A spat is brewing over how wood harvested from Maine land is milled

Good morning from Augusta. One of Gov. Paul LePage’s legislative antagonists is leading a drive to learn more about the administration’s allocation of wood from Maine’s public lands, raising concerns of retribution against two mill owners that the state forester denies.

The owners of four Maine mills didn’t get as much wood as they wanted in February, but the state says it was because of another mill’s emergency need. Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, the co-chair of the Legislature’s forestry committee, initiated an inquiry into the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on Tuesday.

It came after Pleasant River Lumbers, which employs 300 people at mills in Sanford, Dover-Foxcroft, Jackman and Hancock, recently got less spruce and fir wood from public land than it expected. The mill’s co-owner, Jason Brochu, said he has provided information to the committee, but he didn’t want to go into details on amounts.

But committee documents say this happened in February, though Maine State Forester Doug Denico said it was because wood was diverted to a Stratton mill that was three weeks away from temporarily shutting down for lack of wood.

Brochu and his brother disagree with LePage on tariffs, but Denico said this decision has nothing to do with that. LePage is close to President Donald Trump, but he has opposed tariffs on Canadian softwood, highlighting Maine’s close relationship with New Brunswick.

Brochu and his brother, Chris Brochu, cited the tariffs as a reason for adding 20 jobs in Jackman last year and hit LePage in a Bangor Daily News op-ed last year for having a “Canada-first” message on trade. Saviello wondered in committee documents if the February move could have been retaliation.

But Denico said that the Brochus have gotten 4,000 tons of wood in 2018 and they’ll get more this year. He said the decision to divert wood wasn’t related to the tariff spat and was done to “keep Maine people employed.”

Saviello said he doesn’t want the state ‘picking winners over losers’ and that this could lead to more action. Saviello’s committee voted quickly and unanimously on Tuesday to send a list of questions to the administration by next week. He said the Brochus were also low on wood and that he doesn’t want the state picking “winners over losers.”

The committee wants answers to those questions by next week and Saviello said after that he could ask the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to review forestry practices. So there could be more to come.

Political favors returned

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who lost to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination campaign, endorsed Maine gubernatorial candidate Garrett Mason on Wednesday. Mason, the Maine Senate majority leader from Lisbon Falls, who was the Texas senator’s state chairman during the presidential campaign, said he is proud to have the support of “a fearless advocate for conservative principles.” Cruz emerged as the state caucus victor. Mason is one of five Republicans vying for the nomination in the gubernatorial race.

In December, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida endorsed Maine House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, who is also running for governor. Fredette spearheaded Rubio’s abbreviated presidential campaign in Maine in 2016.

Today in A-town

It’s snowing. All state offices are closed today and legislative leaders canceled today’s floor sessions and committee meetings.

Reading list

  • LePage said several public agencies are to blame for a Stockton Springs girl’s death last month. LePage told a WCSH reporter outside his office at the State House that a “comedy of errors” by law enforcement agencies, schools who are supposed to report suspected child abuse and the Department of Health and Human Services led to 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy’s death and may have also played a role before the December death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset.
  • New medical marijuana rules are headed to the full Legislature for consideration. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee endorsed a bill Wednesday afternoon that would allow an unlimited number of new dispensaries by 2021 and allow marijuana caregivers to serve an unlimited number of patients.
  • Trump’s plan to allow offshore drilling for oil and gas flopped in Maine. Maine’s congressional delegation came out against the plan, which Trump announced in January, almost immediately and on Wednesday, comments against it at a public hearing in Augusta were unanimous. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted the hearing as part of a national series of similar meetings.
  • Angus King supports Trump’s plan to catch up on maintenance at national parks. The National Park System is some $12 billion behind on maintenance and King has signed on to a bill that would funnel revenue from energy production on federal lands and waters to the cause. The new bill follows a blueprint created by the Trump administration. At Acadia National Park alone, the maintenance backlog is at least $60 million.

Trombones make everything better

Troy R. Bennett, the BDN’s own photo banjournalist (that’s banjo+journalist, FYI), could hardly have improved on the January 2015 day he took to his front stoop in Portland to record what we argue should be nominated as Maine’s Official Winter Anthem. We’re researching where we can nominate him for that, along with the Nobel Prize for Frosty Beards.

Just for context, let’s remember that among Troy’s many photojournalism triumphs is the song we’re officially nominating as Maine’s Official Winter Co-Anthem, “Smeltin’ This Saturday Night.” (The video features the Daily Brief’s own Chris Cousins, who is still awaiting a royalty check, and all of the smelts were harmed in the making of this video.)

But wait! The snow is upon us again and Troy has added the trombone to the very, very long list of instruments he can use to make music. He re-recorded “Snow Song” for his Half Moon Jug Band’s upcoming album.

He and the band crashed some poor kid’s birthday party to record a music video, which is perfect for today’s soundtrack. C’mon people, let’s make this go viral. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.