Controversy Over Permit to Rebuild Taylor Camps on Allagash Wilderness Waterway

By Phyllis Austin, Maine Environmental News ( 7/1/04

The situation again raises questions about the nature of the Allagash’s "wilderness character."
(Photo: Lower Allagash River Below Allagash Fall, BPL website)

A permit to rebuild the old Taylor camps is stirring up trouble over the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) for the first time since the celebrated River Drivers Agreement was signed just over a year ago.

Appeals have been filed with the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) to have the policymaking board review the recent staff decision to allow the reconstruction of two log cabins. The situation again raises questions about the nature of the Allagash’s "wilderness character."

The two appellants are Fred Hafford of St. Francis and Tim Caverly, director of Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Maine PEER). They assert in separate filings that the permit approval by the LURC staff was based on inaccurate findings and raise the possibility that the staff decision is precedent-setting. If allowed to stand, the approval could be used to defend restoration of "artifacts" anywhere in LURC’s 10.5 million-acre jurisdiction, asserts Caverly. Hafford said that "the state of Maine cannot afford" the effects of such a precedential impact.

The appeals assure that the permit issue will go before the seven-member commission, but not before the August or September monthly meeting, according to LURC director Catherine Carroll. In the meantime, the project applicant – the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) -- can allow the work to proceed, since it has a legal permit in hand. However, BPL director David Soucy doubts if reconstruction will be done on the camps before the commission weighs in on the staff ruling.

At LURC’s May 12 meeting, commissioner Ed Laverty proposed that the policymaking board, instead of the staff, decide whether to allow the Taylor camps restoration. He thought that the long, bitter fight over motorized access and wilderness issues in the waterway made it important – if only symbolically – that the commissioners make the call on the permit application. Laverty’s motion failed on a 3-3 vote, with one member absent.

Soucy said this week that he was "puzzled" by PEER’s appeal, given the amount of time spent by the Allagash "stakeholders" addressing Tim Caverly’s concerns. Fred Hafford’s appeal was "unexpected," Soucy said, adding that Hafford is "a very outspoken" person who "makes his position very clear."

Irving Woodlands LLC is selling its holdings in Township 9 Range 12 and Township 10 Range 12, north and south of Churchill Dam.
(Photo: BPL)

Soucy is not worried that the appeals will erode the River Drivers Agreement, which has put into place new management goals. "They’re just something we just have to deal with," he said. "The agreement is a process more than a final solution. We have to demonstrate transparency and that we can work together."

The accord’s overarching purpose is "to preserve the special wilderness character of the Allagash, while honoring the culture and traditional uses of the river by Maine sportsmen." Rebuilding the Taylor camps, Soucy explained, was a "chit given to the northern group" as part of achieving a consensus on issues that had divided waterway interests. (The northern contingent generally refers to Aroostook County residents favoring easier and increased motorized access to the waterway and recognition of the waterway’s human history.)

The Taylor camps controversy has put the Allagash back into the political spotlight. Yet a matter of greater significance is looming – expansion of the restricted zone, a 500-foot protected area along both sides of the waterway where development is prohibited. Irving Woodlands LLC is selling its holdings in Township 9 Range 12 and Township 10 Range 12, north and south of Churchill Dam, which divides the waterway’s lakes and the Allagash River. The state is trying to work out a deal to acquire the land. If successful it could lead to extension of the restricted zone out to one mile from the waterway corridor, a goal of wilderness advocates.

Interestingly, the issue of historic preservation versus wilderness character is being raised simultaneously south of the Allagash at Maine’s other famed wilderness area, Baxter State Park. A citizens’ group called Maine Preservation is trying to prevent two 1930s cabins on Daicey Pond from being removed. The three-member Baxter Park Authority has approved plans to tear down the cabins on the water’s edge because of their deteriorating condition and environmental impact.

Maine Preservation contends that the cabins should be preserved as an example of the state’s sporting camp "heritage". But at Baxter Park, the primary mission is to protect its wilderness character and natural resources, not buildings, said preserve director Buzz Caverly. That priority was made clear by the park’s policymakers in the 1987 battle over the old sporting camp facilities at Kidney Pond. Long-time users of the camps and preservationists mounted a campaign to protect the cabins for their historic and architectural values and to continue using them as they had been – with "modern" amenities for the sake of the older clientele. Maine Preservation is hoping that the current authority can be forced to change its position on the Daicey cabins.

