Senator Boyle, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. My name is Pete Didisheim, I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify in strong opposition to LD 1848.
This bill proposes to undo an enforcement action involving Robert Pelletier of St. Agatha, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and the Office of the Attorney General. That consent agreement, signed by all parties earlier this year, describes the specific violations of Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act and Mandatory Shoreland Zoning law committed by Mr. Pelletier in 2011 on his property on Long Lake in Aroostook County.
Mr. Pelletier pursued a permit by rule project to repair an eroded shoreline, but he failed to comply with the legal standards for such a project. As determined by a DEP inspection of the property, Mr. Pelletier illegally removed all vegetation located on his property within 75 feet of the lake, he damaged soil and vegetation within the shoreland zone through substantial bulldozing, and he installed rip-rap beyond the legal standard of two vertical feet of the normal high water line of Long Lake.
The facts of the case are clear. Mr. Pelletier violated Maine’s environmental laws. DEP identified those violations through a site visit. DEP provided Mr. Pelletier with two notices of violation. A consent agreement, including a vegetation restoration plan, was agreed to and signed by Mr. Pelletier. It is now Mr. Pelletier’s responsibility to comply with that consent agreement.
The Legislature would set a dangerous precedent if it were to intervene in this matter in any fashion. Doing so would undermine the ability of DEP and the Attorney General to do their jobs in enforcing Maine’s laws. Passage of LD 1848 also would throw open the doors to countless bills like this in the future from individuals seeking to nullify enforcement actions for their violations of Maine law.
Overturning this consent agreement also would undermine DEP’s Permit by Rule process. Permit by Rule is a streamlined procedure that provides a permit within 14 days. DEP routinely provides more than 3,000 permits annually through Permit by Rule—but if violators of this simplified process are not held accountable, then it might be appropriate to require a stricter and more time-consuming permitting process.
Finally, LD 1848 should be rejected because the violations at issue are exactly the type that pose an increased risk to lake water quality—an issue that this committee has spent considerable time studying this session.
As you heard during testimony on LD 1744, An Act to Protect Maine Lakes, the health and integrity of the shoreline habitat is the most critical factor in determining lake water quality. As described in the consent agreement, Mr. Pelletier removed “all the vegetation located on his property within seventy-five feet of the normal high waterline of Long Lake.” In other words, he wiped out the shoreline habitat.
We believe that the provisions of the consent agreement signed by Mr. Pelletier should stand and that he be held fully accountable for violating his permit. We urge you to defeat LD 1848 with a unanimous Ought Not to Pass vote.
I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.