County commissioners vote against possible National Wildlife Refuge in Maine High Peaks

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FARMINGTON – This week, the Franklin County Commissioners voted ‘not in favor’ of a Federal Wildlife Refuge in the Franklin County area.

Commissioner Bob Carlton spoke during the commissioners meeting on Tuesday, May 16. Carlton was approached by a constituent who is very active in land conservation, with regards to a potential U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge in northern Franklin County. Carlton reported that the federal agency came to Rangeley and Carrabassett Valley ten years ago with the same proposal, and that the communities spoke in opposition and prevented the proposal from moving forward.

“I’ve worked with the feds in my career off and on, and it’s no fun, because they play by their own set of rules,” Carlton said.

Including two new conserved parcels in Perham Stream and Quill Hill, northern Franklin County likely has close to 80,000 acres of land already in conservation, Carlton said. As a forester by trade, he does not see any benefit to working with the federal agency; he believes that the area is better served by working with state agencies and private owners to conserve land.

Commissioner Lance Harvell spoke in agreement with Carlton. “The issue isn’t to find out what it brings, because it brings the federal government with it,” Harvell said.

In northern Franklin County, the economic system is largely recreation based; Carlton expressed concerns about the future of recreation such as snowmobiling and ATV travel if the federal government gets involved.

“I don’t want to say it’s under attack, but boy, it’s under a microscope,” Carlton said in regards to the High Peaks region.

Commissioner Terry Brann said he was hesitant to get the county involved, and would stay neutral on the issue.

Commissioners Carlton and Harvell voted ‘not in favor’ while Commissioner Brann abstained from the vote.

There is a listening session at University of Maine at Farmington’s North Dining Hall on Thursday, May 18 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. This session is to allow the public to speak and to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to ‘gather public input on conservation, recreation, and economic opportunities – including the concept of a National Wildlife Refuge.’

In other business, the commissioners approved a vehicle use policy for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and a separate policy for the other county-owned vehicles. Sheriff Scott Nichols stated that he was good with the policy if the county was good with it, and the commissioners accepted both policies.

Sheriff Nichols also spoke with regards to the grease traps at the county jail. New grease traps were installed with the septic system project at the jail, but the existing traps – which are deteriorating – need to be removed from the kitchen floor. The project is expected to be extensive. Road Commissioner Mike Pond has worked with the jail on the project and reported that he spoke with four local plumbing companies, but only one expressed interest in doing the work. Another challenge is funding the project, and the commissioners requested a quote for the work to figure out how to move forward.

The commissioners voted to discontinue a lease with the Maine Forest Service for the building that currently houses the Salem Fire Department. The lease is between the Forest Service and the county. The lease will be terminated effective July 1, when the contract with Salem Fire will also be discontinued. Fire protection services will be provided by the fire departments in Strong, Kingfield, and Phillips.

This meeting was recorded by Mt. Blue TV and is available for viewing online at MtBlueTV.org

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