In the case of the AWW, the River Drivers Agreement provided for consideration of historic/cultural projects. However Maine PEER’s Caverly contends that restoration of the Taylor camps would not be consistent with state and federal laws and regulations that apply to the waterway, which is on the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers list. Environmental organizations that signed on to the accord posed similar questions with the intent of insuring that a complete legal review was given to the restoration proposal.

On the other hand, BPL’s Soucy views the Taylor camps restoration as a "very, very modest" project in context with the greater objectives of the agreement. The cabins would be moved back from the water as far as possible without encroaching on a lowland or having to cut down large trees, according to BPL’s permit application. They would not be visible from the waterway anymore. The only access to the camps would be an inconspicuous trail from the river. The camps would not be inhabited or used as a camping area, and no road access would be built. They would be available strictly for viewing as a reminder of the Allagash’s past, according to the application.

In an effort to end years of conflict over management of the Allagash, 25 stakeholders met on May 9-10, 2003, at the River Drivers Restaurant in Millinocket to see if they could resolve their differences through a facilitated issue resolution procress. The group represented different viewpoints, but, in effect, there were two sides – one advocating more motorized access and the other, greater wilderness protection.

The property was originally part of the Moir Farm in the late 1900s, and had a house, barn, chicken coop and several outbuildings.
(Photo: BPL Allagash History website)

At the end of 30 continuous hours, the group was successful in that it set a framework for an action plan to improve wilderness protection of the river – a goal supported by the Baldacci administration. The agreement was endorsed by Citizens to Protect the Allagash and all of the previously polarized interests. It was hailed as "comprehensive and visionary" by Gov. John Baldacci. He said it would enhance the river experience for everyone who enjoys the waterway, from picnickers to wilderness lovers.

Among the measures included in the River Drivers Agreement were: no development (no parking lot or built canoe launch) at the infamous John’s Bridge; closure of some inappropriate roads and trails; and removal of unnecessary buildings and camps. The state agreed to begin a carrying capacity study and research a reservation system similar to that of the Boundary Waters Canoe area in Minnesota. Local fishermen who have put into the water illegally at John’s Bridge will be able to apply for a special sticker to be used only in May and September. Roads and trails to some of the existing legal points will be improved to resolve local peoples’ concerns about boat access.

At one time, there were many buildings along the waterway. After creation of the waterway in 1966, many of the structures were burned or torn down. The buildings on the Taylor land, just north of the Michaud Farm ranger station and canoe takeout , were among those facilities left standing. The property was originally part of the Moir Farm in the late 1900s, and had a house, barn, chicken coop and several outbuildings.

In the 1930s, Henry and Alice Taylor converted the farm into a sporting camp business.
(Photo: BPL Allagash History website)

In the 1930s, Henry and Alice Taylor converted the farm into a sporting camp business. The state acquired the land and buildings as historical and cultural artifacts after the AWW was established. The Taylors were designated as volunteer "caretakers", and they continued to operate the sporting camp and maintain the camps for the state.

Mrs. Taylor died in 1997. BPL and restoration advocates contend that the family’s relatives kept up occupancy of the camps until 1999. Since then, the buildings "have continued to be regularly visited by canoeists and area residents," BPL says. Consequently, the bureau’s view is that the structures have remained in use as artifacts since they were acquired and the Taylors became caretakers.

The "use" question is a critical matter in the permit application. The camps are considered a "non-conforming" use under the shoreline zoning law. LURC allows the reconstruction of a non-conforming use within two years, provided there has been regular active use during that time.

The signers of the River Drivers Agreement agreed to "explore the idea of Michaud Farm historic place, that could involve restoration of Taylor Camps and historical demonstrations – canoe access only." While the restoration language wasn’t explicit, BPL’s Soucy said "there was broad consensus we’d move forward with the Taylor camps restoration." But some accord signers disagree that rebuilding Taylor camps was a foregone conclusion.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) established an Allagash Wilderness Waterway History and Education Action Group to evaluate the full sweep of historic issues. Before that committee could meet, BPL moved forward with the Taylor camps permit application, filing the restoration request on August 12. The LURC staff sent the application out for review by state agencies and interested parties. The timing of the application and the project itself touched off sensitivities around Allagash issues.

