Secret Deal May Open Prime Land in Mo...

Secret Deal May Open Prime Land in Montana

There are 2 comments on the Hartford Courant story from Jul 6, 2008, titled Secret Deal May Open Prime Land in Montana. In it, Hartford Courant reports that:

The deal was struck behind closed doors between Mark Rey, the former timber lobbyist who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co.

Join the discussion below, or Read more at Hartford Courant.

jim moose

Sacramento, CA

#1 Jul 13, 2008
As an owner of land in beautiful western Montana, I am pleased to see that people from all over the rest of the country upset about the Mark Rey-Plum Creek easement deal. Not only have the Bush Administration and the nation's largest private landowner shown contempt for public opinion by negotiating for months behind closed doors, the Administration, in doing so, is also violating a series of federal environmental laws, most notably the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Forest Roads and Trails Act. If enforced, these laws would require formal environmental review with public input and would require the mitigation of impacts to endangered and threatened species. Instead, the Bush Administration, as it exits the stage with seeming contempt for the rest of us, prefers to give a major corporate constituent a parting gift that will add hugely to the assessed value of the real estate trust's enormous land holdings.
Rey's legal justification for not complying with these laws is that the Forest Service, in coming to terms with Plum Creek, is not really doing anything. Thus, the elaborate legal document addressing Plum Creek's access rights merely "clarifies," and does not "change," the terms of long-standing easements defining the respective rights and obligations of Plum Creek and the Forest Service with respect to federal roads in remote forest locations. The trouble with this characterization is that the clarified (new) language clearly gives Plum Creek the right to use federal roads as de facto year-round driveways for high-end residential subdivisions in remote forested areas with severe wildfire risks. Traditionally, Plum Creek has used these taxpayer-subsidized roads to facilitate the logging of its vast timber properties and for no other purpose. Its new business plan, however, is to shift from timber production to residential development by selling off chunks of its vast nation-wide holdings, which include some 1.3 million acres in Montana alone. This plan has been somewhat thwarted by concerns raised by property purchasers and their brokers about how "good" the existing legal right of access is for many remote properties. Many federal roads are not plowed in the winter, which is a source of inconvenience for residential owners (though an ecological benefit to nearby wildlife). These federal roads will now have to be plowed to allow wealthy new second-homeowners access to their new trophy properties.

The inability for local governments in Montana to check this sprawl reflects the fact that Plum Creek and other large landowners and special interests in Montana have persuaded the pliable Montana Legislature to give them a veto power over local zoning decisions (see Mont. Code Anno.,§ 76-2-01(5)), notwithstanding a state constitutional mandate requiring the Legislature to "provide for the administration and enforcement" of the duty of the state and each person in Montana to "maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations" (Mont. Const., Art. IX § 1). This state legal scheme, of which the Forest Service must take note in considering the foreseeable effects of its own actions, essentially gives Plum Creek, and not the local governments, effective control over county zoning. In other words, if the Forest Service does not function as something of a "regulator" through its compliance with various federal environmental laws, no meaningful environmental review or protection will occur. The Forest Service, then, is the public’s only potentially effective check against Plum Creek’s unbridled self-interest.
jim moose

Sacramento, CA

#2 Jul 13, 2008
As an owner of land in beautiful western Montana, I’m pleased to see that people from all over the rest of the country upset about the Mark Rey-Plum Creek easement deal. Not only have the Bush Administration and the nation’s largest private landowner shown contempt for public opinion by negotiating for months behind closed doors. The Administration, in doing so, is also violating a series of federal environmental laws, most notably the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Forest Roads and Trails Act. If enforced, these laws would require formal environmental review with public input and would require the mitigation of impacts to endangered and threatened species. Instead, the Bush Administration, as it exits the stage with seeming contempt for the rest of us, prefers to give a major corporate constituent a parting gift that will add hugely to the assessed value of the real estate trust’s enormous land holdings.

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