Planners, conservationists, and citizens throughout Maine are concerned about the impact of proposed changes to Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) on Maine’s North Woods, and are urging the Legislature to examine the proposal carefully and think long and hard about the importance of Maine’s signature natural resource.
“We are pleased that the LURC Reform Committee backed away from abolishing LURC, but a number of the provisions of their proposal could result in the same outcome depending on how the details are worked out,” says Cathy Johnson, North Woods project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The full impact of the LURC Reform Committee’s proposals has not yet been evaluated. Implementing the recommendations could have very serious and problematic unintended consequences.”
“Drastically changing the membership of the Commission and allowing planning and permitting to be taken over by other entities could lead to a loss of the character of the North Woods that has been cherished by Mainers and visitors for generations,” says Jenn Gray, of Maine Audubon.
“Allowing county commissioners to appoint themselves as LURC commissioners, as the LURC Reform Committee has proposed, without review through the normal process of gubernatorial nomination, legislative committee hearing, and Senate confirmation, would undercut LURC’s ability to be responsive to statewide perspective and legal commitment,” says Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation.
“No other Maine State regulatory board has members elected by local constituencies because of inevitable conflicts between pressures to respond to local politics and the legal duty of LURC commissioners to make decisions based exclusively on the law and facts in a legal record,” says former Maine Deputy Attorney General Jeff Pidot.
“The county drop-out’s proposal would allow counties to withdraw from the currently unified system that should consistently apply to the entire unorganized territories,” says Bryan Wentzell of the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Such a drop-out’s could result in increased unpredictability for applicants, inequity for landowners, and confusion for the public when divergent standards emerge.”
“We are surprised and troubled that the Administration already has prepared draft legislation, given that the reform commission explicitly decided not to prepare legislation,” says Cathy Johnson of NRCM. “The reform commission concluded that drafting a bill would be the job of the Legislature. We support that conclusion and note that the draft bill released today is not consistent with the commission’s work. We urge lawmakers to reserve the right to consider the reform commission’s proposals and make their own decisions about what changes make sense in Maine’s laws.”
“In addition to the problems in the report, such as Commissioners appointing themselves and counties dropping out, the draft legislation that was submitted by the Department of Conservation today makes additional changes to LURC that would further undercut LURC’s ability to protect the North Woods,” says Cathy Johnson of NRCM. “For example, DOC’s proposal would allow municipalities and counties to drop out of LURC and provide less protection than LURC did for Maine’s natural, recreational and historic resources,” says Johnson. Current law requires municipalities to have in place zoning and rules which provide an equivalent level of natural, recreational and historic resource protection as is provided under LURC law.
“Maine’s North Woods is a region of statewide significance because it is the anchor of our forest products and tourism economies and our natural outdoors heritage,” says Nancy Smith of Growsmart Maine. “The Legislature should ensure that any LURC reform proposal creates a more efficient and effective state agency that continues to provide a statewide approach, which is sensitive to local and regional needs, while representing the interests of all Maine people.”
“LURC currently provides one-stop land use planning, zoning, permitting, and enforcement in Maine’s North Woods,” says Emily Figdor of Environment Maine. “The LURC Reform Committee’s proposal will result in a fragmented and complicated system that is far more unpredictable, inefficient, and expensive than the existing LURC approach.”
“The Legislature should make changes to the LURC Reform Committee’s proposals to ensure that they achieve the goal of making measurable improvements to the way we guide development in Maine’s North Woods,” says Beth DellaValle of the Maine Association of Planners.