Morning Sentinel news story by staff writer Jesse Scardina
Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday vetoed a lakes protection bill that would have banned the use of prohibited fertilizer 25 feet or closer to a lake, and at least one lakes region legislator said he didn’t think the bill went far enough.
The bill, L.D. 1744, which received overwhelming legislative support, would have strengthened the Department of Environmental Protection’s lake protection program and reduced fertilizer application near lakes by creating a 25-foot setback.
The setback would help keep phosphorus, an element commonly added to fertilizer, out of the lakes. Phosphorus causes algae blooms that lower the quality of lake water by clouding it with green plants that choke off other life in the lake. If too much phosphorus ends up in the lake, it can lower a lake’s water quality severely and affect the value of property surrounding the lake.
Long Pond in Belgrade, Rome and Mount Vernon and East Pond in Oakland and Smithfield are already on the Environmental Protection Agency’s impaired-lakes list because of loss of clarity and algae. And 10 percent of Maine lakes are listed as impaired by the Environmental Protection Agency.
L.D. 1744 passed unanimously in the Senate, 35-0, and was approved in the House of Representatives, 119-24.
“Protecting clean lakes is not a partisan issue,” Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit organization that helps to protect, restore and conserve Maine’s environment, said in a release. “Everyone in Maine values lakes that contribute to our economy, recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat and quality of life.”
LePage, in a news release, said Wednesday that the bill is too restrictive and would burden the DEP.
“In addition to adding yet another restriction on Maine people, the bill would create a massive enforcement burden on the Department of Environmental Protection — monitoring and enforcement of all of the land within 25 feet of the shoreline of every major lake in Maine — without providing a single dollar to carry out that work,” LePage said in the release.
Rep. Karen Kusiak, D-Fairfield, who represents lakes region communities Smithfield and Rome, said property owners on the lakes consider certain restrictions necessary for protecting their investment.
“The people I have talked to and the people who have shown up to Smithfield town meetings are in favor of protecting the lakes and for more restriction,” Kusiak said, adding that she plans to vote to overturn the veto.
But Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, who represents several lake communities, including Belgrade, Rangeley and Rome, said in an interview that the bill as written wouldn’t have addressed lake protection sufficiently.
He said the 25-foot setback was half of his recommended 50-foot buffer zone, and the lack of soil tests made enforcement almost impossible.
“This bill gave the governor ammunition to veto,” Saviello said. “Without a soil test, you would have to witness someone putting fertilizer down on their property.”
Saviello said he intends to vote to uphold the veto and create a new bill for the next legislative session that better protects lake water quality.
“I’m a strong supporter of lakes and want to protect them, but the way this bill was written didn’t do anything for them,” he said.
In the bill’s original draft, the setback was 50 feet. An amendment by House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, reduced it to 25 feet to make it consistent with bills adopted in New Hampshire and Vermont.
“This veto fails Maine by putting at risk our lakes, the $3.5 billion in annual economic activity they generate and the 52,000 jobs they support,” McCabe said in a news release.
“Given the bill’s overwhelming support from members of (Lepage’s) own party and how he used his veto pen to personally attack me,” McCabe continued, “it’s clear that the governor is not standing on solid policy footing.”
In his response to the veto, LePage criticized bill sponsor McCabe for his apparent disapproval of the Department of Environmental Protection.
“This is particularly troubling since the sponsor is among the most vocal critics of the DEP, frequently arguing that it does not do enough to carry out its mission,” LePage said. “Yet, here is that same critic adding an enormous new work requirement to the department while denying it the tools to carry it out. Should this bill become law, we would no doubt hear from him next year, complaining that this new work was not completed. Perhaps he feels that DEP staff should volunteer their free time on evenings and weekends in order to carry out his whims?”
LePage also argued in his statement that a 25-foot setback for fertilizer use might be harmful to the environment, saying that soil near the lake is low in nutrients and nutrient-rich fertilizer could help the land.
“Properly applying fertilizers can help create root systems that help slow or stop the erosion of soil into lakes,” he said. “Thus, restricting the application of fertilizers will cause harm to these lakes.”
Saviello said if there is no fertilizer at all, root systems can decay, causing erosion, which lets dirt wash into lakes, which causes more phosphorous; but too much fertilizer means the overflow runs into the lake.