After rejecting two earlier nominees this session, the ACF Committee confirmed two LUPC commissioners on Wednesday. Newcomer Everett Worcester of Piscataquis County was approved 8-3 and current LUPC chair Gwen Hilton of Somerset County won unanimous confirmation.
“And that’s the first time that’s happened, so congratulations!” said Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, told Hilton.
Worcester was not supported by Rep. Craig V. Hickman, D-Winthrop, Rep. Brian L. Jones, D-Freedom, and Rep. Robert J. Saucier, D-Presque Isle.
The issue of county commissioners also serving on LUPC played a larger part in the rejection of two earlier nominees for Somerset and Piscataquis. In March, the ACF Committee confirmed Aroostook County Commissioner Paul Underwood, 9-3, but rejected Somerset County Commissioner Lloyd Trafton, 9-3. Duane Lander, the first Piscataquis nominee, was voted down 7-6, after the Natural Resources Council of Maine questioned how he was chosen by Piscataquis County commissioners and also because “he has openly advocated abolishing LURC.”
“It looks to me like we’re basically loading up the LURC board with county commissioners, and that’s what I was afraid of,” Rep. Russell J. Black, R-Wilton, said in a March 27 story in the Bangor Daily News. “I want, and a lot of legislators want, a wide range of expertise. We’re getting away from individuals who have any expertise in land planning or zoning, which we really need on that board.”
Hilton, whose current LUPC term ends in July, also referred to the issue Wednesday when asked why she had not initially sought reappointment. In part, she said it was because she was “feeling a little burnt out,” after eight years, including serving as chair since 2010, and the challenging transition from LURC to LUPC. But another factor was she felt Somerset County commissioners had decided they “wanted one of their own” to fill the position.
“But since then the position became available and I thought about it some more and felt it was really important,” Hilton said. “So I decided to try to take on another term.
Hilton’s application lists years of planning experience, which was also stressed by two legislators who supported her nomination, Rep. Ann E. Dorney, D-Norridgewock, and Rep. Paul E. Gilbert, D-Jay.
But Worcester’s resume traced a different path. A Columbia Falls native, he has a PhD in educational administration from the University of Texas in Austin, but after he and his wife moved back to Maine in 1975, he has focused on selling and appraising real estate, and farming and marketing blueberries.
“I recognize my education and experience are a bit different than most who serve on this commission,” Worcester told the committee. “I do think however that I possess the knowledge skills and understanding to make a positive contribution to this commission.”
Rep. Jones asked Worcester to talk about how he filled the statutory requirements of a LUPC commissioner, including “expertise in commerce and industry, fisheries and wildlife, forestry or conservation issues in the jurisdiction.”
Worcester cited his real estate experience and said blueberry farming is “a pretty significant business.” He added that he’s also operated a store in Milo, a storage company, and been “in the apartment building business at one time and that was probably the worst thing I ever did, so I no longer do that.”
When Rep. Hickman questioned Worcester about the changes he envisions in LUPC territory in the coming years, Worcester responded with some thoughts about forestry.
“We’ve got a whole changing dynamic in the forestry industry . . . That’s becoming a very different kind of thing,” Worcester said. “So the forestry industry has gone mechanized and big time and it really needs professional oversight with people who know the business.”
Worcester also said he strongly supports LUPC’s community guided planning initiatives. “Involving the people in the planning and zoning makes a lot of sense,” he said. “Those of us who have lived in the unorganized territories a long time never had that sense that we had that ability. Now, I think, we’re hoping we do. “
Hilton also told the committee she is happy LUPC is “moving forward with community guided planning and prospective zoning. And I’m actually very excited about that. I think that’s a good thing and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.”
Sen. Roger L. Sherman, R-Aroostook, questioned Hilton about her “ views of private property and how it fits into this whole new LUPC as we’re moving forward?”
Hilton answered that “in my experience in working with committees, municipalities and even on LUPC as well, trying to find the balance between regulation and private property rights is one of the most difficult charges that we have . . . The one thing about the regional planning initiatives that we’re undertaking is that it allows for more public input and involvement in determining what that balance is and coming up with what is appropriate.”