The agriculture committee should reject the LURC reform proposal to protect Maine’s woods
Our license plate rightly declares that Maine is Vacationland.
Tourism is one of our major industries, and the future of that industry depends on maintaining the health, integrity and beauty of the Maine coast and of Maine’s great north woods, two areas unique to Maine that draw visitors not only from the Northeast but from across the nation and from abroad as well.
When the members of a legislative research committee wrote their “Report on the Wildlands” in 1969, they recognized that Maine’s managed timberlands no longer constituted wilderness.
But they also recognized that much wildness still remained in the state’s unorganized territories (UT) and was part of the appeal and mystique of Maine’s North Woods.
Scenic beauty, peace and quiet, a sense of remoteness — qualities it is impossible to assign a dollar value to — are resources as important to the tourist industry and to Maine residents alike as a sustainable wood supply is to the forest-products industry.
The committee recognized, too, that careful regulation of development in the UT was called for if these two mainstays of Maine’s economy were to continue to flourish in the future.
The Legislature’s response to this report was to create the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) in 1971.
In the 40 years of its existence, LURC has done a largely excellent job of balancing the economic interests of private landowners with protecting the public values found in Maine’s forests and mountains and on lakes and rivers throughout LURC’s jurisdiction.
If Maine’s North Woods are to survive as we know them today, that balance has to be maintained in an evenhanded way across the entire jurisdiction. A strong, centralized LURC applying uniform standards of planning, zoning and permitting is the only way to accomplish that.
The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) committee should reject out of hand the LURC reform proposal contained in LD 1798, “An Act To Reform Land Use Planning in the Unorganized Territories,” that would allow county commissioners to appoint themselves or their designees as LURC commissioners without the normal process of legislative approval.
This would open the door to local political pressure and patchwork development that would spell the end of the last great northeastern forest.
Another reform proposal in LD 1798 would allow counties to withdraw from LURC altogether, effectively dismantling LURC one county at a time. The counties have neither adequate funding nor adequate personnel trained in resource management to take on LURC’s role. Again, the results would be inefficiency, inconsistency in standards from county to county, and fragmentation of Maine’s North Woods.
The way to deal with complaints of delays in processing permits and lack of communication with citizens of the UT is not to break LURC up but rather to increase its staff and funding.
This would allow LURC to process applications more quickly and work more closely with regional entities in applying its Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
“Maine has always been proud of its wildlands,” the legislature’s research committee wrote in 1969. “There is spruce and fir, moose and beaver, lake and mountain and whitewater enough to satisfy generations of Americans. More and more, as the northeastern U.S. develops, the Maine woods are becoming an almost unparalleled resource, both for tree production and for recreational opportunity. But who is to come forward to say that this resource must not be squandered?”
Forty years ago, the Maine Legislature came forward in a bipartisan effort and created LURC to protect the wildlife, the waterways and the beauty of Maine’s North Woods for all Mainers and all Americans.
Now, 40 years later, it is up to the current ACF committee and Legislature to reaffirm that role for LURC and insure that Maine’s North Woods will not be torn apart by free-for-all development.
To that end, I strongly urge the ACF committee to eliminate the county opt-out provision in LD 1798 and the provision allowing county commissioners to appoint themselves to LURC.
Robert Kimber of Temple is a writer whose works have appeared in Audubon, Down East, Field & Stream, and other publications. He has been hunting, fishing, canoeing, and hiking in the Maine woods for more than 50 years.