The Origins and History of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Using Government to Control Other People's Private Property
Feb 10, 2010 updated 08/21/22
The Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) is one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful land trusts in Maine. It collaborates with state and Federal government agencies for land use prohibitions and acquisition. It funds and directs satellite trusts claiming to represent local people. It uses its financial and political clout to preserve land for the well–connected wealthy in southern Maine, while in rural Washington County downeast it has arrogantly targeted entire regions of private property that it wants to take over and be controlled by government.
MCHT was incorporated as a private acquisition arm of Acadia National Park in 1970 as an intermediary to circumvent the Acadia National Park original law allowing park acquisition only by donation or exchange. MCHT was organized and initially run by a park official, hired and funded by the Rockefellers, to buy land and transfer it to the park.
A lauditory 1991 Downeast Magazine cover story revealed that in the late 1960s Peggy Rockefeller and Tom Cabot wanted to stop other people from living along the shore – Peggy and her husband David Rockefeller, who had their own summer estate on a small island off Mt. Desert, noticed that new homes were elsewhere becoming visible from their yacht; they didn't like it.
The National Park Service was connected to MCHT from the beginning. Peggy Rockefeller hired and funded Acadia National Park Chief Ranger Robert Binnewies to set up and run MCHT; Binnewies became its first Executive Director, from 1970-1975. The funding and plans for the MCHT were fully in keeping with the Rockefeller family tradition of funding and influencing policy of the National Park Service to eliminate others' private owership of property they want preserved and controlled.
Upon its founding MCHT immediately assumed the role of targeting and collaborating in acquisitions planned for the National Park Service at Acadia. By 1972 a local newspaper report from Seal Harbor revealed the contempt that Peggy Rockefeller and her wealthy outsider cohorts showed towards other peoples' property ownership and how the National Park Service was being used for local land control:Rockefeller “and other wealthy outsiders who spend their summers along the cool, rugged coast have setup a trust that now shelters 27 sea-swept islands from realtors' whims. Eventually, they say, they hope to gain easements on all 2,500 of Maine's coastal islands, where weekend cottages have begun sprouting randomly... All of the islands brought under the trust's wing so far have been turned over to Acadia National Park...”
(When Binnewies left he was well cared for by the Rockefellers. Following his stint for Peggy Rockefeller running MCHT, he was rewarded with plum political appointments as Vice President of the National Audubon Society in 1976 or 77, and Superintendent of Yosemite National Park in July, 1979 – from which position he was fired in February 1986 when the police caught him illegally bugging a property owner, whose land he wanted for the park, and he was accused of tolerating illegal drug transactions in the park. His connections with the political elite rescued him with another plum position as Executive Director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in NY and NJ, another preservation agency long under Rockefeller influence.)
Exploiting Condemnation and Beyond Acadia
MCHT soon grew beyond its Acadia acquisition role. It branched out to targeting land in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with its condemnation power to control landowners; and provided tax-exempt easments for wealthy landowners who didn't want to develop land around them. MCHT maintains and uses close connections to influence State and Federal government agencies.
The 1986 Acadia boundary law confined the National Park to fixed boundaries but allowed condemnation of inholders trapped inside the new boundaries. MCHT and other non-profits exploited the condemnation threat to buy land from owners who couldn't use their land or sell to anyone else, waiting for NPS funding to transfer the property to Acadia National Park.
MCHT boasted in 2010 in an extended PR campaign that it has a war chest of $100 million to buy up land – land that its backers do not want other people to own or use. It arranges for exclusionary preservation of land in wealthy coastal areas of southern and mid–coast Maine, and has targeted rural downeast Maine for sweeping preservation to eliminate private ownership over vast areas for what it calls “landscape level conservation”.
The history of MCHT in Washington County is especially arrogant and virulent in its “landscape level conservation” scope and methods that it calls “saving” the coast.
MCHT/NPS National Natural Landmark Scandal
On April 17, 1987 Hank Tyler, former head of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, then running the Critical Areas Program in the Maine State Planning Office, sent a “draft preliminary evaluation of the Cutler Coastline as a National Natural Landmark” to James Allen at the Boston North Atlantic Region headquarters for the National Park Service. He wrote:“The Maine Coast Heritage Trust is very interested in land use and land conservation issues along the Washington County coast. The Trust has recently established a Washington County Committee to assist with the protection of the county's unique coastline. We should coordinate our efforts with Bruce Jacobson, Executive Director, Maine Coast Heritage Trust.”
The “ efforts” at “protection” by Tyler and the National Park Service were the secrete designation of 20 miles of mostly privately owned coast as a “Nationally Significant” “National Natural Landmark”.
MCHT was subsequently assigned to complete the secret “study” justifying what they all knew in advance that they wanted. The Nature Conservancy was doing the same at Great Wass at Beals.The National Park Service, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and the Maine State Planning Office all knew from the beginning that their secret reconassaince and planning for the Washington County coast was for NPS to take over the mostly private property on the Cutler–Trescott–Lubec coast and Great Wass at Beals.
