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Supporters of Maine monument want LePage, Trump to back off

Several former opponents of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument are now asking President Donald Trump and Maine Gov. Paul LePage to let it be.

The national monument designation for the 87,500-acre wilderness in northern Maine has brought economic benefits and new energy to nearby towns, they said Friday in joining others who supported Katahdin becoming a national monument last summer and are now pushing back on a federal review ordered by Trump.

Trump ordered the review of 27 national monuments, accusing previous administrations of turning a 1906 law that lets the president protect federal land into a “massive federal land grab.” Maine’s Republican governor also adamantly opposed President Barack Obama’s creation of the Maine monument and recently went to Washington to press for the federal review of Katahdin.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine held a news conference Friday in Bangor, attended by several former opponents of the monument. Among them, Jon Ellis said he voted for LePage but now believes the governor’s ongoing battle is hurting the region.

Ellis co-owns markets in Patten and East Millinocket, near the wilderness area.

“To my knowledge, Governor LePage has never even set foot in Patten and yet he insults our region by calling it a ‘mosquito area,'” Ellis said in a statement. “The monument has brought new energy to our towns and helped unify the region.”

Others agreed that LePage is out of step, and said the majority of residents now want to give Katahdin a chance. They said the national monument is drawing more visitors to the region.

“I am very disappointed that the governor would try to undo this new economic engine in our community without having even visited,” said Terry Hill, owner of Shin Pond Village in Mt. Chase.

Hill noted that before Obama designated Katahdin a national monument, changes like the inclusion of snowmobiling on the land were added to address local residents’ concerns.

LePage’s office had no immediate response Friday to the criticism.

Katahdin Woods and Waters was established on privately donated land east of Baxter State Park, home to Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. It is managed by the National Park Service.

Most of the 27 monuments targeted for review exceed 100,000 acres, while Trump included Katahdin because of concerns about inadequate public input. Also under review are five marine monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Katahdin supporters Friday disputed the notion local residents’ views were overlooked during five years that preceded Obama’s decision. They noted that Maine Sen. Angus King hosted a public forum and a congressional committee held a field hearing in Millinocket.

“We are outraged that the Trump administration is creating this cloud of uncertainty over our national monument, potentially chasing away investments,” said Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Millinocket.

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