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 20,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) in opposition to portions of LD 1789, An Act Authorizing Changes to the Ownership and Leases of Certain Public Lands.
This bill has seven different sections. NRCM opposes some of them, supports the intent of other sections but is concerned about the specific language used in the bill, and has no opinion about one section.
Section 1: NRCM opposes the proposal in this section to transfer unknown leases from legislative oversight to the control of the Bureau of Parks and Lands. While the particular change proposed for a parking area for Maine Huts and Trails may be fine, this particular lease may have many other provisions that should remain under the oversight of the Legislature. And we have no idea what provisions may be in other unidentified leases that should remain under the oversight of the Legislature. We urge the Committee to reject this broad language, to request a map and specific information about the proposed parking area, and consider only what change might be needed to facilitate the proposed use for this specific lease.
Section 2 and Section 4: NRCM does not oppose the proposal to sell eight of nine camp lots on the southwest side of Richardson Pond in Adamstown Township as proposed in sections 2 and 4. However, the bill as drafted misstates the number of lots, does not adequately describe the lots to be sold, and does not adequately describe the lot to be retained by the State. In addition, the bill fails to indicate what county the lots are located in. The fiscal note for this bill should acknowledge that the Constitution requires that the proceeds received must be put in a segregated account to be used only to purchase other public lands within the same county. The fiscal note should include the amount of income to the Franklin County acquisition account, the costs anticipated to be incurred in these transactions, the costs of staff time to carry out these transactions, and the loss of rental income.
NRCM recommends that language be added to this bill requiring the Bureau to report, as part of its annual report to the ACF Committee, the amount of funds in the land acquisition accounts for each county. Currently those funds are only reported as an aggregated amount in the “Public Reserved Lands Acquisition Account.” (See page 38 of the FY2016 Annual Report.)
Section 3: NRCM opposes the open-ended authority proposed in section 3 to sell the State’s interest in land that abuts the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The state’s 24 percent interest in T12 R13 WELS is the equivalent of roughly 6000 acres. This township includes land on both sides of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, along an important tributary, Chemquasabamticook Stream, and surrounding Cunliffe Lake, a headwater lake for the Allagash.
Rather than trade away the State’s interest in this township which has timber, public access, recreation, and ecological value for land in T11 R10 WELS that has no apparent public value other than timber value, the State should work with the landowner to partition out the State’s interest. Then the State could fully own its 6000 acres in lands along the Waterway, the stream, or the lake, thereby providing significant additional public value by widening the State-owned 500-foot strip along the Waterway or protecting an important tributary or lake. If the landowner is unwilling to negotiate this separation of interests, there is a legal process (Partition Action) available to achieve the same result.
In addition, or alternatively, there are other parcels of land within the same ownership that it would be of great public value for the State to acquire, particularly the trail from Umsaskis Lake to Priestly Lake and up to the Priestly Mountain fire tower, a popular hike for paddlers of the Waterway.
In summary, it would be a mistake to simply swap these lands for the timber-related values alone, rather than considering all of the public values a swap could accomplish. We urge the Bureau to negotiate with the landowner and to bring back to this Legislature a specific proposal to resolve these undivided interests that provides additional protection for the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. We strongly urge the Committee to reject this proposal at this time.
Section 5: NRCM supports the intent of this section to consolidate the State’s common and undivided interest into parcels that are fully owned in fee by the State. However, NRCM opposes this section of the bill at this time because the description of the lands to be conveyed and received by the State is unclear and the public values to be acquired (or conveyed away) by the State are also unclear and likely did not include serious consideration of habitat or recreational and ecological values.
Section 6: NRCM has no position on this section. However, funds received from this proposed sale should be separately accounted for by county as required by the Constitution through the report recommended in section 2 above.
Section 7: NRCM opposes this section because it is unclear why this is included in the bill. The Bureau does not need legislative permission to acquire public conservation lands.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this bill.