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April 18, 1991

Maine Coast Heritage Trust Wants "Federal Role"
for Entire Quoddy Region as National Landmark

Most Residents Unaware of Policy Making

By Erich Veyhl

Documents recently disclosed by the National Park Service under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), previously known for its private conservation initiatives on the Maine coast, has actively sought Federal and state intervention in land use throughout the Quoddy region. The group has sought a variety of mechanisms, including extensions of authority from Campobello park in Canada and the National Park Service Natural Landmark Program, to restrict development in a region extending from Calais to Cutler to approved “settlement clusters.”

A major report, produced in 1987 by the MCHT at the request of the National Park Service and released under a series of recent requests to the government by the Washington County Alliance, concluded that the Canadian Campobello “Park resource and visitor experience are threatened” by “changing land use in eastern Maine” and suggested a “role for the two Federal Governments [US and Canadalube] in developing and implementing a land conservation strategy for the area.”

The MCHT report, entitled “Roosevelt-Campobello International Park Threats Report”, was written at the request of the NPS by Bruce Jacobson, then Executive Director of the MCHT. Jacobson wrote that his work “is a collection of data from all available sources and is intended as a reference document for resource managers and policymakers”.

While the National Park Service (NPS) currently has no authority at the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park -- the park is on Campobello Island in Canada and is run by an independent international commission -- Jacobson urged that “the experience of Park visitors is influenced by their travel in Maine; specifically, Lubec and the surrounding towns in Washington County.”

International Team Surveys Quoddy Region

The NPS worked with the MCHT to survey the Quoddy region through a team operating under an international Exchange program with the NPS's British counterpart: the Countryside Commission of England and Wales. The British national parks are often cited as a source of expertise on the “greenline” process in which a region is designated for preservation through a combination of public acquisition and strict private land use prohibitions under an appointed commission with authority overriding local and state laws.

A team of American and British preservationists toured downeast Maine -- from Acadia National Park to Campobello -- for four days in July of 1987 and then met in Lowell, Mass. with four similar teams surveying other New England regions, to formulate their conclusions. For the Quoddy region, Edward Hawes, a landowner on Straight Bay in Trescott, identified as Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Sangamon State University in Illinois, was a team member; MCHT's Jacobson is listed as a Coordinator along with Thomas Horn of the Atlantic Center for the Environment in Ipswich, Mass. MCHT was cited as the “principle host”. MCHT produced its report to the NPS in September, 1987, based partly on the survey.

The US/UK Exchange activities were not publicized locally, but met with a few local residents and officials from Cherryfield to Eastport, and according to the diary of one of a British participant, included friends of Exchange participant Hawes in the Straight Bay area; MCHT's Jasper Cates in Cutler; and Nick Greer, then of the Washington County Planning Commission.

The survey was conducted under a 1986 “Memorandum of Understanding” between the NPS and the UK. “Principle areas of cooperation” iinclude “the conservation and management of the undeveloped coast line”, “techniques for securing the public interest in the conservation of privately owned land”, and “development and management of long distance and other trails”. Following the agreement, a “Planning Committee” consisting of the NPS and representatives of New England preservationist organizations, including MCHT, was set up in late 1986.

In response to Freedom of Information requests for documents authorizing the NPS to engage in such actions outside of authorized park boundaries in the US, the NPS responded, “The National Park Service has broad authorities to participate in conservation efforts and further clarification about international work can be obtained by contacting the National Park Service Office of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.” Justification for the claimed NPS authority for planning private land use in downeast Maine was not provided.

Attempts under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain financial records of any government payments to MCHT and other organizations have been blocked. The NPS said that “copies of our financial records from 1987 are not accessible. The agency has no requirement to keep records of this nature more than one calendar year”, but added that some groups “contributed significant resources of their own.”

MCHT Advocated National Landmark for Entire Quoddy Region

The MCHT report advocated encompassing the entire Quoddy region in a National Landmark, described in the report as extending roughly from Calais to Cutler. In response to an NPS request for “an evaluation of the quality of the resource of the National Natural Landmarks designation proposed for the Cutler Coast,” the report stated: “To designate the coast a National Natural Landmark would be a particularly valuable step, assuring as it would a national importance to safeguarding the scenery and habitats of the area” and added, “Instead of another narrowly-defined designation; i.e., the Cutler Coast National Natural Landmark, perhaps it is appropriate to confer special status on the entire Quoddy area. Such a designation should be aimed at protecting the ‘working landscape’ of the Quoddy area and be designed to avoid gentrification of the landscape.”

The report referred to a 1982 NPS study quietly prepared by Yale professor Thomas Siccama working with Hank Tyler of the Critical Areas program in which Landmarks were recommended for Great Wass Island, and for both the Cutler-Lubec Coast and the Quoddy region. The 1982 proposal covered the entire area from Perry and Dennysville down to Cutler and Lubec. Tyler was previously head of the The Nature Conservancy in Main.

