Update: A revised version of LD 1798 was passed by both the Maine House and Maine Senate in April, 2012. The full bill can be read here.
As the planning, zoning, and permitting agency for Maine’s 10.4 million acres of Unorganized Territories (UT), the Land Use Regulation Commission is a critical agency that has balanced economic development and environmental protection in Maine’s North Woods for 41 years. However, LURC has been under broad assault for the last two years by the LePage Administration.
In 2011, NRCM helped defeat a bill (LD 1534) that would have abolished LURC altogether. We managed to turn that bill into a study of how to make improvements to LURC. In 2012, the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee (ACF) incorporated the recommendations of the study committee into LD 1798. As originally written, LD 1798 would have spelled the end of the North Woods as we know it. The bill would have allowed counties to opt out of LURC and let county commissioners appoint themselves to the LURC board, without any review by the Legislature!
In 2012 the ACF Committee wrestled with the bill. In March, the committee voted along party lines. Republicans supported the Majority Report that would have fundamentally undermined LURC. Democrats supported the Minority Report that would have made reasonable changes and made LURC stronger. Thanks to the hard work of a bi-partisan group of legislators, in the end, the Majority Report was significantly amended and improved. On April 10the 2012, both the House and the Senate unanimously passed LD 1798 as amended.
LD 1798 makes a number of significant changes to LURC including:
1) Renames the agency the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC, pronounced “loop-see”);
2) The LUPC board will now consist of nine members, eight of whom will be from the eight counties with the most land in Maine’s unorganized territories. These eight seats will be appointed by county commissioners who can choose one of their own or anyone else from their county. A county commissioner cannot appoint him or herself to serve on the LUPC board. Nominees must be reviewed and confirmed by the Legislature;
3) The governor appoints the 9th member to the LUPC board;
4) Moves permitting of large projects (those that trigger Site Law) to DEP;
5) Allows counties to take over some permitting responsibilities, using LUPC’s standards;
6) Eliminates the requirement that an applicant demonstrate a “need” for their project;
7) LUPC will still review all rezoning applications, any standards not covered by the Site Law, and ongoing activity in “concept plans” (like Plum Creek).
In addition, LD 1739 moves permitting of forestry activities from LUPC to the Maine Forest Service.
Despite these dramatic changes to LURC, NRCM helped make significant improvements to LD 1798 compared to what was originally proposed. This includes eliminating the worst provision: allowing counties to opt out of LURC! The Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) will continue to oversee the North Woods and plan, zone, and guide development to appropriate areas.
Moving forward, NRCM will monitor how the agency applies these changes, to ensure that Maine’s North Woods are protected and that the new LUPC board is acting in the best interests of the state.
Contact NRCM’s North Woods project director Cathy Johnson at email@example.com.