On Nov. 13, 1986, National Park Service official Mary Foley in the Boston office of the NPS North Atlantic Region, had told Tyler that NPS was evaluating six sites in Maine as potential National Natural Landmarks and “enclosed the Section 8 reporting forms you will need.”
“Section 8 reports” referred to the NPS General Authorities Act of 1970, a process at the time for NPS to recommend to Congress twelve new National Parks every year — called the “Park of the Month Club ” by those fighting against the repeated massive population displacments for new National Parks beginning in the 1970s. The “National Significance” designations as Landmarks are regarded under NPS policy as justifying being taken over as a National Park. NPS and its lobby were openly describing the Landmarks designation program as a “feeder program” for new National Parks and “Ladies in Waiting”.
The NPS Landmarks program, begun by NPS and The Nature Conservancy in 1961 and later turned into a new park feeder program, was not authorized by Congress but was required by NPS regulations to notify the landowners and obtain permission to inspect their land. The downeast Maine property owners, all of whom had been identified by John Briggs in the State Planning Office by April 1987, were not told anything.
When caught later, Tyler and MCHT claimed they were not responsible for NPS requirements to notify landowners; NPS said it was not responsible for what MCHT and the State Planning Office did as outside organizations.
NPS was forced to acknowledge problems after Maine Senators Cohen and Mitchell wrote to Interior Secretary Lujan in July, 1989, requesting an "immediate review" and saying "The inability or unwillingness of the NPS to answer questions in a forthright manner and take responsibility for its actions has generated a deep mistrust of the National Park Service in Maine", which led to a national “moratorium” on the Landmarks program in Nov. 1989.
An Interior Dept. Inspector General (IG) preliminary audit of the Landmarks program, which NPS tried to prevent, was released Dec. 6, 1989. Based on a survey of 25 Landmarks designated since 1980, it concluded that "the NPS was not following its regulations" and "the property rights of over 2,800 landowners [in already designated sites] may have been infringed upon."
The National Natural Landmarks program resumed during the Clinton administration after George Mitchell retired from the Senate.
Target: Washington County
In the 1987 MCHT further provided the National Park Service with an unpublished report (obtained under the Freedom of Information Act) compiling methods for a government takeover of private land in Washington County, including potential state, national and international park acquisition, greenline land use prohibitions and official national designations intended to lead to them.
The MCHT report was part of an arrangement with Greenline [“Countryside”] officials from Britain operating under an international agreement with the National Park Serivce. The agreement included pursuit of “The conservation and management of the undeveloped coast line” and “Techniques for securing the public interest in the conservation of privately owned land”.
The MCHT Roosevelt-Campobello International Park External Threats Report found that the “Park resource and visitor experience” on Campobello Island in Canada “are threatened” by private land use in Lubec. “Instead of another narrowly–defined designation; i.e., the Cutler Coast National Landmark, perhaps it is appropriate to confer special status on the entire Quoddy area.”
The MCHT/National Park Service consortium also included land use planners at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The latter group was also part of the US Forest Service's Northern Forest Lands Study arranged by pressure groups in the late 1980s to plan the Greeenlining of 26 million acres of mostly private property across four states, including 2/3 of Maine.
The Amherst Massachusetts strategic planning group was also active in the 1988 National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) plan that included imposing five new National Parks on millions of acres in Maine. (The head of the Amherst Greenline report, Kathy Sferra, had worked on the NPCA New Parks Plan.)
Two of the five intended new Federal parks encompassed most of Washington County and were based on MCHT's behind–the–scenes planning and NPS connections hidden from those who live, work and own the land in the targeted region: MCHT and the Maine State Planning Office were cited in the 1988 NPCA National Park System Plan as the source for the scheme for the National Park Service to take over most of the privately owned land and many home, especially in sparser remote areas, in Washington County.
The new park plan was soundly rejected by local people after it was publicly revealed by national promotions by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) and NPCA, and supported by Maine Audubon. (NRCM and Maine Audubon had also been part of the National Landmark secret planning.)
Implementing the plan would have required — but was not revealed in the promotions — mass condemnations to remove people, as had been done for new parks across the country previously. (The promotion was before the NPS lobby learned to call its proposals “for the economy” instead of saying what they are.)
MCHT tried to derail the early local protests against the two National Parks for Washington County in 1988: It attempted to cajole the American Land Rights Association from helping the property owners, claiming that MCHT was “doing good things” — MCHT did not want the open campaign for new National Parks to draw attention to the secret plans already under way. The National Park Service doesn't want local people to know what it is doing either.
