Police & Fire

State withdraws plans to build in restricted zone of Allagash Wilderness Waterway

By Julie Harris, Bangor Daily News Staff

The state has backed off on plans to build three administrative offices and as many storage barns in the restricted zone of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway after public opposition made it reconsider.

The buildings were proposed for Chamberlain, Churchill Dam, and Michaud Farm ranger stations, Mark DeRoche, the waterway’s superintendent, said in March.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, under the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, had planned to use approximately $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to build three offices and the same number of storage units for equipment at the ranger stations within the 500-foot restricted zone of the Allagash River.

The project raised concerns from Citizens for Keeping the Wild in Allagash, a group led by former waterway superintendent Tim Caverly. The group claimed the construction would violate the prime directive of keeping the Allagash as wild as possible, specified in 1966 when the Maine Legislature established the 92.5-mile wilderness waterway.

The bureau has eliminated plans to build the administrative offices and is putting the storage facilities on hold while it looks at options to place them farther inland, rather than in the restricted zone near the water, said Andy Cutko, director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, in an email he sent to the opposition group and others on March 29.

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry “believes that the plans are consistent with the enabling statutes, permitting protocols and [the Allagash Wilderness Waterway] management plan. However, based on public input and a review of other priority state park needs for ARPA funding, DACF has decided to eliminate plans for the three new administrative offices,” Cutko said in the email.

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system and is considered one of Maine’s prime wilderness treasures. People of all ages visit it to canoe, kayak, fish, camp, and enjoy a wilderness experience.

The Land Use Planning Commission approved the permits for the six buildings in May 2023, but the projects had not yet gone out to bid when the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Advisory Council held its regular meeting in March. 

About a dozen people, including Maine guides, former waterway superintendent Matt LaRoche and some College of the Atlantic students among others gathered at the meeting to speak out against the plan. The Allagash advisory board was in favor of the projects.

Those opposing the buildings were most concerned about them being located in the restricted zone, but also said that any new building takes away from the river’s wild nature and provides a precedent to keep developing it in the future.

Current Superintendent Mark DeRoche saw the delay as a chance to come up with a better idea by everyone working together. He and the rangers who work every day on the waterway have been pivotal in developing the plans that now will be altered.

“Stewardship is not one person’s job,” he said on April 1. “Blue tarps and exposed equipment are not in keeping with the wilderness character of the waterway either, but we will slow things down and find solutions to the things we think are essential. We will just do it differently.”

The funding for the projects was part of a $50 million ARPA allocation to the Bureau of Parks and Lands to make improvements to state parks.

The $1.2 million intended for the buildings has not been specifically earmarked for another park project yet, but the bureau will discuss it over the next few months, Cutko said on April 1.

The department is seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to repair damage to the parks from the December and January storms, he said.

The bureau still plans to purchase a boat to be used for campsite maintenance and other functions as needed on the Allagash. Superintendent DeRoche said last month that the boat would make it possible for a ranger to rescue someone from the water alone, and make it easier to transport materials needed to maintain campsites and shore access points.

Citizens for Keeping the Wild in Allagash also opposed the new boat.

Members of Citizens for Keeping the Wild in Allagash include Alexandra Conover Bennett, master Maine guide since 1978 and author; Matt LaRoche, waterway supervisor 2009-21 and registered Maine guide; Tim Caverly, waterway supervisor 1981-99 and author; and Rollin Thurlow, past president of the Allagash Alliance 1996-2006 and business owner.

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