My name is Buzz Lamb. I own land in two different counties in the unorganized townships, including a “camp” on Lobster Lake in Piscataquis County. I have been spending time in the unorganized townships for 68 years.
I have been involved in state, local and county government over the years. I grew up in the real estate business.
We are here today because the Governor and some members of the Legislature seem intent on throwing open Maine’s North Woods to unlimited speculative development that could ruin one of Maine’s most treasured landscapes. We are particularly concerned about three bills that would dismantle the Land Use Regulation Commission as it exists today, and would put in its place a system that would be more expensive, less effective, and less predictable for landowners.
These bills seem to be in line with the announcement by Governor LePage in late January that he wanted at least three million acres of Maine’s North Woods rezoned for development. In total, that’s the equivalent in total acreage of 10 cities the size of Los Angeles. If such development occurred, it likely would be scattered everywhere across Maine’s unorganized territories – which is very troubling.
Here is a map showing what three million acres of development could look like, with 30% of every township and plantation rezoned in line with the Governor’s proposal. This would be a very damaging for Maine, and for the traditional recreational uses, forestry, and natural character that make this landscape so special for Maine people. That scale of development would leave Maine’s North Woods pock-marked and crisscrossed with helter-skelter development sprawl. It would destroy jobs in both our forest products and tourism economies. And it would forever harm the image of Maine as having a rare, valuable, and vast forest that brings visitors to the state and helps local companies sell their products.
Although the Governor seems to have backed off his proposal for three million acres of rezoning in the North Woods, I am deeply concerned that he has only done so for the time being. There may be a two-part strategy at work here: use these three bills already printed to destroy LURC first, and then come in later with a plan for massive rezoning for development.
This is not just an idle worry, because I have seen draft legislation – not yet printed as a bill – that would implement the three million acres of rezoning. The draft bill, obtained from the Department of Conservation through a Freedom of Access request, has a title that is identical to a bill title proposed earlier this year by Representative Gifford. Further worrisome is the fact that the draft bill includes telltale document tracking numbers on the bottom of the page indicating that it was prepared by the Preti Flaherty Law firm – a firm that represents many companies that are interested in developing the North Woods. Preti Flaherty also has helped draft other environmental rollback proposals this legislative session.
I don’t know whether this bill may surface at tomorrow’s hearing, or perhaps next year. But we should all be concerned about the three bills in front of us and the intentions behind this agenda to abolish LURC, and we should be worried that the result will be major damage to the working forests, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities of Maine’s North Woods: the largest undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi.
This plan to abolish LURC and throw open the North Woods to development makes no sense from an economic and business perspective. Right now Maine has a one-stop-shop for permitting, planning, and zoning in the unorganized territories, and it would be turned into a 13-stop-shop if LURC were dismantled and its responsibilities were distributed to the 13 Maine counties that comprise the unorganized townships. The result would be inconsistent rules and timeframes, inefficient administration, and lack of predictability across these multiple new entities with new responsibilities. Some counties might choose not to plan or manage development at all.
These bills would cause chaos in the North Woods.
I am not saying that everything LURC does is perfect. I haven’t agreed with all of their decisions, and I firmly believe that there is an opportunity for process improvements with every organization and business. But if LURC has specific problems that need to be fixed, we should focus on those. Rep. McCabe has introduced legislation (LD 819) that would preserve LURC and improve its operations and planning activities. That is the direction that I would support.