by Diana Bowley, staff writer
DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — If the Legislature approves a proposal for Maine counties to take over the functions of the Land Use Regulation Commission, Piscataquis County commissioners are wondering how that would work in conjunction with their part-time positions.
Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, has introduced a bill that would instruct LURC, which serves as the planning board for the Unorganized Territory, to develop a plan for the counties to take over its functions. He has said he thinks LURC took too long to review Plum Creek’s massive development plan for the Moosehead Lake region. He also has complained of the high permitting costs that LURC imposed on the timber company.
Davis’ bill has been printed, but there are six or seven other proposals being drafted for legislative consideration that also would address LURC’s governance.
Whatever the Legislature does could have a huge impact on Piscataquis County.
“If the county commissioners were sitting on that panel instead of LURC commissioners, we would have basically lost about four years of our lives,” Piscataquis County Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday of the Plum Creek hearings. “This is a part-time job, I just wonder where that time would come from.
“Are county commissioners really interested in overseeing a massive project like Plum Creek?” Lizotte asked his fellow board members. “I mean, we saw how that unfolded. I agree with Rep. Davis that, boy, it took a long time to get that to go through, but I do think, on the other hand, that the process worked and I feel very comfortable with the final decision.”
Lizotte said he recognizes that some commissioners in the state are in favor of eliminating the state agency and taking over LURC’s responsibilities, but he said others, like him, are wary of the move.
Commissioner Eric Ward said Tuesday he has concerns about how much such a change would cost the county and whether it has the capacity to assume the additional duties. He also said he wants more details about the proposals than he now has.
“Certainly there can be improvements made, but I don’t know what those would be right now,” he said.
“At this point there’s not a whole lot the counties can react to,” Lizotte agreed.
The idea, however, of LURC’s dissolution concerns Lizotte. He said LURC has the staff to receive permit applications, act on them, and handle the site visits and the compliance that follow. “The need for those staff people doesn’t seem to go away in my view, so that raises the question, ‘Well, who pays for these people?’”
Lizotte also wondered whether it would be better to have LURC review and act on all applications in the Unorganized Territory, as is now the case, or have several county commissions use the same criteria but arrive at different judgments.
The commissioners intend to stay informed on the issue and participate in the Maine County Commissioners’ Association Ad Hoc Committee, which is studying the various LURC proposals.