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 support of LD 568, An Act to the Change the Composition of the Maine Land Use Planning Commission.
From the creation of the Land Use Regulation Commission in 1971 until 2011, the Land Use Regulation Commission consisted of seven members appointed by the governor. The governor was required to ensure that at least four of the seven members had to be knowledgeable in at least one of four areas: commerce and industry; fisheries and wildlife; forestry; and conservation. Over the years, there were a variety of different provisions regarding the residency of the Commission members.
In 2011, the laws regarding the Land Use Regulation Commission were amended. Its name was changed to the Land Use Planning Commission. Two additional members were added to the Commission for a total of nine. And, most relevant for the purposes of today’s bill, the appointment process for LUPC Commissioners was completely changed. The appointment of eight of the nine LUPC Commissioners was delegated to the County Commissioners in the counties having the most unorganized territory within their county. The amendment granted the governor the authority to appoint only one LUPC Commissioner.
Maine has a total of 16 counties; 12 of those counties have unorganized townships within their boundaries. The unorganized townships in the state total 10.4 million acres, roughly half the land area of the entire state. The law establishing LUPC describes the statewide interest in these lands for the economic, conservation, and recreation benefits that they provide for the entire state. The law also acknowledges the benefit LUPC provides to the property owners and residents of the unorganized and de-organized townships of the state (who currently number approximately 9,000).
Unfortunately, the 2011 change in the appointment process of the LUPC Commissioners has had an unintended negative consequence. For entirely understandable reasons, the eight LUPC Commissioners appointed by their County Commissioners have tended to focus their review of LUPC applications, policies, and rules from the perspective of the impact of those projects, policies, or rules on their own county whose County Commissioners appointed them.
Those four counties with unorganized townships within them that do not have appointments under the current system, as well as the statewide perspective, are currently inadequately represented on the Land Use Planning Commission. This bill, LD 568, is a step toward reestablishing that balance. Under this bill, the County Commissioners in the six counties with the most unorganized townships would retain their authority to appoint LUPC Commissioners; the governor would make the additional three appointments. (As is currently the case, all appointments by the County Commissioners and the governor would continue to be subject to review by this Committee.)
We support this bill because it is a step toward restoring a balance of perspectives on LUPC. We also support another bill sponsored by Senator Carson on this same topic, which has not yet been printed. Senator Carson’s bill would not only reestablish a balance between the local and statewide perspectives on Commission, it would also re-institute the system to ensure that four areas of expertise are all represented on the Commission.
We encourage this Committee to hold this bill pending the hearing on Senator Carson’s bill. It will be a more efficient use of the Committee’s time and a more thorough review of the issues if these two bills are worked at the same time.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments.