LD 1798 proposes to reform the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), which is the statewide land use planning, zoning and permitting authority for Maine’s 10.4 million acres of Unorganized Territory, including our North Woods. Since its inauguration in 1971, LURC has provided an invaluable service by guiding development to appropriate locations and protecting the forests, rivers, lakes and mountains that our important to our health, wildlife and recreational opportunities.
Throughout this process, there have been two provisions within the bill that have caused the most friction for the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee – allowing counties to opt out of LURC jurisdiction, and allowing county commissioners to nominate themselves and simultaneously serve as a LURC commissioner. The initial Majority ‘Ought to Pass as Amended’ Report included both of these provisions. The initial Minority ‘Ought to Pass as Amended’ Report did not.
Representative Jeffery Gifford (Lincoln) submitted an amendment to the bill that significantly improved upon the Majority Report, and has received unanimous support by the ACF Committee. This amendment removes the opt-out provision, and prohibits county commissioners who are nominated to serve on LURC from voting for themselves; however, a county commissioner’s colleagues are allowed to do so. Under Gifford’s amendment, all commissioners will be required to have expertise in commerce and industry, fisheries and wildlife, forestry, or conservation issues. Also, all rules promulgated for transition to DEP are made to be major substantive under this amendment.
We are very pleased with the these improvements in the legislation but are still concerned about county commissioners being allowed to simultaneously serve on the LURC Board, as we feel this provision would lead to inevitable conflicts of interest. Those who are elected to a local or municipal position are likely to feel pressured to respond to county interests while having to perform their duties of serving on a statewide board. And no other Maine State regulatory board has members elected by local officials. This provision would dramatically increase the power of county governments that put statewide interests at risk.
Overall, we are very proud of how far we’ve come throughout this past year. Initially, the Land Use Regulation Commission was at risk of being completely abolished. The hard work and dedication put forth on this effort saved this extremely important agency and the future of our wildlife and wildlife habitat.