PCEDC looks to the future at quarterly meeting
More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, businesses across the region have been navigating new methods of operation. This, developments in Augusta and Washington, D.C., and a presentation on the Forest Society of Maine were among the topics during the Pisctaquis County Economic Development Council quarterly meeting conducted over Zoom on April 5.
A new Piscataquis Region Economic Recovery Task Force will meet remotely at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 15, according to PCEDC President Denise Buzzelli.
She said the PCEDC has partnered with Penquis and MaineStream Finance, the Piscataquis and Katahdin region Chambers of Commerce, Destination Moosehead Lake and Eastern Maine Development Corp. to bring information and resources to Piscataquis County businesses as they continue to navigate the lingering economic effects of COVID-19.
“It’s a lot of heavy hitters and what we’re trying to do is just make sure that vital information gets out to our business owners throughout the county,” Buzzelli said. She said the task force has had a webinar on COVID resources and created a grant preparation packet.
PCEDC Executive Director John Shea said he has been in the position for more than a year “and we’re all looking forward to the face-to-face meetings.”
He said this month EDA funding is expected which would support a countywide economic development strategy. Shea said related requests for proposals would then be going out and a steering committee will guide the process.
The PCEDC will hold a webinar on April 26 “involving pretty much all of our partners and focusing on all the various ways and all the tools that the PCEDC has to serve municipalities and businesses and financial organizations and investors,” Shea said.
Charles Budd, spring intern for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ Bangor Constituent Services Center, said Collins was part of a joint effort with the Office of U.S. Sen. Angus King to submit a letter of support for the Center Theatre project. The theater will be applying to USDA for funding to repair the columns supporting the auditorium and lobby.
Edie Smith, regional representative for King, said two pools of money will come to Maine to address broadband access and the digital divide “for remote learning, remote working and telehealth.”
Smith said the first is from the American Rescue Plan Act for $100 million. How it will be used has yet to be decided. The second is suggested in President Biden’s new jobs plan (also known as the infrastructure bill), Smith said, saying she is unsure of how much that will be.
“As we all know, that’s one of the biggest issues that we deal with every day and it presents great challenges, especially in rural Maine,” Smith said.
“I did too write a letter for the Center Theatre. They’re vital to our greater community and I was glad to do so,” Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford, said.
He said a bill of his has resulted in a legislative study, “People are building these large floating dwellings if you will, turning them loose on lakes and they’re not registered as real estate. They don’t have a motor on them and they are all fine until they are right in front of your $100,000 or $1 million lakefront lot.”
Another Stearns bill is in the Senate that would allow grandparents who are working to receive Family and Medical Leave Act benefits. “There’s no money involved but they could not lose their job if those working grandparents were taking care of qualifying illness for a grandchild,” he said.
Stearns said he is also working on a steam plant program in the Greenville area, as well as the creation of a series of mountain bike trails around Moosehead Lake.
When asked about a ski resort with year-round attractions on 1,700 acres overlooking Moosehead Lake in the unorganized territory outside of Greenville, Smith said developer Perry Williams of Spruce Head and Provident Resources Group of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, recently spoke to the Piscataquis County Commissioners.
“They will be closing on the deal May 10. They had a meeting [Monday, April 5] with Maine DOT on traffic to Greenville. They are going to honor the lease with the Friends of Squaw Mountain, they are not throwing them out of there yet — I’m not sure how long they are going to be there now. Everything’s going along well right now,” County Commissioner Wayne Erkkinen said.
The meeting featured a presentation by Forest Society of Maine Executive Director Karin Tilberg, who is a member of the PCEDC council.
“We are a statewide land trust and we focus mostly on the larger forested tracts of Maine working with willing forest landowners who come to us and say would we be interested in forest conservation easement on the property,” Tilberg said. She said the organization does not own much land, just about 90 acres at the Nickerson Farm in Greenville and some islands in Attean Lake in Jackman,
The Forest Society of Maine was founded in 1984 for the purpose of holding working forest conservation easements.
Tilberg described an easement as “a legal agreement where a landowner continues to own the land but transfers certain rights that they have such as to develop or to mine or to do certain things, and they convey those rights in a legal document called an easement that’s recorded in the registry of deeds and it runs with the land. The holder of those rights, in the form of a conservation easement, insures over time that those activities don’t take place on the land because they have been transferred.”
“Typically we pay landowners for the rights that have been transferred to us, sometimes they are donated and that can benefit a landowner as well,” she said.
The Forest Society of Maine has many working forest easements with larger landowners who can use the revenue from the sale of easements for their companies’ benefit.
Tilberg said the organization’s mission is to conserve Maine’s forestlands to sustain their ecological, economic, cultural and recreational values. She said the Forest Society of Maine works to support the forest base, forest products industry and business that rely on forests and lakes and rivers.
The Forest Society of Maine has 43 easements across the state with most in the more undeveloped areas — three are still not finished. About 895,000 total acres are in easements and another 100,000 acres the organization helps monitor. Tilberg said several hundred thousand acres are in easements in the Moosehead Lake region.
Three staff monitor easements through satellite imagery, flyovers and meetings with landowners.
Land overseen by the Forest Society of Maine is privately owned, on the tax rolls and “many times the easements ensure public access forever and sometimes even vehicular access,” Tilberg said.
“Really these are kinds of tools for people to hold onto what they love and depend on economically,” she said. “It brings stability to the forest products sector, the outdoor recreation sector, communities, people who have grown up with the ability to walk and hunt and fish in the woods know that will be there for their children.”
The Forest Society of Maine works with Moosehead Trails on maintenance projects and is part of the plan for more permanent trails in the region. Tilberg said a set of interpretive signs, designed with the help of Greenville schoolchildren, is planned for the Nickerson Tree Farm, one of the partnerships the organization is proud to be a part of.
“There’s a lot of support for this recipe of success, as I call it, that holds on to stability for the wood products sector, for outdoor recreation, for communities and hopefully will be there for some time to come,” Tilberg said.