Millinocket - As a result of a property giveaway, a state-owned camp is being used by a Maine state legislator who has failed to pay tax assessments, according to documents released today by Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (MainePEER). The Priestly Lake watchman's camp, located in the remote North Maine Woods (T10R13), is a prime recreational site for anglers, hunters and hikers.
The camp had been under the management of the Maine Forest Service, a unit of the state Department of Conservation. During the early 1980's legislation was passed which allowed the Maine Forest Service to retain revenue from the sale of property.
Foregoing potential revenue from the camp, state officials attempted to give the camp to International Paper. In a letter to International Paper Company dated September 20,1994, Forest Service Director Susan Bell notified the landowner that the Forest Service was terminating their Priestly Lake lease and transferring ownership of the building to International Paper. She wrote to Dave Manley of the International Paper Company, "Based on the current lease arrangement, site location and the condition of our forestry buildings at Priestly Lake, we concur with your assessment of a no cost transfer of the building to International Paper Company... We have received approval from our office of State Surplus Property to make this transfer. Please use this letter as your authorization of ownership of the Forestry Priestly Lake buildings."
The following year Susan Bell became a Senior Policy Advisor for the Governor and International Paper Company employee Ronald Lovaglio, became Commissioner of the Department of Conservation.
Although the building was transferred from state ownership to International Paper on September 20, 1994, someone forgot to tell the Property Tax Division of the Maine Revenue Service. As of April 1, 1999, the list of property tax assignments for the State Department of Finance, Maine Revenue Service showed the building to be valued at $3840, and as belonging to the Maine Forest Service. Taxation records indicate the building was exempt from state property taxes.
According to an E-mail to Maine PEER from the Property Tax Division of the Bureau of Taxation, the former Maine Forest Service Priestly Lake building now belongs to John Martin. The correspondence goes onto say that International Paper is considering canceling that lease because the fees have not being paid.
John Martin, who has advocated increased commercial and recreational access for state park lands in the North Woods, such as the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, also has commercial leases for camps in T13R8 on Fish River Lake and Carr Pond. According to the Land Use Regulation Commission a commercial lease has not been issued for the Priestly Lake camp.
The no cost transfer of state assets is not routine procedure for disposal of state property. According to Department of Conservation files, in April of 1982 Staff Forester for the Maine Forest Service Thomas Rumpf wrote to Mr. Wayne Harper of Presque Isle that if the (Priestly Lake) camp was disposed of " we will most likely be putting the camp building out to public bid". Mr. Rumpf went on to confirm public involvement, "Should we decide to do so, I will be sure to see that you are given an opportunity to bid on the camp."
Last fall, for example, when the Maine Forest Service sold it's Allagash Lake camp to another Bureau in the Department of Conservation, that bureau, the Bureau of Parks and Lands, paid the Maine Forest Service $10,000 for that camp.
"This has all the earmarks of a sweetheart deal for a well-connected politician ," stated Tim Caverly, Director Maine PEER and the longtime manager of the Allagash Wilderness waterway. "These 'no-cost' arrangements not only shorted the taxpayer but also deprived us of funds that should have been used for conservation purposes." Caverly noted that state employees, who were concerned about the propriety of the Department giving away a camp located on an exclusive lake to a private landowner, first brought this to his attention.