The governor’s stance casts doubt on the ongoing viability of the Land for Maine’s Future program.
By Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald staff reporter
Kennebec Journal news story
AUGUSTA — A LePage administration official said Tuesday that Gov. Paul LePage does not plan to sell more bonds for Land for Maine’s Future projects and that he is linking funding for the popular conservation program with his political push to use timber revenues to help pay for home heating programs.
LePage’s stance casts serious doubts on the future of a program that has broad public support as well as among landowners, conservation groups and sportsmen. It also leaves in limbo more than a dozen land conservation projects that have been approved by the Land for Maine’s Future Board and are slated to close by year’s end.
Chandler Woodcock, commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. told other LMF board members Tuesday that LePage does not plan to issue new bonds but would be willing to fund projects with money left in program coffers. LMF has $2.2 million in cash on hand but $11.4 million in bonds that were approved by voters but have yet to be sold.
“He’s not interested in selling more bonds at this time,” said Woodcock, a member of the LMF board. “He is very interested . . . in making sure the heating needs of people are met for the winter season.”
Woodcock’s statement appears to confirm speculation that LePage is using the LMF program as political leverage to win support in the Legislature for increasing logging on state-owned lands and using those revenues for weatherization or home heating programs. Lawmakers rejected a similar proposal last year.
The LMF board approved 30 projects totaling more than $9.1 million and covering 50,000 acres of forest, recreation, conservation and agricultural land in 37 communities and 13 counties. All of the projects must provide access to the public for recreational activities, such as hiking, hunting or fishing.
Representatives from more than a dozen land conservation groups packed the LMF board meeting in Augusta to learn the potential fate of their projects.
This story will be updated.