The MCHT report also commented, “If done sensitively and with forethought, the [Landmark] nomination process and designation can build consensus among residents for conservation of the area.”

The MCHT, the Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and others continued to work towards the Landmark designations for the Cutler/Lubec coast and Great Wass Island with the NPS and Tyler in violation of Federal regulations requiring landowner notification before the evaluation until the evaluations were almost complete in late 1989. Protests against the 1988 National Park proposal for the County and the secret targeting of coastal land for a National Landmark beginning in the spring of 1988 perhaps deterred the proposed expansion of the Landmark plans to the entire Quoddy region.

Investigation of irregularities in the political operation of the National Park Service's National Natural Landmarks program led to an Interior Dept. Inspector General report finding that landowner rights were being violated nationwide. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME) put a nationwide moratorium on the operation of the program, which operates without Congressional authorization, but did not terminate it.

MCHT remained silent during the landowner protests, neither assisting landowners in fending off the government, nor revealing its own inside role.

Study Published by Univ. of Mass.

In March, 1988, the University of Massachusetts published a glossy international Exchange promotional report, Countryside Stewardship: Report of the 1987 US/UK Exchange, citing the “Principle Sponsors” as the NPS, the UK Countryside Commission, the Univ.of Mass Center for Rural Mass., the Vermont Land Trust, and the Atlantic Center for the Environment. The Quoddy section was written by Jacobson of MCHT (cited as a “Coordinator”), Marsha Brown of the Atlantic Center, and a British participant, using the 1987 MCHT report as the basis.

The 1988 Exchange report urged a “countryside [greenline] protection agenda”, saying that “new institutions are needed at the regional, state, and local level to coordinate and guide metropolitan and resort development and provide for the conservation and sustainable use of New England's natural, scenic and historic resources.” The Quoddy section featured Cutler's Jasper Cates in a photograph captioned, “A local fisherman discusses the problem of land speculation.”

The Exchange report said its goals were to “give direct benefits to communities ... by providing professional evaluations and recommended strategies” and to “involve local citizens who will be able to implement the recommendations”. Residents and local officials, however, are generally unaware of the report.

Threats to Campobello?

The Exchange report stated that in the Quoddy region the NPS “will use [the 1987 MCHT report] in assisting the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park Commission in developing a management plan for the park.” The MCHT report decried that all but one of the nine “viewing areas” outside the park are “vulnerable to development”, including “designated viewpoints” at “the shore of Lubec” and “the entrance to Cobscook Bay”, and warned of the future possible “scale of structures” in Eastport. “Changes in the cultural landscape brought about by the vacation home building,” claims MCHT, “will affect the ‘sense of place’ that Park visitors experience as they pass through Washington County.”

According to a Campobello official -- who said that the NPS has to be periodically reminded of the Campobello Commission's independence from the NPS -- the MCHT suggestions have been largely rejected, although the NPS is assisting with the new Campobello General Management Plan. As illustrated by the Maine Times last summer, however, preservationists continue to advocate an international mechanism to preserve the entire Quoddy region, citing both the Campobello park and the proposed Canadian West Isles National Marine Park as possible tie-ins.

'Right People' Not in Charge

Citing large increases in Washington County population since 1970, the Jacobson's 1987 MCHT report says that “seventy-eight percent of growth was in rural areas -- which has changed the distinct character of many small towns, strained local services, and threatened groundwater, wildlife habitat and access to the shore”, a characterization rejected by most local residents.

[Update: Washington County, 3,258 sq miles, is the third least populated county in Maine, at 9.5/sq mi (2020). Population in 1900 was 45,232 and declined steadily to 28,859 in 1970. It rose to 34,963 in 1980 and has since declined to 31,095 in 2020.]

“Discussion in the media, at cocktail parties, and in the general store,” wrote Jacobson in the report, “frequently revolves around the rapid subdivision and development of coastal Maine.” The report claims that the “rapid rate of development is well documented” by the Maine Times and, concerning the area outside the boundaries of Acadia National Park, by the Bar Harbor Times.

The 1987 MCHT report decried the lack of local “awareness of the imminent threat to the landscape ... arising from this, a shortage of the right people to serve on planning boards and to attend town meetings.”

The report recommends a greenline approach under the proposed Quoddy Landmark designation in which, regardless of land ownership, state and regional planning should prohibit development not in designated “clusters” reinforcing “traditional settlement patterns” -- and suggests that such strict preservation of private land would “provide economic opportunities for residents.”

“Recognizing the institutional barriers to the planning processes” in the Quoddy region, the 1988 Exchange report emphasized “the need to empower local groups so that they can play an effective role in local decision-making; and [to] provide state support... which could facilitate the implementation of their recommendations.”

Copyright © 1991 Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved

Last Page Update: 08/21/22