Op-Ed Downeast Coastal Press
August 1991
Updated July 15, 2022

Maine Coast Heritage Trust Insider Federal Planning Against Private Owners

Cumulative Impact Has Major Impact on Future of Washington County Independence


By Erich Veyhl

Maine Coast Heritage Trust, according to the April 1991 issue of Down East Magazine, was started by the Rockefellers and Cabots — two of the wealthy families that helped create Acadia National Park at the beginning of the century. Peggy Rockefeller is praised by Down East as the "star quarterback" and "visionary leader" of MCHT. "The inspiration [for MCHT]," wrote Down East, "struck Peggy Rockefeller in 1970 when she and her husband, banker David Rockefeller, were cruising off Stonington and noticed that an island that had been free of development the year before now had four or five houses crowding the shoreline."

Update: The Rockefellers themselves had both a mansion on Mount Desert Island and an estate on a small island in the bay in view of Acadia National Park.

The magazine featured MCHT with its cover story and "Annual Environmental Award", emphasizing to a national circulation of 74,000 MCHT's campaign to "save" what it markets as the "Bold Coast" — the entire 20 mile coastline from Cutler to Lubec. Down East praised MCHT's use of private conservation easements, characterizing its message as, "We want to meet you face to face, without anything else in the way," but did not cover the organization's activities quietly promoting government action.

Following the 1986 formation of a "Planning Committee" consisting of the National Park Service (NPS) and preservationist organizations, including MCHT, political pressure against Washington County private land took a quantum leap.

In November of 1986 the NPS formally initiated the National Landmark evaluations at Cutler, Trescott, Lubec, and Beals. By early 1987 a draft evaluation of the Landmark targeting the Cutler-Lubec coast was complete and plans for designation were well underway even though the landowners were not notified, as required by Federal law.

The Landmarks program is a feeder program for new National Park planning and other means of control over private land branded as "nationally significant", although it is advertised publicly as just an "honor."

In April, 1987 the Maine Times, following MCHT's lead, called for State acquisition of the entire Cutler to Lubec coast. Maine Times reported that Espy said the state should never have allowed the sale of private property at Moose Cove because the National Park Service was evaluating it as a "nationally significant" National Natural Landmark. Not revealed was that MCHT was writing the "study" itself to justify what they wanted.

In July, 1987 the Quoddy region was surveyed by the U.S./U.K. Exchange team hosted by MCHT, and by Sept. Bruce Jacobson, Executive Director of MCHT, had completed a reference report for the NPS advocating expanding the proposed Landmark to the entire Quoddy region to preserve the landscape, prohibiting building on private land except for approved "settlement clusters." MCHT also praised a planned "Biosphere Reserve" for the Quoddy region.

In early 1988 a Washington, DC organization, the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA), the private lobby arm of the National Park Service, launched a nationwide campaign targeting most of Washington County as part of its nationwide National Park System expansion plan. The NPCA cited MCHT and the State as its "source of information" and stressed the Quoddy Region and Machias River as the centerpieces of the proposal. The Maine Times and Maine Audubon Society supported the NPCA agenda, with Natural Resources Council of Maine fronting for the PR in Maine.

By March of 1988, some residents had been alerted by accounts of the NPCA agenda begining major newspapers outside the county, including a big promotion in the Boston Sunday Globe, and a meeting was called at Cuperneil's in Lubec where Charles Cushman of the National Inholders Association spoke and the Washington County Alliance was started to save the downeast way of life from outside incursions. Espy had called Cushman and tried to convince him not come, and local preservationists tried to dismiss the threat, telling landowners to ignore the Alliance because nothing was happening.

On a wider scale, environmentalist organizations were already lobbying Congress for a mult-state regional agenda for the northern New England which later led to their planned U.S. Forest Service Northern Forest Lands Study for greenlining the region from the Washington County coast to Lake Ontario.

After months of Washington County landowners strenuously objecting to the NPCA proposal for a Federal take-over, MCHT said it had decided not support the NPCA proposal, claiming it had no idea what the NPCA meant in citing MCHT as its source, a position it has repeated. Jay Espy, now President of MCHT, succeeded Jacobson in May, 1988, but had been associate director since 1985.

Update: MCHT continued to pursue the 20 mile long National Natural Landmark, which was only beginning to be recognized by property owners. MCHT and NPS subsequently refused to stop, insisting that the program was "voluntary", until Sen. George Mitchell (D-ME) as Senate Majority Leader shut down the Landmark program nationwide under a moratorium following an Interior Dept. Inspector General report: NPS and its political collaborators were violating the rights of landowners nationwide with secret surveillance and designations as "nationally significant".

National Park Service Director James Rideour in 1988 internally praised the NPCA national plan, but regional NPS officials were chagrined that the NPCA had prematurely announced the plans for Washington County before they could "come up and sell the idea," according to an NPS Boston Public Affairs Officer. A local preservationist with close ties to Washington, DC environmentalist organizations was dismayed to hear that the NPCA National Park announcement had alerted landowners to organize in opposition to NPS secret Landmark activity; "What a shame," she said, "It was all worked out."