In the late spring of 1988, after the new Park promotions, the MCHT collaboration with the National Park Service and the Maine State Planning Office to secretly designate the coastal National Landmark was discovered and then exposed, but only gradually identified for what it was. The parallel Landmark being “studied” by The Nature Conversancy in the same NPS/State Planning Office collaboration was subsequently uncovered. It took four years to stop the designations that were being used as a secret new park feeder program. MCHT and TNC, when exposed, publicly insisted the Landmark designations were “voluntary” and an intended as an “honor”.
As the National Park plans began to fail following continued strenuous local protest. MCHT continued to work on other Federal methods. In the 1990s MCHT collaborated (along with The Nature Conservancy and others) with the US Fish and Wildlife Service as an alternate mechanism for Federal acquisition downeast. Aside from an expansion in eastern Washington County of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge to engulf and then ultimately remove unwilling private owners, an additional scheme for the Moosehorn expansion to take over the much larger coastal region from Lubec to Cutler failed following the protests.
MCHT secretly arranged through the Conservation Fund in Virginia for out of state funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation for the acquisition of over 10,000 acres of the former Hearst Corp timberlands, a large portion of the towns of Cutler and Whiting. After the plan expecting it to become part of a new Federal Refuge unit failed, MCHT turned the land over to the state, becoming the self–contained Cutler Reserve.
Following the initial failures of mass Federal acquisition, MCHT has continued to buy up the land along the Washington County coast itself in a drive to take over as much as it can, especially in Lubec, Trescott and Cutler, using a combination of state subsidies and funding from wealthy out of state non–profits like the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
A Maine Coast Heritage Trust March 19, 2008 letter (written by Quoddy Regional Land Trust's Alan Brooks) to the State in its application for a $1.5 million state subsidy for a massive acquisition of land on the coast complains that homeowners it surrounds “threaten Landscape level conservation islanded by residential lots”. This reflects MCHT's previously promoted “countryside [greenline] protection agenda” to restrict people to within only approved “settlement clusters”.
Some of the MCHT's acquisition were made possible by political alliances with more openly radical activists in NRCM forcing owners to sell to the Trust through regulatory harassment and economic strangulation, as they did to Norman Langdon, the former owner of the land in MCHT's preserve at Western Head in Cutler where MCHT boasts that it stopped dozens of people's homes (actually eleven). The more openly radical NRCM publicly called its collaboration with MCHT “good cop – bad cop”
In Maine, MCHT controls its own image by promoting itself as “assisting” landowners. Outside the state, where the controversy over MCHT's history is even less well known, it ominously promotes the Washington County coastline nationally as if it were a public park with no private ownership – an image MCHT wants to dominate so that no one will sympathize with its victims not publicly known to exist. Whatever it offers in the way of “assistance” to selected kinds of landowners in the state, it exploits political privilege and connections as its means; private property rights are the last thing it supports or “assists”.
MCHT remains active in partisan state politics, quietly promoting state land use prohibitions and politicians who support it. In 2014 MCHT lobbied against a state law that reclaimed the authority of the legislature to approve or deny the ceding of land and state jurisdiction to the Federal government.
Oddly, the trust insists – on the rare occasions that it responds to criticism of its government insider corruption with undue political influence trampling of property rights – that it buys from “willing sellers”, as if the fact that as an NGO (non-government organization) it does not itself have direct eminent domain powers absolves it from all other forms of undue influence in collaboration with government agencies.
In 2022 MCHT is part of the insider “working group” planning a new Downeast Maine National Heritage Area across Washington and Hancock Counties. Assured by its promoters to be nothing more than a source of free government money earned from the honor of being a “Nationally Important Landscape”, it is in fact legislation for Federally mandated comprehensive planning and land control “protection”, coordinated by an appointed non-profit organization as an overlay over local elected government and designed to lead to a National Park.
But MCHT exploits its political and financial clout through the media as well. It continually bombards the state with politically self serving PR invoking emotionally manipulative scenic imagery which in turn dominates media coverage of MCHT with fauning adulation. The corruption and the behind–the–scenes power plays are not to be mentioned. Like the National Park Service, MCHT hides what it is behind the scenery.
For some of the background on Rockefeller money used to buy and influence National Park Service policy, including hiring NPS's Binnewies to start and run MCHT, see:
- Apil 1991 Downeast Magazine Annual Environtal Award cover story
- Binnewies, Palisades 100,000 Acres in 100 Years, Fordham University Press and Palisades Interstate Park Commission, 2001.
- Winks, Laurence S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservationa, Island Press, 1997.
- “Peggy Rockefeller Sets up Coast Trust”, Eugene Register–Guard, Seal Harbor, Maine, Sept. 15, 1972.
- Acadia Creation Myth
- Maine Coast Heritage Trust Insider Federal Planning Against Private Owners, Downeast Coastal Press August 1991
- Maine Coast Heritage Trust Wants Federal Role for Entire Quoddy Region as National Landmark , Downeast Coastal Press April 1991
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