Plumb Creek Plans in the Dustbin of History

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Sep 4, 2003
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The planned 1000-home build out of vacation homes on/around Moosehead Lake is dead.

A victim of economics, distance from population centers, and reality.

RIP. Here's the story...
That is good news for the conservation community. Probably not so good news for Greenville that was hoping to be the regional hub for the high end development. AMC was a benefactor of the deal in that Plum Creek sold them a block of land in the 100 Mile Wilderness adjoining the AT to gain some favor with some parts of the public and presumably reduce the potential of opposition from AMC and possibly ATC.

Plum Creek was more focused on splitting off high end wilderness developments. They were reportedly quite successful out west, generally on wilderness rivers for fly fishing that exploded in popularity after the "River Runs Through It" movie came out. These areas were even more remote than the Moosehead area. They were quite successful with their first subdivision on First Roach Lake although I think the resulting development was not as "high end" as expected. Plum Creek was also looking at the collapse of the pulp and paper industry in Maine. The Plum Creek lands are the wood supply for the Sappi (formerly SD Warren) Skowhegan pulp and paper mill. Sappi is the only major multinational that kept their ownership, all the other mills in Maine were stripped of assets and then resold to lesser buyers who stripped more assets and led to the closure of some mills. If the Sappi mill went away, Plum Creeks timber revenue would drop due to the loss of low grade wood pulp wood markets. The long term development plan was an offset to the potential loss of revenue. Sappi has invested in the Skowhegan mill in recent years and its probably the most successful of the remaining mills in Maine. The Madison Maine mill is also reopening to make a "green" insulation replacement for fiberglass which will need low grade softwood fiber and the Plum Creek Lands will be the logical source.

Weyerhauser bought Plum Creek for its timberland, they are far more focused on timber and expect far less on development. My guess is there is a strategic bet that with the demand for carbon sequestration and "green" products that timber management is better for the bottom line in the long term than short term revenue of locking in "islands" of development in their timberlands. The development approach can be a long term liability as the typical recreational development buyer is focused on the short term and timber harvesting is quite jarring to their view of the woods which can lead to future opposition to timber management. There is also the development of the structural laminated timber market to replace structural steel. Various development proposals have been out there for 20 years. Its a popular product in Europe and although the recent announcement of a mill to make it in Lincoln Maine will not immediately impact the Upper Kennebec river watershed timber market, if successful I expect additional laminated timber mills would get built and increase demand for Weyerhauser wood.

By the way, outside of the typical VFTT range of interest, Irving Timber is currently in the process of getting approval for more intensive development of undeveloped Class 1 lakes in Northern Maine with far less opposition than Plum Creek went through. With the exception of possibly the Allagash, Aroostock County is "out of site and out of mind" for most of New England.
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Maine is finally getting around to putting a new management plan in place for former Plum Creek lands in the Moosehead area. Weyerhaeuser definitely sounds like they want to grow trees instead of condos.

The Plum Creek lands were formerly owned by SAPPI (Scott Paper/SD Warren lands) which had signed long term timber supply agreements with Plum Creek when they sold the land to Plum Creek. Sappi just announced a 400 million dollar expansion of the Sappi mill in Skowhegan which means a longer term market for wood products out of that area. The Go Labs Thermowood project is also going on line at the old Madison Mill in the spring, they will be another customer for this woodbasket.

Add in the 4.6 billion dollar wood based jet fuel proposal at the old Loring Air Force base, a recently announced commercial export pellet plant facility at the former Millinocket Mill and the Renewable Fuel oil announcement at the former East Millinocket Mill and it looks like the Maine woods is going back to commercial wood production. Hopefully the various state regulations put in place since the last boom cut back on some of the poorer forestry practices of the past.

My guess is the economics are similar with Northern NH and the Northeast Kingdom of VT so expecting similar announcements will be popping up in Groveton or nearby.
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Timber is probably better than homes. In theory, the timber can be renewable when replanted. While economics may be similar in far northern New England, the scale isn't. When driving through "The County" on the way to Allagash and then riding the shuttle to Churchill Dam, the size of the lumberyard on Route 11(I think) and the acreage of trees harvested is startling, yet from main roads and from the river, it's not seen. (Well the yard filled with 10's of thousands of cut trees is on Route 11.)

In NH, you see several, fairly small areas, in comparison, when you stand on some summits and most of the time not seen from your main roads. Distance and size seem to make a lot of Maine, NIMBY, while much of NH is not that far from major population centers. The ATV and sleds seem to be more present in Gorham and Berlin