By Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist
Good afternoon Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. My name is Nick Bennett, I reside in Hallowell, and I am the staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. NRCM is Maine’s largest environmental advocacy group with over 16,000 members and supporters. I am testifying in opposition to LD 1478.
This bill would exempt a proposed narrow gauge railway project in Gray from requirements of shoreland zoning and the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA), two of Maine’s cornerstone environmental laws. The narrow gauge railway currently operates in Portland, but its owners have stated they wish to move. The proposed development site in Gray contains very high quality wetlands with abundant wildlife and important flood control functions. The bill would allow unacceptable environmental damage and set a terrible precedent.
Maine’s environmental laws protect wildlife, clean water, and people. We protect wetlands through provisions of shoreland zoning and NRPA because they serve as valuable habitat and help protect communities from flooding. They also help keep our drinking water clean and safe by filtering out pollutants. Our laws do not ban development in wetlands, but they do require that developers get permits and try to minimize damage to the environment. The permitting process ensures that developers minimize damage to wetlands and/or provide financial compensation to mitigate the damage. DEP rarely rejects a permit outright because of wetland impacts. However, LD 1478 would allow the developer to destroy valuable wetland habitat without providing any compensation and in violation of Maine’s environmental laws. Exempting the narrow gauge railway project from Maine’s environmental laws would damage valuable habitat, set a dangerous precedent, and be unfair to developers who play by the rules. LD 1478 could lead other developers to ask the Legislature for exemptions when they don’t want to comply with environmental laws.
Some areas are too valuable to develop. Our environmental laws help steer development away from these areas and toward better sites. The Legislature should not give out exemptions to developers simply because they don’t want to comply with the law. The proposed narrow gauge railway project in Gray should follow the same rules other developers do. If the developers cannot comply with Maine’s environmental laws at the proposed site, they should find a site that is more appropriate.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.