Maine LURCing Forward on North Woods Study
On the same day he announced appointments for a group charged with recommending reforms for Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission, Governor Paul LaPage was quoted in the Bangor Daily News as saying LURC “will not be in the hands of the state. It’s going to go back likely to the counties.”
The Governor may be in for a surprise. He certainly is premature in announcing the the recommendations of a 13-member study commission on LURC's future before the group has had a single meeting!
LURC is the planning and regulatory state agency for the 10 million acres of Unorganized Territory that many of us think of as the North Woods.
Landowners in the unorganized territories have railed against LURC for years, and legislation to abolish the agency and assign its duties to other state agencies and Maine counties was one of the session’s most controversial issues.
That bill was turned into the study, and even the proposed study turned into a major fight between Republicans and Democrats (as well as environmental groups and large landowners in LURC’s jurisdiction). Republicans – in control of the House and Senate - prevailed.
Their bill charges the study commission 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;
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 Unorganized Terrority 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 Unorganized Territory.
Senate President Kevin Raye, House Speaker Robert Nutting, and Governor LePage selected twelve of the study commission’s members, while the legislature named Bill Beardsley, the Commissioner of Conservation, as the commission’s chair. Some outstanding people have been selected for this tough assignment.
In private conservations, I am well aware that some of the commission’s members understand that turning planning and regulatory authority for half of the state and the nation’s largest contiguous forest over to counties that lack the staff and experience to tackle this job would be a serious mistake.
I believe it would be far better to fix the agency’s problems – and there are some – and shape it into an office that does a better job with these important responsibilities. Some members of the study commission agree with me.
It will be interesting – to put it mildly – to follow the commission’s progress, listen to its members as they study and debate the issues, and see what they come up with. Their recommendations are due back to the legislature by January 4, 2012.
Here is a list of commission members, with brief biographies provided in the Governor’s press release announcing their appointment.
Elbridge Cleaves, president of the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust. Cleaves is a retired registered Maine forester with timberland and land use management experience. He has served as a member of the Weston Board of Selectmen, is a registered Maine Master Guide, and he is a member of the State of Maine Forest Legacy Review Committee.
Somerset County Commissioner Robert Dunphy. Dunphy served six years as a selectman in the town of Embden. He was the emergency management director, the E 911 addressing agent, for the town of Madison, and the code enforcement officer, health officer and plumbing inspector for six towns in Somerset County, and he has been involved in numerous other public service volunteer and professional endeavors.
Washington County Commissioner Christopher Gardner. A resident of Edmunds Township, Gardner is port director for the Port of Eastport. He was appointed by former Gov. John Baldacci to serve on the Commissions to Study Energy Infrastructure and to Review Tax Increment Financing in the UT. He is vice chairman of Maine County Commissioners Associations Subcommittee to Study LURC Reform.
Durward Humphrey, a resident of Benedicta Township in the Unorganized Territory. Humphrey is CEO of Katahdin Valley Health Center with facilities in Houlton, Island Falls, Millinocket, and Patten. He represents the UT on the Aroostook County Budget Committee. He is past president of the Maine Primary Care Association.
Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association and president of Maine Outdoors of Union. Kleiner is the former director of Information and Education at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and he is the recipient of numerous awards for his dedication to outdoor recreation.
Gary Lamb, Greenville town manager and a member of the executive committee of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, and has extensive experience in regional planning, code enforcement, comprehensive planning, and conservation planning.
Duane Lander, a UT resident for over four decades. Lander has owned and operated a construction company with extensive work in the UT, including dam maintenance, road construction, timber harvesting, and shoreline work.
Hank McPherson, president of McPherson Timberlands of Bangor, which owns land in the Unorganized Territory. McPherson has supervised land development projects before local and state regulatory and planning bodies since 1980. He is the chairman of the Board of Directors of Farm Credit of Maine, specializing in agriculture lending.
Sarah Medina, member chair of the Maine Tourism Commission and land use director at Seven Islands Land Company. Medina is vice chair of the Landowner Sportsman’s Relations Advisory Board. She is involved with the North Maine Woods, Inc., the Maine Wilderness Guides Association's Board of Advisors, the Allagash Waterway Management Plan's Advisory Committee, and the Forest Resources Advisory Committee at the University of Maine. She served on the Dixmont Planning Board, in addition to dozens of other similar endeavors.
Tom Rumpf of Brunswick, the associate state director of the Nature Conservancy since 2002. A forester, he previously worked for the Maine Forest Service and directed Maine’s Spruce Budworm Program in the 1980s. He is a former Freeport town councilor and has been in active in local conservation and economic development issues.
Judith Cooper East, of Calais, executive director of the Washington County Council of Governments. As the council's executive director, she directs the regional planning office serving organized and unorganized municipalities. She was previously a senior planner at the Maine State Planning Office and is an American Institute of Certified Planner.
Donald White, president and CEO of Prentiss & Carlisle Co., Inc. and president of the Maine Forest Products Council. White received the Austin H. Wilkins Forest Stewardship Award in 2010.