The Chief of NPS Regional Planning said in Nov. of 1990 that the agency has continued to meet with preservationist organizations about Washington County. The Atlantic Center for the Environment studied the Machias River for the NPS in 1989, although it denied its NPS connection at the time.

Since 1988 MCHT has acquired over two miles of coast in South Lubec and 250 acres at Western Head in Cutler. The latter followed a two year political battle by environmentalist activists who blocked 11 homes planned for 250 acres, driving the value down and forcing the sale to MCHT.

Update: Following another large MCHT acquisition in Trescott in 2008 using millions in funding from the out of state Conservation Fund and the State Land for Maine's Future program, MCHT and the State now own most of the 20 miles of coast between Cutler and Lubec that MCHT tried to turn into an NPS National Natural Landmark decades earlier to prevent and eliminate private property. MCHT told the State in 2008 that it does not want its "'landscape level' conservation" to be "islanded by residential lots", where it turned the remaining owners into inholders by surrounding them.< /p>

From National Park Service to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

By the spring of 1989, State Officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and preservationist organizations had quietly worked out an interim Federal agenda for Cobscook Bay. Land trust and other activists, calling themelves the Maine Wetlands Coalition quietly collaborating with the Refuge Manager, blocked a 60 acre private development/conservation plan at Bellier Cove in Dennysville because it was inside their expansion target. The expansion had not yet been approved or publicly announced.

The Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) had given preliminary approval to the small private partnership, which then invested in the project. The Quoddy Regional Land Trust, working with a cohort inside LURC, got the approval indefinitely delayed. They devalued the land and the Nature Conservancy picked up it up for resale to the government, as they had demanded earlier. The small partnership was put out of business.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later officially approved its planned 2,700 acre Moosehorn expansion at Cobscook Bay in 1990, including private owners in Pembroke who object and who had been promised to be removed from the plan. Agency officials had also given an impression that they would not use eminent domain, then after the approval were recorded at a meeting emphatically saying they would.

Moosehorn expansion planning also promotes a new Federal area on the Cutler-Lubec coast.

In early 1990 the State bought 4 miles of shoreline in Cutler and Patrick Noonan's Virginia based Conservation Fund (CF) acquired about 10,000 acres of timberland from the Hearst Corp in Cutler and Whiting, all at the urging of MCHT. With only 4 square miles left for residents, Cutler voted again last month — following previous town meeting votes against Federal intrusion in Cutler, Lubec, and Beals — against further "government or conservation encroachments."

Noonan hired former MCHT Director Ben Emory as a consultant on the Cutler project and MCHT temporarily manages the land while deciding its ultimate disposition.

Update: A researcher for Yankee Magazine later told me that Moosehorn Manager Dougless Mullen had told her that CF and MCHT were transferring the Hearst land to USFWS.

Update: The Noonan-Moosehorn deal was subsequently denied internal approval for the planned new Federal unit, rejected in Washington DC as too big for internal administrative approval alone. The Hearst land was then transferred to the State of Maine as what is now the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, not extended to other private property on the coast.

Update: A Hearst representative later told us that that Noonan had misrepresented his purpose as for private use, hiding the intent to Federalize the land, which if they had known probably would have stopped the sale.

While the Federal government processes a recent CF transfer to Federal agencies of 100,000 acres around the nation, Noonan's organization has become nationally controversial over its working secretly with Federal agencies to acquire land in advance of public hearings or approvals, in some cases reserving exclusive private areas for the wealthy.

National environmentalist goals for Federal acquisition of 26 million acres from the coast of downeast Maine to Lake Ontario in western New York leaked to the public in Nov. 1990. Maine Audubon Society and other pressure groupss continue to advocate greenlining the Maine and more.

The NPCA national lobbying campaign for Washington County continues outside the region; in Dec. 1990 the national Backpacker magazine publicized the plan again in its "Sneak Preview: the Next Nine National Parks."

In Feb. 1991, a coalition of national preservationist organizations led by the Wilderness Society publicized a drive for funds for the Federal acquisition next year of the entire 2,700 acre expansion approved at Moosehorn, despite opposition from unwilling sellers who subsequently testified before Congress last Feb.

The same national environmentalist coalition is now lobbying for Federal legislation leading to the greenlining of the Northern Forest region across four states, including Washington County. Congress appropriated $1 million in 1990 to pursue the Northern Forest Lands Study this year and authorized a U.S. Forest Service "Forest Legacy Program" for acquisition, expected to be funded next year. The Federal Northern Forest Lands Act of 1991 is now proposed to implement a 4 year, $13 million planning and U.S. Forest Service "resource inventory", which was denounced by hundreds of landowners at Senate hearings in Bangor and Vermont last month. Most Mainers, however, are still unaware of the plans.

Update: The battle to stop the Federal legislation for the four-state Greenline continued until 1995 when its chief sponsor, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), was no longer chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee (overseeing the U.S. Forest Service).

Copyright © 1991, 2022 Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved

Last Update: 07/15/22