DEP says developer of Washington County project built cabins without permits

Inspectors found the Worcester Holdings company built several dozen cabins, a restaurant, roads and parking areas without obtaining necessary permits.

by | August 26, 2022

Exterior view rendering of the 2,500-acre Freedom Park project. Courtesy: Flagpole of Freedom Park/Break the Ice Media.

State environmental regulators issued a “Notice of Violation” against the developer of an ambitious, $1 billion project in Washington County, after inspectors found the company built several dozen cabins, a restaurant, roads and parking areas without obtaining necessary permits.

Worcester Holdings was issued the notice in July after an inspection found apparent violations at their Flagpole View Cabins. Worcester officials said they are working with the Department of Environmental Protection to “fully resolve the potential concern.”

“During the inspection, staff found 54 cabins, an office building, a take-out restaurant, parking areas and access roads that were either under construction or had been completed,” the state DEP said in a notice dated July 15. “An area in excess of three acres had been stripped, graded and not revegetated at the time of the inspection.”

The state conducted the inspection earlier in July after receiving a complaint. Aerial imagery found “that much of this area has been stripped and graded since at least 2019. There were no erosion and sediment controls in place at the time of the inspection.”

DEP inspectors said they found no evidence of a permit for the Worcester Holdings cabin project in their records. The company has, however, filed an application for a state environmental permit for a similar project at another location. The DEP notice described that permit as pending. 

Worcester has also received permits from the town of Columbia Falls to build two sets of cabins.

A screenshot of Worcester-owned cabins for rent

A screenshot showing two of the five types of cabins listed on the Flagpole View Cabins website as available to rent now. Prices range from $169 per night to at least $229 per night.

As part of its notice of violation, the state ordered Worcester Holdings to install temporary erosion controls within 30 days. It also was ordered to “cease all construction unless and until all appropriate permits from the Department have been obtained.” DEP said Worcester could apply for an “after the fact” permit or “submit a restoration plan to remove all unapproved structures and fill.”

Rob Worcester, the co-founder and managing director, in a prepared statement said the company “reached out immediately’’ when it learned of the alleged violation. 

Worcester Holdings respects the important oversight role of Maine’s DEP and it is our intention to be in full compliance at all times. We believe Worcester Holdings has acted in good faith and fact, and followed all of the appropriate state and municipal guidelines for the size and scope of this project. We are actively working with DEP to come to a full resolution.”

Worcester Holdings declined to answer detailed questions about the cabins.

A website for the cabins says they were “built with the intention of our guests viewing the progress of the future Flagpole of Freedom Park.” The accompanying take-out restaurant includes a menu for a “Give Me Liberty” lunch and supper menu, and an “Old Glory Breakfast Special,” according to the website. 

The “Flagpole of Freedom Park’’ is a planned 2,500-acre development with a patriotic theme that the Worcesters want to build in tiny Columbia Falls. The family also runs the Wreaths Across America nonprofit.  

As envisioned by the Worcesters, the park would have eight miles of loop roads, six miles of gondolas, several villages, campgrounds, a hotel, theater, restaurants and shops. The focal point would be a 1,776-foot flagpole, 300 feet taller than the spire of the Empire State Building. 

The developers hope the Flagpole of Freedom Park would attract 6 million visitors and employ 5,000 people.

A group photo of the Worcester family

Morrill Worcester (center) and his sons Mike (left) and Rob. The elder Worcester, founder of Worcester Wreath Co., will serve as Chairman of the Board for Flagpole of Freedom Park; Mike and Rob will serve as founders and managing directors. Courtesy: Flagpole of Freedom Park/Break the Ice Media.

The Maine Monitor reported earlier this year that Worcester Holdings benefited from a newly enacted state law that would steer the project away from a statewide planning review commission and could put that responsibility in the hands of Columbia Falls, which has a far less rigorous planning and approval process.

Before that planning process could begin, Columbia Falls voters would need to approve the annexation of property to build the project. After that, the project would need to be approved by town officials. A vote on annexation has not been set, and Worcester officials told the town this month it did not need to pursue the annexation “quite as quickly as we thought.’’

However, Columbia Falls is continuing to gather information about the annexation to help voters make a decision. “The selectmen want to reiterate that we are moving ahead in gathering all the information required to inform. There will be no pausing for the town,’’ said Jeff Greene, a Columbia Falls selectman.

Also, state forestry officials said in July that Worcester and another landowner were fined for failing to obtain a permit for a stream crossing on a road they were building in Jonesboro. They also caused sediment to be discharged into a stream, violating regulations of timber harvesting activities in shoreland areas.

Worcester agreed to pay a $5,000 civil penalty for the violations in Jonesboro, according to a press release from the Maine Forest Service. Paul Gaddis, a licensed forester from East Machias, agreed to pay a $2,500 civil penalty for the violations.

The release said Worcester and Gaddis “took full responsibility’’ for the violations. “Had Worcester and Gaddis appropriately planned and implemented the harvest and stream crossing to comply with the regulations, the issues could easily have been avoided,’’ the forestry release said.

David Dahl is the editor of The Maine Monitor. Reach him by email: david@themainemonitor.org

Note: the headlines on this story have been updated. 

David Dahl

David Dahl

Veteran journalist David Dahl serves as the editor of The Maine Monitor, overseeing its daily operations. David was most recently a deputy managing editor at the Boston Globe. Before joining the Globe, David worked for 20 years at the St. Petersburg Times. He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a fellow at the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University. He has also been an adjunct professor of journalism at Emerson College, Boston College and Boston University. David and his wife, Kathy, enjoy tennis and kayaking at their home in Friendship. They have two adult children.


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