Good afternoon Senator Dill, Representative Hickman, and members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I live in Alna. I am here today on behalf of the 20,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in opposition to LD 125, “Resolve, Directing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to Convey Certain Lands to Roosevelt Conference Center Doing Business as Eagle Lake Sporting Camps.”
This issue first arose in 2013. That bill was defeated.
In 2017, a bill, LD 1049, that was identical to the one presented today was proposed. There was also a companion bill in 2017, LD 1126, which proposed changes in leasing practices on Public Reserved Lands. Those two bills were combined, amended, and passed as amended LD 1126 in 2017. The bill that was enacted directed BPL to change the rules regarding bear baiting sites. It also directed BPL to extend the lease for Eagle Lake Sporting Camps from 15 years to 30 years. The issues raised today were resolved through compromise in 2017.
Maine’s 600,000 acres of Public Reserved Lands are a unique state resource. Their origin dates back to the separation of Maine from Massachusetts in 1820. In 1820, lots in each unincorporated township were set aside from private sale to provide various public benefits. In the 1970s, these dispersed public lots were consolidated into the spectacular Public Reserved Land System that we have today. These consolidated lots provide timber, protect wildlife habitat, and provide a wide variety of public recreational opportunities. These lands are held in public trust and managed for public use and enjoyment.
LD 125, like the identical bill proposed in 2017, would privatize a portion of our public lands, set a terrible precedent for future land sales, and interfere with the public’s ability to use and enjoy these lands. We oppose the bill for these reasons and others:
1. Passage of this bill would set a terrible precedent and leave our public lands vulnerable to privatization. Nine private sporting camps exist on a total of approximately 225 acres of our Public Reserved Lands. Passage of this bill would signal to the camp owners in particular, but also people generally, that Maine’s public lands are “for sale.” They are not. Each of the nine sporting camps existed prior to the State acquiring the land through the consolidations in the 1970s and they have leased their respective lands from the State since that time. If the land is sold, there is no guarantee that the public will ever again be able to enjoy the land for its intended public purposes.
2. LD 125 would create an inholding and interfere with the public’s ability to use and enjoy the Eagle Lake Unit. The Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) has a policy against inholdings, because they interfere with the Bureau’s ability to effectively and efficiently manage their lands for multiple uses (sustainable timber harvesting, wildlife habitat, and public recreation). The parcel contemplated in this bill is literally in the middle of the Eagle Lake Public Reserved Land Unit. Furthermore, the Resolve calls for a 66-foot wide right-of-way on 4 miles of publicly owned road. This would put pressure on the State to allow improvements to the road that it currently does not think are necessary. A right-of-way could also have the effect of deterring the public from a significant portion of the 25 miles of shared-use roads within the unit, as road improvements and signage might suggest that the road is private.
3. Leases are not a barrier to investing in sporting camps on Public Reserved Lands. In fact, current statute allows the Bureau to renew leases for up to 15 years in the case of commercial use if the Director determines that is required to secure financing for the maintenance or improvement of the facilities. It’s my understanding that 15-year leases are standard for commercial sporting camps, and public records show that at least three sporting camps on Public Reserved Lands have secured financing in the past. In fact, public records show that Eagle Lake Sporting Camps has secured financing in the past, using their lease from the Bureau and profits arising from that lease as collateral. Nevertheless, in response to this concern of Eagle Lake Sporting Camps, in 2017 the Legislature directed BPL to enter into a 30-year lease with Eagle Lake Sporting Camps. Therefore, this issue was resolved.
4. Leases are the best option for ensuring public access in perpetuity. Granting the State the right of first refusal, as this Resolve proposes to do, does not guarantee that the State will in fact reacquire the land. No one can anticipate whether the State would have the funding available at that time, nor can anyone anticipate whether there would be the political will to reacquire the lands. A lease ensures that the land remains in State hands and open to the public, as intended when the State acquired the land.
Because this bill would set a terrible precedent by privatizing our public lands, create an inholding, and interfere with the public’s ability to use and enjoy these lands, and because leases are not a barrier for investment and are the best option for ensuring public access in perpetuity, we strongly urge you to vote Ought Not to Pass on LD 125. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee.