Good afternoon Senator Davis, Representative Dunphy, and members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I am a resident of Alna and the Forests and Wildlife Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I am here today on behalf of the 16,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) in opposition to LD 519, An Act To Clarify Occupancy for Tents, Campers, Trailers and Other Devices used for Camping in Unorganized Townships.
The definition of “Transient Occupancy” under LUPC is important because different rules apply to transient occupancy than apply to permanent dwellings. Short term occupancy of a site for camping might not pose a serious problem for the lakes, rivers, forests, wildlife, neighbors or uses such as timber harvesting, but regular, year-round occupancy could have serious impacts.
Section 1 of LD 519 would, as a practical matter, abolish the concept of transient occupancy and allow year-round occupancy without following the normal rules for year-round occupancy that are designed to protect our lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife.
Section 1 would only count time towards the allowed 120 days of “transient occupancy” when “a person is present in the tent, trailer, camper, recreational vehicle or similar device.” This provision would be completely unenforceable. There is no way that the LUPC can track when “a person is present in the tent, trailer, camper, recreational vehicle or similar device.” Is this bill asking the LUPC to install time clocks, cameras or motion detectors at every tent and camper site in order to enforce this provision? And would only the time a person is actually in his or her tent count? How about the time spent sitting at a picnic table outside the tent or trailer?
This proposed new definition in LD 519 essentially erases the distinction between transient and permanent occupancy. It would allow 365 days/year occupancy.
Why does this matter?
Transient occupancy sites have fewer protections for the lakes, rivers, wildlife, forest and neighbors than do permanent house sites. Campsites have no minimum lot size. They can include 4 different tents, trailers, campers, recreational vehicles or similar devices, each one housing up to 12 people. Campsites require less set back from lakes and rivers. No permanent way to handle human waste is required. This lower level of protection is reasonable given that the occupancy is only transient.
But if someone has a camper or trailer that they want to occupy throughout the year, they should apply for a regular building permit. They would simply have to comply with the laws and rules that are in place for year-round facilities – laws and rules such as requiring a septic system or at least a maintained outhouse – laws and rules designed to protect our lakes, rivers, streams, wildlife and forests.
Section 2 of the bill raises related issues. This section would allow an unoccupied tent, trailer, camper, RV or similar device to stay at a campsite year round. This also converts the site into a year-round habitation. If the trailer or camper never has to be moved, the wheels get removed; decks get built; larger areas of impervious surfaces are created causing increased runoff into water bodies. As a practical matter it is impossible to distinguish these types of uses from a permanent camp, yet these uses would not be required to meet the laws and rules regarding setbacks from lakes, rivers and streams, minimum lot size, and human waste disposal.
If the current concern relates to a campground, rather than to campsites, there is an easy solution. LUPC’s existing rules provide that a campground may establish a storage area within the campground for unoccupied tents, trailers, campers and RVs. This would eliminate the need to move the vehicle long distances but would ensure that the vehicle has not been converted from transient occupancy to year-round occupancy with its accompanying increased adverse impacts on the surrounding area.
In summary, both of these provisions turn rules designed to allow for short term, less intensive camping uses in the North Woods into permanent camps without having to comply with the laws and rules related to permanent camps. This would have an adverse impact on the lakes, rivers, streams, forests, wildlife, neighbors, and uses on adjacent properties.
We urge you to vote Ought Note to Pass on LD 519.