"We had hoped that the committee would look at historical issues throughout the Waterway before proceeding with individual projects," commented Cathy Johnson and Diano Circo of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) in an Oct. 23 response to LURC. They questioned whether the Taylor camps met the LURC standard for non-conforming structures. Regular active use of the Taylor camps effectively ended when Mrs. Taylor died seven years ago, they contended.

Allagash Waterway Map
(From BPL website)

Interpreting visits by Allagash canoeists as regular active use, as BPL did in the application. ". . . sets a dangerous precedent," Johnson and Circo stated. "If that view prevails, then any historic or cultural ruin visited by Allagash users would meet the criteria for reconstruction or replacement," they said. "Dozens of sites in the waterway would qualify [for restoration] under this interpretation. In the larger context of the commission’s full jurisdiction the potential impact is even larger," they asserted.

Johnson and Circo also asked whether reconstruction of the Taylor camps was consistent with zoning designed to provide protection from development and intensive recreational uses in order to provide for "unusually significant primitive recreation . . .. We question whether reconstruction of an historic structure is allowed in a [protected recreation zone] either with or without a permit or by special exception," they said.

Jym St. Pierre of RESTORE: The North Woods and PEER’s Caverly asked the same questions of the bureau. Would the restoration comply with the AWW management plan and law, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the 2002 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the National Park Service, LURC’s own comprehensive land use plan and the Maine Rivers Study? Would it comply with the intent of the waterway to be managed for "maximum wilderness character," Caverly questioned.

Terry Harper, an Allagash activist with an interest in waterway artifacts, outright opposed restoration of the Taylor camps. There are already "two fine examples of" the classic sporting camps on the waterway at Nugent’s Camps on Chamberlain Lake and Jalbert’s Camps on Round Pond, he said.

Harper called attention to the "very advanced decay of the existing structures." He estimated that "upwards of 80 percent" of the buildings would need to be new construction, not a restoration or rebuilding. BPL contends that "far less than 50 percent of each camp" needs replacement.

" . . . I cannot support this proposal, especially with the knowledge that while precious time, money and effort are expended to build a recreated structure with no historical integrity, truly unique and historic buildings, such as the Moir Farm building . . . and the boarding house at Churchill are rapidly falling to ruin," he said. (The aged Acadian construction of the Moir Farm barn, in a field behind the Taylor camps, is special enough to qualify it for the National Register of Historic Places.)

Fred Hafford said in his appeal letter that he couldn’t understand why BPL "will not take [Harper’s] information seriously. He has visited the site several times and extensively documented the site and the artifacts."

The National Park Service signed on to the Taylor camps restoration on April 29, affirming that it would be consistent with the Allagash’s designation as a "wild" river and the 2002 MOA between BPL and DOC. The state’s application for the wild river status highlighted the Allagash’s "rich history" as an important value, and the MOA "encourages increased preservation and interpretation of this history as an integral part of the waterway and its values . . .," commented Jamie Fosburgh, rivers program manager in Boston for the park service.

Also on April 29, BPL presented its reply to the reviewer comments to LURC. In general, BPL once again contended that the project can meet LURC’s non-conforming use and shoreline setback requirements and assured the commission that the Taylor camps project is consistent with "many management guidelines and legal strictures that protect" the waterway.

On the question of the camps’ restoration setting a precedent, Soucy said, "the bureau is sensitive to concerns . . .." But the "limited rehabilitation of these camps does not signal the onset of a spate of new construction or rehabilitation of old structures on the waterway," he stated. "On the contrary, [BPL] is committed to the statutory directive to remove non-essential structures on the waterway. The Taylor Camps are an isolated and special instance where, by consensus, historical interpretation has been determined to be a fitting management goal in the [waterway]."

(Photo: Stephen L. Priest)

NRCM and RESTORE sent a joint response on May 10 that reflected their acceptance of the restoration project. They agreed almost in total on the conditions placed on the permit, such as prohibiting habitation of the cabins and overnight camping in the vicinity of the site.

Cathy Johnson and Jym St. Pierre made note of BPL’s commitment to removing several structures in the waterway this summer. "We understand that list to include, at least, all the buildings at Telos Dam, except the generator shed, a camp at Leadbetter Stream, a storage building at the site of the old Page Camp on Long Lake, a storage building at Lock Dam and a storage building at Eagle Lake/Martin Stream," they said. Too, BPL is supposed to be taking "immediate steps" to screen the waterway camp on Allagash Lake from the water.

