A stakeholders group failed to solidify agreement over the management of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. So did an advisory committee and a legal settlement with the federal government. Now, state lawmakers are being asked to step in. If legislators want to be helpful, they should not hurriedly pass a bill that reverses past agreements and inserts lawmakers into Allagash management decisions.
Instead, they should take time to analyze waterway use and finalize the number of access points and bridges in the waterway by writing them into state statute.
Lawmakers can’t do that this session, which is quickly drawing to a close. But, by establishing a study committee with a specific charge, they could put to rest much of the controversy surrounding the Allagash. They already have a good foundation for such work in the so-called “River Drivers Agreement.” Three years ago, a diverse group, including sportsmen and northern Maine residents, negotiated the agreement, which grew out of a legal settlement with the National Park Service. As part of the settlement, which was the result of the state rebuilding a dam on the Allgash without the proper permits, the state had to review Allagash access points with an eye toward the federal Wild and Scenic River Act. The Allagash Advisory Committee began the process and the River Drivers Agreement was the result.
Under the agreement, some access points at the northern end of the waterway were to be discontinued. Now, some members of the group say the document has been changed or they didn’t know what they were signing or have now decided that agreeing to close off some access was wrong.
Rep. John Martin, who signed the agreement, has introduced a bill, LD 2077, which would re-open two access points that were closed under the River Drivers Agreement. The bill, which is being heard by the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry committee today, would also stop changes at two other sites. Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan said compromise is possible on some access points and that decisions on other have yet to be finalized. Having the Legislature make decisions on access now is premature. More doubtful is the bill’s requirement that all changes to the waterway’s management plan be approved by the legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
Instead, a legislative study group should use the River Drivers Agreement as a framework and agree on any amendments. This should lead to a final list of access points and bridges that should then be written into statute. Then, the managers of the Allagash can focus on running the waterway according to state law.