Restore Speaks for the Allagash

TESTIMONY OF JAMES A. ST. PIERRE MAINE DIRECTOR, RESTORE: THE NORTH WOODS TO THE JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE, CONSERVATION AND FORESTRY IN SUPPORT OF LD 1419 AN ACT TO IMPLEMENT THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ALLAGASH WILDERNESS WATERWAY WORKING GROUP April 4, 2007 Good afternoon. I am Jym St. Pierre, Maine Director of RESTORE: The North Woods, a regional conservation organization based in Hallowell. I have been professionally involved in land conservation and economic activities at the local, regional and state levels in my home state of Maine for over thirty years. RESTORE has been involved in wildlife, forest and land use issues in Maine during the past fifteen years. I have had the privilege since 1999 of working with a coalition of conservation and sporting organizations, businesses, and individuals called Citizens to Protect the Allagash (CPA). Additionally, I served on the State’s Allagash Advisory Council for the past several years. However, today I am speaking not for those groups, but for RESTORE and for myself as a lifelong Mainer who cares deeply about the Allagash. Over the years, I have been on, over and in (if getting dumped in the water counts) the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) a number of times. While many people know the area better, I have made it a point to visit every campsite, dam, bridge and moose hangout there. I have devoted thousands of hours to advocating for better management of the public trust in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The Allagash is an extraordinary place. One of my Allagash photographs won a prize a couple of years ago at the annual Maine Sportsman’s Show sponsored by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. It was also used on a poster published for a conference celebrating the Allagash. I like to think the photo captures the wild character that people of all persuasions cherish about the Allagash. Also, I have been compiling a manuscript of writings about the Allagash, which traces the natural and human history of the area. The Allagash has had a mystique for generations. In the early 1980s, the landmark Maine Rivers Study rated it in the very top tier of most important waters in our state. Indeed, the study reported that “The Allagash is a remote back country river recognized nationally for its high quality canoe excursion trips.” The point was made more lyrically by a young state representative during debate on the original Allagash bond issue: “We want to keep this a wilderness area, and I hope that we do,” said John L. Martin in 1966, according to the legislative record. Despite the promise to keep it a wilderness, in recent years, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway has suffered a series of indignities and setbacks, which form the context for the bill before you today. So it is important to understand this history. For instance: • In 1997, the State replaced Churchill Dam with a massive concrete dam/bridge without benefit of a required federal permit. An after-the-fact review by the Department of Interior found that the new dam design would never have been allowed if it had been properly permitted. This violation also led to the dubious distinction of having the Allagash be named one of the Most Endangered Rivers in the United States five years ago. • In 1999, the previous Commissioner of Conservation inserted into the revised Allagash Management Plan a provision that said the State should build another parking lot and access near John’s Bridge. That was done without the knowledge of the department’s own advisory committee, against overwhelming public sentiment, and over the objections of the senior staff in the Bureau of Parks & Lands and the Depart-ment of Conservation. The result was a contentious permitting process before LURC and a lawsuit. • In 2002, the State signed a legal Memorandum of Agreement with the National Park Service to settle the illegal reconstruction of Churchill Dam. The MOA also led to the resolution of the John’s Bridge access lawsuit. However, the State has failed to live up to all of the provisions of the MOA. • In 2002 and 2003, the Department of Conservation held retreats at Bigelow and, under the leadership of Commissioner Patrick McGowan and then-Deputy Commissioner Karin Tilberg, in Millinocket with a broad array of Allagash stakeholders. Out of those came compromise agreements to make a number of changes to improve the wilderness character of the AWW and to get management of the waterway back on track. Some of the provisions have been implemented, but the State failed to finish others after some parties, including legislators, reneged on their signed endorsement of the 2003 River Drivers Agreement. • In 2005-06, efforts by BPL Director Dave Soucy to bring the Allagash Management Plan into conformance with the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as required by the MOA the State signed in 2002, were thwarted by a coalition led by the motor sports, hunting and large landowner lobbyists. • In April 2006, the legislature passed LD 2077. The governor allowed it to become law without his signature. That bill overturned the intent of the original AWW bond passed by Maine voters and arguably contravened 40 years of management policies regarding motor vehicle access, snowmobile access and bridges in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. In response, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court and parties are looking into challenging the application to replace Henderson Brook Bridge, which will be filed soon with state and federal agencies. • In July 2006, led by the same legislators who unsigned the River Drivers Agreement, a group took it upon themselves to violate the sanctity of the publicly owned land along the Allagash River by using bulldozers and chainsaws to reopen a road that had been legally closed by the State. There are many other problems that have plagued the AWW, including serious logging siltation of streams, river and lakes, uneven enforcement, staffing scandals, failure to relocate nonessential structures outside the State-owned Restricted Zone, reconstruction of old buildings that have not been designated by qualified authorities as historically significant, and failure to complete studies of what to do with the dams that drastically altered the natural flow of the Allagash. In the face of this shocking record, last year the governor named a Working Group to look at ways to improve the long-term governance, management and oversight structure for the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The Working Group spent more than half a year deliberating on this charge. I attended virtually all of their meetings. Early on, the Working Group recognized the value of, and unanimously voted to support, a recommendation to create an independent Allagash Board of Overseers or Trustees. However, after a hearing during which the idea got a mixed reaction, the Working Group abandoned the recommendation. That is a shame because it was the most innovative idea that surfaced during the Working Group’s meetings. In the absence of an independent Allagash authority, the expectations for the revamped Advisory Council proposed in LD 1419 are high. By itself, such an Advisory Council cannot fix all the problems that have dogged the AWW. However, I support this bill because, like many others, I am deeply frustrated by the Allagash battles and am willing to try something new. A fresh Advisory Council could be a useful step provided good people are appointed to it and provided it adheres to the mandate for which the AWW was created to protect and enhance the maximum wilderness character of the waterway. The Advisory Council will fail if it tries to redefine that charge or to rewrite history, or if it is stacked with the wrong people. The other provisions in this bill--to elevate the AWW within the Department of Conservation, to create an endowment fund account, and to require an annual report on the AWW to the legislature by the Department of Conservation--also could represent steps in the right direction if they are carefully implemented. I pray for peace in the Allagash. Thank you for considering these comments.