When the LURC commission met for its regular monthly meeting in May, BPL’s Soucy presented an overview of Allagash issues in light of the first anniversary of the River Drivers Agreement. He explained how LURC fits into the picture because of BPL’s need for more project permits.

Soucy recalled that John’s Bridge had become "a line in the sand" between wilderness advocates and local users and that the two sides were unable to reach a compromise. The heart of the River Drivers Agreement, he said, was a commitment by the signers to engage in "open dialogue" and work together in a spirit of trust. Soucy expressed hope that the stakeholders wouldn’t "squander our energy on" minor but divisive matters. "Our success is contingent on implementing the [agreement]," he said.

Commissioner Laverty expressed discomfort with discussing the Taylor camps when the permit application wasn’t officially before the panel. "I hope we’re not getting into the nature of the [permit]," he remarked.

LURC is a quasi-judicial body and is part of the DOC, as is BPL. Laverty mentioned what a "nightmare" the John’s Bridge vehicle access conflict was for LURC. DOC’s commissioner at the time, Ron Lovaglio, was a champion of a proposal to develop a boat launch site at John’s Bridge. Consequently, LURC was under political pressure to approve it, which they did. The permit approval was challenged in court by NRCM and other Allagash activists. Before a final decision was rendered, the plaintiffs withdrew the suit because the Memorandum of Agreement that was worked out between the state and federal agencies addressed the John’s Bridge issue.

LURC director Carroll said the staff had nearly completed the Taylor camps permit application review. "This does not absolutely have to come before you," she told the commissioners. "My preference is to take action on the staff level."

Laverty was of two minds. "I think we’re finally to the point when we can deal with the AWW as routine, rather than a major conflict," he said. But it is the first action pursuant to the River Drivers Agreement, and "it seems to be kind of precedent-setting," Laverty said. "I think we need to be involved in this, at least this first one."

If there are other permit requests that emanate from the River Drivers Agreement and don’t raise significant issues, he suggested that he would be comfortable letting the staff handle it. "I don’t have enough information on how strong this consensus is, what kind of public comment we might get . . . to be able to put the staff in the position of this issue," Laverty said.

Commissioner Rebecca Kurtz felt similarly. "There is always another side," she said, despite that sense that the different parties are "in a good place.". She didn’t think she was in a position to say "leave it up to the staff, especially because of the volatile [waterway] history". Out of respect for all involved, Kurtz wanted the commission to review the permit application.

LURC chairman Bart Harvey also pointed out that LURC and BPL were sister agencies in the same department. "We don’t want this decision to be tainted in any way. We want it to be a clean as we can make it," he said.

Soucy promised that the permit application was not precedent-setting, causing Laverty to "take humble issue" with the bureau director’s remark. "We are authorizing continuation or modification of a structure in a protected zone," Laverty said. "It’s not something we normally do lightly. Therefore if we can bring this to the commission to get the issues resolved and move past this, it will give greater legitimacy to what LURC does, particularly in relation to a sister agency in the department."

Carroll reiterated that she was "entirely 100 percent comfortable with proceeding at a staff level. There is nothing going on in the back room. Working with Dave Soucy is pretty straight-laced business and that is good because I am too" she said.

Laverty responded that he wasn’t questioning the staff’s capability. "The staff does [their work] with integrity," he said. Kurtz said the decision makes a statement. It’s symbolic as much as anything. "We can’t make a decision on one warm fuzzy [presentation]," she said.

(Photo: Jack Mountain Bushcraft & Guide Service)

Laverty made a motion for the commission to review the proposal. It didn’t carry on a tie vote. Those in favor were Laverty, Kurtz and Carolyn Murtaugh. Against were Bart Harvey, Steve Kahl and Jim Nadeau. The seventh commissioner, Steve Wight, was out of the country.

In the June issue of Waterway Currents, outgoing Allagash Alliance president Dave Hubley wrote that he believes the waterway "is still in a precarious position given the activity of the last several years. To be sure," he said, "the process of degradation has been slowed down. The on-ground destruction of the wilderness character has slowed, but it is not time to exhale."

What BPL under the Baldacci administration will do about the waterway "remains to be seen," Hubley said. "One thing is a certainty however: vigilance cannot be reduced." The River Drivers Agreement, although signed by the different interests, "is far from perfect. Personally, I view it as another compromise opportunity for folks who would degrade wilderness character if [BPL} does not step up to the plate."

Go to archive of Phyllis Austin Reports for Maine Environmental News (