to protect that habitat. If there is, the trust takes a lead role in acquiring the land on behalf of either USFWS or the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.”
    (In practice the Trust, like the similar Nature Conservancy does not “ask” the agencies, it actively promotes an acquisition agenda for land that is then hyped as “critical habitat” with government ownership supposedly taking precedence over everything else.)

  2. Operating as a front for government agencies in these insider arrangements, the Trust holds land until lobbyists can over time obtain the required authority for government acquisition. The promotion reveals how the Trust makes money on the deals at taxpayer expense: In addition to its fees and grants, it cajoles landowners into selling at “below fair market value” for contrived tax advantages, but can then flip the land to government at a legally required and higher “fair market value”:
    “[T]he trust can work with landowners to understand their needs and advise them of the tax advantages of conservation options such as easements and selling their property below its fair market value. The trust can make immediate purchases of land, allowing its partners time to raise the necessary funds. In addition, the trust is not constrained by the requirement to offer the appraised fair market value for land, as a federal agency is.”
  3. The Trust spent over $100,000 to remove a Downeast home before flipping the land to the Federal government:
    “Jordanís Delight, a 27-acre island near Milbridge... came on the market in 2000 for $1.6 million [including a] 3000-square-foot house. [The Trust found] a family foundation to purchase the island and then donate 90 percent of the island to the trust... the trust had to pay for removal [of] the house. So the trust spent $100,000 for the house removal plus some legal expenses. It will transfer the land to USFWS as soon as the agency is able to reimburse the trust that amount.”
  4. The Milbridge example is not an isolated instance of deliberate destruction. It is well-known that the Trust and similar environmentalists donít pay propertytaxes the rest of us have to: their cronies in Augusta exempted them several years ago after Lubec refused to be intimidated by the Trustís refusal to pay. But the Trust also uses land acquisition to deliberately kill peopleís dreams seeking to move here, deliberately preventing a badly needed influx of investment and personal dedication in towns with declining populations and economies. Adding insult to injury the Trust and its supporters strategically use disparaging, xenophobic class-envy rhetoric like “kingdom estate” and “palaces” to smear and denigrate people “from away” in a campaign to build public sympathy for taking land out of the private economy and ownership. (The Rockefeller coastal estates and the inheritance which created the Trust are of course exempt from such smears –it seems that eco-socialists reserve a special resentment for individuals who pursue a personal dream on the Maine coast through their own efforts.)
    “Hamilton says that there is a push on at MCHT to step up its land acquisition efforts because of a trend for people to build 'glass palaceí retirement or vacation homes, either in place of older, smaller homes or on previously undeveloped coastal land. 'Itís 10 years before the baby boomers retire, with their unprecedented expendable wealth and very expensive homes in urban areas [all of them?] ', says Hamilton. He sees a closing window of opportunity for land conservation because of the extra demand these new retirees could place on coastal Maine, where waterfront property is more available and affordable than it is to the south.”
  5. This attack on the dreams and values of individuals is strategic and comprehensive. The Trust
    “focuses projects on 'whole places,í special places that function as a unit [sic] but are held by many landowners. Its protection [sic] of stretches of Maineís spectacular Bold Coast near the Canadian border is an example.”

The property owners in this three-town “functional unit” comprising the entire Cutler-Trescott-Lubec coast, were secretly targeted in the late 80ís when the Trust, the State Planning Office and the National Park Service unethically and illegally tried to seize control of the land – in the name of “science” – by the device of decreeing it to be “nationally significant”. The town of Beals and its entire archipelego were similarly targeted. These areas, along with others including the land embracing the Downeast Lakes, the entire Cobscook Bay region and the entire Machias River “watershed” (everything near or eventually “draining” into the river, i.e., everything) were targeted in Washington (at least by the early 80ís) and promoted by national environmentalist pressure groups to be centerpieces for the planned takeover of most of the County using the National Park Service or other wilderness restoration and greenlining schemes.

The bogus “nationally significant” ploy was exposed as a frightening abuse of civil rights and derailed nation-wide with the help of then Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and the rest of the Maine delegation at the time – but only after four years of bitter fighting against state and federal agencies and their surrogates which never should have been necessary. Yet the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and its collaborators still regard these areas as “functional units” to be eventually added to the government/NGO domain through a variety of dishonest schemes.

Copyright © 2003 Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved