NRCM news release
The Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environment Maine today expressed deep concern that a study commission on the future of Maine’s North Woods will not provide an objective assessment, but instead has been stacked with people who are determined to abolish Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC).
The 13 members of the Commission on Reform of the Governance of Land Use Planning in the Unorganized Territories were announced in a press release from the Office of the Governor at 8:30pm on Friday night, at a time when the state was engaged in emergency preparations for Hurricane Irene. The groups contend that this timing was intentional, to reduce public scrutiny of the appointment decisions by the Governor and Republican Legislative Leadership.
In response to fierce and widespread opposition to the Governor’s and Senate President Kevin Raye’s proposal to abolish LURC last legislative session, the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee shifted gears to instead create this study commission. But as many observers suspected, the membership of the study commission is heavily weighted toward abolishing LURC, instead of identifying opportunities to improve the state agency’s management of the largest undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi.
“Friday’s announcement confirms our worst fears,” says Cathy Johnson, North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The makeup of this study committee strongly suggests that the study process is rigged from the start, with a pre-determined outcome to recommend to the Legislature next year that LURC be abolished. Although many lawmakers were assured by Republican Leadership that this would be a balanced and objective commission, the composition speaks for itself.”
Nine of the 13 members of the commission were appointed by the Governor and Senate President – both of whom publicly support abolishing LURC. The other four were selected by Speaker Nutting. At the May 17, 2011, public hearing on the proposal to abolish LURC, those who wanted to improve, not abolish, LURC outnumbered those who wanted to abolish the agency by 53 to 34. The study committee includes six of those who testified to abolish LURC plus two more who have openly expressed hostility toward LURC. Only one committee member (Tom Rumpf, representing The Nature Conservancy) comes from an organization that testified in support of improving, not abolishing, LURC.
“We’re extremely concerned that this panel is stacked with special interests who want to open Maine’s North Woods to reckless development,” said Emily Figdor, Director of Environment Maine. “The panel should represent all Maine people, because we all have a stake in the future of the North Wood’s 10.4 million acres of forestlands, lakes, rivers, mountains, and wildlife. Generations of Mainers have learned to love the outdoors in the North Woods, and we’re going to fight hard to protect it,” said Figdor.
The committee also is heavily weighed with those who have strong ties to the corporate and landowner interests of the paper and timber industry. Even the “regional environmentalist or conservationist representative” and the “tourism or outdoor recreation representative” (two of the statutorily established slots on the commission) are people who have spent their careers in the forest products industry. And the representative who is supposed to represent small landowners is a well-known developer in the North Woods.
LURC acts as the planning, permitting, and zoning board for the 10.4 million acres of forestlands, lakes, rivers, mountains, and wildlife that make up Maine’s North Woods. The unfragmented forestlands of the North Woods retain their unique character largely because of LURC’s efforts to direct development toward areas that are more appropriate, and away from areas that are less appropriate.
“We hope the committee proves us wrong. We hope they check their preconceptions at the door, study the facts, and look broadly at ways to improve land use planning and development in the unorganized territories for the benefit of all Maine people,” says Figdor.
Johnson says, “As this committee begins its meetings, we will quickly learn whether the group brings a thoughtful approach to studying the issues and opportunities for improving LURC, or whether it instead is dead set on proposing that LURC be abolished. We certainly hope that this process is not a charade, but it does not seem to be off to a very positive start.”