As lawmakers return to the State House this week, a coalition of organizations and individuals is urging legislators to support a $5 million bond proposal for the Land for Maine’s Future program.
Although consistently popular with Maine voters, the program doled out its final $9.25 million for conservation and recreational projects last July. Now, a bond proposal to benefit the program will have to compete against borrowing proposals that appear to enjoy broader support in the Legislature because they target infrastructure projects, education and research/development.
On Monday, sportsmen, commercial fishermen, conservation groups and lawmakers from both parties attempted to draw attention to what they said were the economic benefits of the 25-year-old Land for Maine’s Future program. Any bond proposals that emerge from this week’s special session will have to be approved by voters at the ballot box.
“Conserving Maine’s land and natural resources is an investment in today’s jobs and tomorrow’s prosperity for our children and grandchildren,” Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said in a statement. “Our natural resources are what set Maine apart — they are our biggest competitive advantage. Preserving and conserving them has got to be a top priority as we develop and grow.”
Land for Maine’s Future uses voter-approved bonds to preserve land deemed as having “exceptional recreational or ecological value,” economically important commercial forests, farms threatened with development, and working waterfront areas important to the fishing industry. Recipients are required to match the program’s money dollar-for-dollar with funds from other sources.
Since 1987, Land for Maine’s Future funds have helped preserve more than 530,000 acres across the state ranging from family farms to such well-known properties as Mount Kineo, Cutler’s Bold Coast and 329,000 acres along the West Branch of the Penobscot River.
The current Land for Maine’s Future bond proposal represents $5 million of $95.7 million in bonds pending with lawmakers. The other bond bills would seek voter approval to borrow money to repair roads and bridges, fund drinking water and wastewater projects, invest in research and development programs, and for Maine’s public colleges and universities.
Some Republican lawmakers, however, appear disinclined to send a borrowing package to voters this year. And Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, has said lawmakers need to address budget issues before asking voters to approve more debt.
But David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and a former Republican senator from Waldoboro, pointed out that Land for Maine’s Future funds can be used to protect key tracts of forest that provide necessary shelter to deer during Maine’s harsh winters.
“Investment in deer wintering areas today can help restore healthy deer numbers and also benefit countless other wildlife species in the northern half of Maine,” Trahan said in a statement. “LMF guarantees that our outdoor heritage, the very thing that defines our state and makes it special, will be conserved and handed on to future generations.”
Representatives of Maine colleges as well as research companies are expected to hold a press conference Tuesday in Portland to urge lawmakers to support a $20 million research and development bond proposal.