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Landowner rights, rangers and discontinued roads

By Patrick Strauch, MFPC Executive Director

The Council gets involved with wind power bills because of the unintended consequences of regulations relating to visual quality and zoning that will have much broader applications to landowner value.  You can read my testimony (on LD 1147 and LD 1323.), but the principle of land rights is always juxtaposed to the public interest in many of these debates.

at the legislatureIn many ways traditional opponents (Audubon, Sierra Club) have evolved our collective thinking to recognize conservation easements and cooperative regional planning are more productive approaches to land issues rather than a regulatory takings approach. In the visual standards debate I’m concerned with public vantage points throughout an area in effect limiting landowner land management opportunities. Visual quality standards are creating a significant obstacle for developing recreational opportunities on private land; it is a perverse outcome of policy if public use diminishes landowner opportunities and value as structured in LD 1147.

LD 616 is similarly flawed because it is structured to allow a neighbor to petition LUPC for the purpose of eliminating a previously approved zone on your land! Imagine how well this would go over in your town. We are still in the work session mode on these bills, and it appears to me the committee would like to bundle these issues and create a study group over the summer in an attempt to work through the intricacies of these policy changes.  Although some legislators, like Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, believe these bills are all an attempt to throw roadblocks at development opportunities and create precedents that threaten harvesting operations.

“This issue that we’re dealing with today is about wind, but when you open this door would you be concerned that we’ll be talking about things like logging next?” Sen. Jackson said at the public hearing on LD 1147. “You know people on these trails don’t like to see a clearcut 15 miles away or something like that. Today it’s wind but and next year or a couple of years from now will we be here talking about no cutting in these sites around these ‘crown jewels?’”

Rangers and guns: Another highly charged issue this week. Rumors of the governor’s position to arm only a few rangers and refocus the remaining on resource protection brought out the ranks of rangers to lobby for a positive vote on LD 297  in the Criminal Justice Committee. I continue to worry about the investment in arming rangers at the expense of important resource protection activities. I’m working against the tide of not giving law enforcement officers their guns, when the important question about determining the priorities of the department have not been answered. Do we really want a major expansion of government into law enforcement? There needs to be more discussion on this bigger picture because regardless of the outcome of this bill arming all the rangers is an unsustainable outcome. Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Cumberland, and Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick, cast the only dissenting votes Wednesday as the Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill. Their leadership is greatly appreciated. SWOAM and the Council are looking for ways to bring the broader policy issue into light and we will keep you posted.

Discontinued roads: Tom Doak, SWOAM’s executive director, has been a diligent participant in the discontinued roads discussion (LD 1177). Members of the State and Local Government Committee are working hard to resolve age-old issues of abandoned roads. Tom has identified the biggest problems as:

  • The unknown status of town roads;
  • Lack of a consistent public process for discontinuing a road
  • How to deal with those damaging a road with a public easement
  • Making sure all these solutions do not result in land-locking back parcels.

It is a tall task but the parties are taking a stab at it.

Outlook for the rest of the session: As I review the bills this session, I see only a few that are related directly to forestry issues. Senator Jackson has introduced bill that allows a landowner a tree growth tax free year if they send all of their wood to a US mill. I’m afraid that although the intent may be very patriotic, the outcome would be chaotic.

The overarching issue is the budget and as the deficit grows there will be desperation by legislators to find sources of income. Everyone is gearing up for a debate about BETR funding along with other business tax programs.

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