Down East 2013 ©
The drive to abolish Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) has stalled.
A task force will now be charged with examining all of the contentious issues revolving around LURC and report back to the legislature with recommendations no later than January 4, 2012.
LURC is the planning and regulatory state agency for the 10 million acres of unorganized territories, what many of us think of as the North Woods.
Landowners in the unorganized territories have railed against LURC for years, and the public hearing on LD 1534 included some of the harshest attacks on a state agency in my memory.
So the fact that the bill was amended into a task force and study is the real story here. LURC, for a year at least, has dodged this bullet.
The work sessions on this bill were disorganized, partisan, and sometimes ugly. The Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee missed a great opportunity to come together on the task force proposal.
Instead, two proposals were issued by the committee, with the majority Republicans in support of one, the minority Democrats in support of the other. They argued about the membership and duties of the task force, but didn’t appear to be all that far apart, until it became apparent in the final work session that a bipartisan bill was no longer of interest to the Republicans.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Schneider described her feeling about the process as “heartburn… Instead of coming together as a unit, we’ve gone off in separate directions. There has not been a collaborative effort. That’s what concerns me and a lot of people,” said Schneider, who nevertheless praised Republican Senate President Kevin Raye for his effort to bring committee members of both parties together.
The Senate chair of the committee, Roger Sherman, was having none of it, sharply criticizing Democratic committee members for “fighting us on everything… It’s just fantasizing to think” we’d be able to come together, said Sherman.
He also went after the environmental lobby, responding to Democrats on his committee by saying that “lobbyists in this room have sat with you and probably wrote half of your amendment.”
Rep. Jeff McCabe led the Democratic effort to suggest changes to the Republican proposal, but got nowhere with Sherman.
“The blue sheet (the Republican amendment) is trying to get politics out of it. Rep. McCabe is getting politics back into it,” charged Sherman.
Noting that Republicans had given up on their bill to abolish LURC and assign most of its duties to the state’s counties, Sherman lectured Democrats, “If that isn’t a home run for you guys, it’s at least a triple. The majority party has given up more than we wanted.”
The Republican amendment to LD 1534, which is certain to be enacted, establishes a thirteen-member commission composed of the following: The Commissioner of the Department of Conservation or his designee, two residents of the unorganized territories, one representative of a large UT landowner engaged in the forest products industry, one representative of a small UT landowner engaged in the forest products industry, two county commissioners from counties with significant acreage in the unorganized territories, one representative of a statewide sportsmen’s organization, one representative of a statewide environmental or conservation organization, one representative of a regional environmental or conservation organization, one representative of the tourism or outdoor recreation industry in the unorganized territories, one representative of a regional or local economic development organization serving an area that includes unorganized territories, and one regional planner from a Council of Governments in a county with significant acreage in the unorganized territories.
Some commission members would be appointed by the governor, some by the President of the Senate, and some by the Speaker of the House.
The commission is charged with four duties:
1) Consider reforming the governance of land use planning in the Unorganized Territory and make recommendations on the role of state agencies and county government, the planning and appeals process, and opportunities for increased self-determination in land use planning in the UT;
2) Ensure that any recommendation which entails the elimination of LURC provides an effective transition process, including a plan for LURC to complete any pending work or transfer it to relevant agencies;
3) Ensure uniform standards across the UT for timber harvesting activities and forest management, wildlife habitat protection, and issues under the jurisdiction of the Natural Resources Protection Act; and
4) Consider options for reforming the governance of land use planning in the UT.
This is a tall order for any group, and the fact that the task force will be launched without bipartisan support makes the charge especially difficult.
This show is certain to return in 2012. Stay tuned!