An open letter to Andy Torbett re: The Plight of Small Town Maine

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To the Editor;
Andy Torbett, I am mightily concerned about the exaggerated statements in your (April 18 column) “The Plight of Small Town Maine.”

Your inflammatory claims that Atkinson “has become ground zero for the subversive tactics of choice leftist environmental groups” sounds as if ISIS has just arrived in Piscatiquis County. Just what are these “subversive tactics,” and could you identify, please, those “leftist environmental groups?”

Your following statement that “these groups have hijacked the tax windfall programs designed to benefit farmers and timber harvesters in the State of Maine” is equally inaccurate. Is it “hijacking” to take advantage of a tax program offered to anyone with 10 acres or more of forestland — the Timber Growth Tax Law? Is it “hijacking” to take advantage of a tax program available to anyone wishing to conserve land — The Open Space Tax Law?

Your statement “These groups and individuals have bought up large tracts of land and put them into programs which are tax free or nearly tax free, rendering nearly 75 percent of Atkinson’s land virtually nontaxable” is false, or should I say, an “alternative fact.” My $58,322 tax bill last year was not a “virtual non tax,” and, in fact, flows from the tax values imposed on the previous owners of the various pieces of land I have purchased. I have never asked for or received a tax break.

The lower tax rates offered by the Timber Growth and Open Space tax laws are incentives to manage land for timber or to conserve lands in their natural wild state. Who would not take advantage of these legal, publicly available opportunities?

A large part of my income comes from the manufacture of value-added wood products from trees harvested in Atkinson. That income flows back to the area and is used for manufacturing, building restoration, farming and forestry activities as well as paying taxes.

For more than 50 years I have been purchasing pieces of land, mostly in Atkinson’s Alder Stream watershed, in order to conserve them. Most of this acreage is remote and composed primarily of wetlands. My purpose has been to protect the wildlands and to manage the adjoining more accessible lands with an eye to protecting the wildlands. I believe that we can exist in harmony with nature and make a good living at the same time.

I also believe in the importance of chemical free farming for our health and our environment, and I have been an organic gardener and farmer since the 1940s. Over the years, I have cooperated with local organic farmers (Steve Morrison of Clovercrest Farm in Charleston, Louis and Loretta Nuite of Cal-Rae Farms in Atkinson and Wendy Russell of Widdershins Farm in Dover-Foxcroft). I plan to continue in my efforts to promote organic farming and to move toward a biodynamic farming system, embedded in a matrix of carefully managed forests and wild lands.

By the way, Mr. Torbett, where did you get the information that I am planning to turn over my land to the Northeast Wilderness Trust. It’s the first I heard of it and it’s not my plan.

Mr. Torbett, you are certainly correct that the plight of small town Maine is real and continuing. We need to sit down together and talk about it. Your considerable and persuasive writing skills can help us to arrive at common sense solutions.

Your article got me thinking and after a lot of thought, I have made the decision to withdraw my entire application for Open Space designation. My aim is not as you say, “to retaliate,” but to work with the town selectmen with the hope that we can find common ground. I don’t know where this will go, but I do not want to hurt the town. I would be happy to open my books to you and consider your point of view. Looking for scapegoats gets us nowhere.

Charles Fitzgerald

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