“If we are going to let out-of-staters come in here and take over this land, I think we, as taxpayers and residents of the state of Maine, should have some say in how they are going to use this land.”
So said State Rep. Roswell Dyer, R-Strong, during 1971 legislative debate on the creation of LURC, the Land Use Regulation Commission.
Two things are interesting about the debate at that time. First, the creation of LURC was seen as a way to take some control away from large, corporate landowners and give it to the people of Maine.
Second, this idea had such strong bipartisan support.
“There has been no word of partisanship,” declared Sen Richard Berry, R-Cape Elizabeth, in 1971.
How times change. Not a significant issue comes before the Legislature that doesn’t raise the partisan hackles of one side or the other.
And, unfortunately, the continued existence of LURC is no exception.
The LePage administration had originally proposed abolishing LURC and turning its duties over to county government.
This is a spectacularly bad idea, and we said so in an editorial way back on Jan. 14.
The quality of county governance varies greatly from county to county and from election to election. That sort of variability and inconsistency does not make for good land-use decision-making.
And that is exactly why LURC was developed.
As we said in January, LURC has the unenviable job of pulling together the incompatible interests of everyone, including sportsmen, environmentalists, logging companies, wind developers, local residents and the people of Maine.
That balancing act faced an unprecedented test about six years ago when Plum Creek, an out-of-state land development company that originally said it was a timber company, proposed a massive development for the Moosehead Lake region.
After six years, we all know how that turned out — a Superior Court judge recently sent the plan back to LURC for even more public review. It’s still not over.
Who knew that if you gave Mainers the power to control development it would take them so long to agree on how to best do it?
Last month, Republicans on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee wisely decided that abolishing LURC needed more thought.
Now the bill calls for establishing a study committee to review LURC.
That’s OK, but choosing the right people for this study group is critical, and that’s where the current proposal fails.
As it stands, the governor, Senate president and speaker of the House — all supporters of abolishing LURC — will appoint the group’s 13 members, none of whom will be members of the Legislature.
That will simply invite criticism that the deck is stacked and the fix is in.
Republicans should hold the majority on the study group, but Democrats should be allowed to appoint a nearly equal minority, reflecting the balance of power in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, at least two of the seats should be held by legislators, one Republican and the other Democrat.
And the group’s goal should be to look honestly at LURC, including how it could be modified and improved, not just how it can be abolished.
The future of half the state is in play here. We should be able to muster the same bipartisan spirit legislators brought to the task 40 years ago.