By Phyllis Austin, Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org). 8/27/03
Nine months after putting its East Branch timberlands on the market, Irving Woodlands has buyers for all 71,000 acres, some of it reportedly at record prices. Herb Haynes and William Gardner, two of Maineís most successful logging contractors-turned-landowners, have signed agreements to buy 47,000 acres for a total of $30 million or more bordering the east side of Baxter State Park, according to informed sources. A conservation buyer intends to purchase another 24,000 acres.
"All the lands are under contract," said Chuck Gadzik, Maine operations manager for Irving. He would not confirm the names of the buyers. All parties are bound by confidentiality agreements not to discuss the deals prior to the closings in the fall. However, the names of Haynes and Gardner have leaked out into the Millinocket-to-Patten community, and there is concern among some residents that the mystery buyer may be Roxanne Quimby, owner of Burtís Bees Inc. and a supporter of a North Woods national park.
An informational meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 28, at the Shin Pond general store near Baxter State Park for people to discuss the land ownership changes with legislators. Terry Hill, co-owner of Shin Pond Village, said Wednesday that businesses in the area depend on continuing traditional recreation on private lands, and consequently are worried about changes or restrictions that a new owner or owners might impose.
"We are suspicious that the mystery buyer might be Roxanne Quimby" and that she is acquiring Township 5 Range 8 (T5R8) on the northeast border with Baxter State Park, said Hill. "We are nervous that this might be the beginning of Restoreís North Woods National Park." (The environmental organization, RESTORE: The North Woods, has proposed a 3.2 million acre national park and preserve around Baxter State Park.) Quimby began buying commerical timberland in Maine several years ago to put into a wilderness land bank in hopes that a national park will become a reality.
(Boston Globe photo)
Quimby declined to comment Wednesday on whether she is the buyer of T5R8. Neither were Gardner or Haynes available.
Hill said that she asked Irving and the state Department of Conservation (DOC) to extend an invitation to the Thursday meeting to the mystery buyer. She did not invite Gardner or Haynes to the Thursday meeting. DOC planned to have the new director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, David Soucy, at the meeting. But Irvingís Gadzik said no one representing his company would be there since Irving is selling the land in fee and will have no say-so on future land use policies.
Besides T5R8, the lands involved (north to south along Baxterís boundary) areT4R8, T3R8 and T2R8. Irving owns T5R8 and T3R8 solely and shares T4R8 and T2R8 with other owners. Earlier this summer, Irving sold its interest in T5R7 and T4R7 to Haynes for $475 an acre -- $6 million for 12,500 acres. Irving acquired the lands on the East Branch of the Penobscot River in 1998 as part of a one million-acre purchase from Bowater Inc. The Canadian-based company paid an average of $220 an acre.
(Photo by Phyllis Austin)
Irving is selling about 35,000 acres in T3R8 and T4R8 to Gardner and part of T3R8 and T2R8 to Haynes. The land going to Gardner includes the spectacular Katahdin Lake, the wild eastern flanks of the Turner Mt. range and the unroaded territory of remote Wassataquoik Stream, where there is valuable mature and old growth wood.
T5R8 also has striking features -- the eastern slopes of the Traveler mountain range (whose peaks are in Baxter Park), miles of frontage on the East Branch and significant whitewater sections. The Bowlin Camps, a vintage commercial sporting camp, is also in the township but on the east side of the East Branch and farther away from "forever wild" Baxter Park.
Ian Burnes, Maine Project Director for the Northern Forest Alliance, said that given the "amazing public values those [East Branch] lands hold . . . we hope the new [industry] owners are open to creating conservation opportunities." DOC and the Trust for Public Lands made an offer to Irving for fee purchase of all the East Branch lands. There was an intention to preserve the unroaded core of the Wassataquoik valley.
In wake of losing the bid, DOC is still interested in working out a conservation strategy with the new owners for some of the "gem" areas of the East Branch. DOC commissioner Patrick McGowan said that he will convene a special group to look at the new reality of land costs in order to be better prepared for future land acquisition opportunities.
The state/TPL bid didnít come close to the high price that Irving got for the lands. Reportedly, the average asking price was approximately $800 and acre, with the lands around pristine Katahdin Lake going for more. Irving was aiming for a total of $50 million from the sale of the East Branch lands and another 43,000 acres in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway area that hasnít found a buyer yet.
It remains to be seen whether Gardner has development in mind for the lake area. There is a commercial sporting camp, Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, dating back to 1885, on the southern shore of the lake and a single individual camp owner on the eastern shore.
(Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps photo)
Fred Todd of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) said that unless the rules are changed, there can be no new development on the lake shore because it is protected as a Class 1 water body. What makes Katahdin Lake Class 1 is its inaccessibility by motor vehicles, its relative undisturbed condition and its "outstanding" shoreline and scenic qualities.
The lake and its unique views of 5,267-foot Katahdin in Baxter Park have been the subject of famous landscape painters, among them from Frederic Church and Marsden Hartley. Wilderness advocate and businessman Charles FitzGerald purchased the sporting camps last year. They are now on the National Historic Register, a step FitzGerald took recently to protect them from significant alteration or removal. The camps sit on land leased from Irving, and now, Gardner.
LURCís Todd added that Gardner could try to change the classification of the lake in an effort to introduce more development. Some observers believe that the scenery around the lake is so extraordinary that there would be a market for lots back from the lake that wouldnít involve trying to change the classification. A new section of the Rocky Pond Road in T3R10 has already been extended by Irving to just past Katahdin Brook, making vehicle access within one-and-a-quarter miles of the east shore of Katahdin Lake.
(Haynes subdivision in Whiting on former IP land, photo by Phyllis Austin)
"To introduce threats of subdivision and forest degradation would be a tragedy," said Ian Burnes. He pointed out that Baxter park donor and late governor Percival P. Baxter thought that the Katahdin Lake area was worthy of being added to the "forever wild" park but didnít get to carry out that ambition.
Responding to news of the sales, Buzz Caverly, director of the Baxter Park said, "The park and its administration have a long history of a good neighbor policy. I believe good relations will continue with direct communications over matters of interest and a mutual respect of management objectives of each landowner."
The park and the new landowners are not strangers. Haynesí business is headquarterd in Winn, about an hour southeast of the park, and the company already owns timberland in the East Branch vicinity. Gardner has offices in Millinocket and Lincoln, near Winn. Gardner tried unsuccessfully in 1996 to subdivide land around the shores of remote Snake and Carpenter ponds, and the proposal was rejected.
According to the latest Dun and Bradstreet Inc. report, H. C. Haynes Inc. is a $101 million company as of June, 2003. Gardnerís operation is smaller than Haynesí. But both businessmen have several affiliates Ė logging, trucking, real estate entities Ė and in addition Gardner has a chip mill. Both companies have been expanding and diversifying in the last decade or so, capitalizing on the huge amount of land put on the market by the departing large corporations. Gardner and Haynesí children play important roles in running the various family businesses.
While Gardner has kept a low profile, Haynes has been fingered by environmentalists as the leading forest liquidator in the state. Liquidators cut forestland quickly and heavily in order to generate a high profit and then resell the land for house lots. Haynesí development arm is Lakeville Shores Inc., which has subdivided across north-central and Down East Maine.
The purchase of the East Branch lands will give a higher public visibility to both owners because of the proximity to Baxter State Park and how their cutting plans may affect resource-rich areas that DOC and TPL wanted to protect in the public interest.
(DOC website photo)
Deputy DOC commissioner Karin Tilberg, said, "TPL, on behalf of the state, provided a very thoughtful, fairly generous offer. No one had a sense that Irving would get the asking price, based on [recent sales], even taking into account the visual [resources]," she said. "We were shocked" at the price Irving got, McGowan lamented, adding that "itís a warning" about land prices for future sales.
Public entities, such as DOC, are constrained by law by how much they can offer for land. "We canít pay over the appraised value," McGowan said. But the Irving sale showed that appraisals donít necessarily mean what they once did, Tilberg said. "We have an old archaic [chain] around our legs based on timber value." McGowan added, "It is incumbent on me as commissioner to assemble people [from the public and private sector who have similar goals] and talk about costs so that we can respond to something like this [Irving sale] in the future."
Terry Hill questioned whether enough Mainers know about the land deals the state is making with taxpayersí money and for what purposes. "We need a balance" of recreational use for motorized and non-motorized users, she said. "But for traditional use Ė we shouldnít change it. If we lose our traditional recreation up here, weíve lost everything." Her business depends on snowmobilers, hunters, fishermen, boaters and campers, and so to the Bowlin Camps and the Matagamon Campground, Hill said.
She is hoping that the meeting Thursday will result in a legislative bill that will insure the survival of traditional recreation through land sales. "But anything to limit large landowners is difficult," Hill said.
Go to archive of Phyllis Austin Reports for Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org).