Legislative Reception ‘a great success’
MFPC’s annual legislative reception on February 7 was crowded with legislators, state officials and members Thursday evening and they were talking about everything from the Agriculture-Conservation merger to the SFI flume.
“It was a great success and well-attended,” said Executive Director Patrick Strauch. “It was a good opportunity for both members and legislators to get to know each other.
LUPC takes up mining, Northern Maine
By Patrick Strauch, Executive Director
Last Friday I attended the LUPC Commission meeting and listened to a very good presentation on mining by Bob Marvinney, state geologist, and consultants Carol White and George Kendrick. This background helped inform the discussion for the commissioners concerning the factors that should be used in consideration of zoning a mining activity. It was clear that commissioners were struggling with the differentiation between zoning and permitting decisions which are now under the control for the DEP. At the same meeting the Forest Society of Maine reported on the Plum Creek conservation easement and received permission to report back to the commission on only an as needed basis. In a review of priorities for the commission a new request by commissioners was to include review of the subdivision process. And, in action concerning the Community-Guided Planning process, the commissioners selected the Northern Maine planning proposal.
Hearings on eminent domain bill and people’s veto
In the legislature there were several hearings on bills that MFPC is following. LD 58, on the use of eminent domain, and LD 82, focusing on creating a veto option for actions of county commissioners (opposed). The Policy Committee calls are in full swing as we determine Council positions on the variety of bills in the queue for next week. The supplemental budget review is nearing completion and the review of the biennial budget will occupy considerable attention. It appears the paper mills are most concerned about the BETR / BETE proposal in the budget. We are still trying to evaluate the affect on sawmills and other MFPC manufacturers. I will be working on this analysis during the coming week.
Natural Resource Network will host ACF Committee
At the board meeting Thursday, we reviewed a list of MFPC policy positions that we will be sending to the legislators so that they can preview our positions on various subject areas in anticipated legislation. The Natural Resource Network will be hosting a reception for ACF Committee members next week at the Farm Bureau office. It is a chance to introduce ACF to the collective thinking of the fishing, farming, forestry and recreational natural resource issues. The ACF merger continues to be discussed and the Council is monitoring the progress and challenges associated with the process.
DEP Commissioner Aho outlines permit improvements
Excerpt from Feb. 8 presentation to the MFPC Board by Comission Patricia Aho, Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
“I want to give you a little bit of background on what we’ve done over the last two years. The very first thing we wanted to address was our permitting time frames. We wanted to make it faster and more predictable for you. More predictable might mean giving you a “No,” faster, but we figured in any event what you really want to know is an answer one way or the other.
“So we took a look recently and I have a chart to give you a sense of where we were. For site law, our big, most complicated land-based decisions in 2010, before we walked through the door, the average time was 64 days. This past year at the end of 2012, after the years of trying to make sure we’re doing it in a more customer-efficient manner, it’s down to 53 days. So we’ve been able to shave 17 percent off of that time-frame. So that you have more time so you can go out and either start your project, reduce your financing, put people to work or know that you’re not going to actually sit there wondering if you’re going to get an application before us.
“More important, I think, is some of the other work we’ve been doing in order to improve other types of permits, such as storm water. In 2010 it took 68 days for you to get an answer on our stormwater permitting process. By 2012, we’ve broken that down to 45 days. So we’ve been able to provide you with a 25 percent improvement in how we process and proceed with those particular types of permitting. So overall if you were to take a look at all the types of improvements, it’s around 18 to 20 percent, depending on the type of permit, that we’ve been able to speed up that process for you.
“We’ve also taken a look at the backlogs of permits that we’ve had because what we were doing was simply saying, ‘We’re going to put that pile over here and get to that when we can.'” This year I’ve assigned permits that took 22 years – that was the longest one that I’ve signed this year. I’ve signed ones that have been on hold for 17 years, for 12 years, for five years. In the Air Bureau alone we have cleaned up our backlog of permits by 92 percent. In solid waste, it’s in double digits as well.
“And so for me, that was the focus of what I wanted to do when I walked through the door. I wanted to make this an agency that worked for all of you who are our customers, as well as for the people who work in the agency. And creating those efficiencies and making those improvements are actually my top priorities.”
Michaud sends thanks and asks for members’ help
Nora Todd, legislative director for Rep. Mike Michaud, wrote to thank Patrick Strauch, Mark Doty, Peter Triandafillou, Ben Carlisle and others who met with the congressman when he toured nine paper mills and four suppliers across the state last week. She also asked members for help.
“It was very helpful to hear firsthand the forest management perspective on the pulp and paper supply chain,” Todd wrote in her email. “I really appreciated your insights into the definition of biomass and the energy challenges facing Maine. We will continue to work on these issues, as well as the transportation and ground-level spraying topics that you brought up.
“As the congressman mentioned, we are very focused on convincing the Administration that it is critical that the U.S. pulp and paper industry competes on a level playing field,” Todd wrote. “Part of this effort includes conveying Mainers’ messages on the subject directly to the White House, the U.S. Trade Representative, and other federal agencies. If possible, would you be able to contribute something short to that effort? We are planning to deliver the submissions to the White House to make the case that regulations and unfair trade practices can be overly burdensome to the pulp and paper industry, which is critical to Maine’s economy.
“Please feel free to send me any additional information or thoughts you think would be helpful, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can ever be helpful or if you hear of particular legislative issues that will affect the sector,” she said. “It is very helpful for me to hear directly from you about the impact of various policies on the forest products sector. And I hope you won’t mind if I keep in touch with you to get feedback on legislation or proposals that may affect the industry.”
Special alert: Maine industrial logging roads
An urgent Safety Alert, in English and French, has been developed in response to concerns that those of us who travel Maine’s private woods road system are seeing an increase in unsafe trucking and private vehicle operating practices. The problems are especially evident right now, during the height of the winter hauling season, both with regular haulers and with subcontractors who aren’t as familiar with off-road wood hauling practices, as well as personal vehicles on the road system.
This alert was developed jointly by FRA, PLC, CLP, MFPC, ME SFI, MMTA, and MEMIC. The goal is to reach truckers, loader operators and others who travel our woods roads. English and French versions have been developed.
“This is a very important Safety Alert addressing a current and potentially dangerous set of conditions and practices,” said Pat Sirois, SFI director. “Please take note and redistribute to appropriate personnel and contractors.”
Please contact Joel Swanton, Northeast Region Manager, Forest Resources Association, if you have any questions.
Predation management conditions very challenging
By John Pratte, Wildlife Management Section Supervisor, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department
I have spent several hours this week discussing the program with staff and am impressed with the level of effort and commitment from many of our participants. Conditions have been very challenging this winter yet these determined hunters are constantly monitoring coyote activity and checking in with others to find opportunities to be more successful. We have some that have been very good at recruiting volunteer effort to amplify their effort. And we even have one hunter that has flown his area to better understand snow conditions and where deer may be concentrated.
Above is the Department’s most recent update on our Predation Management Program. As you’ve seen, wintering conditions for deer have moderated significantly this week. Reports from the field indicate deer continue to travel unrestricted seeking out more nutritive browse. Similarly, coyotes are benefiting and targeting easier prey such as rabbits and rodents. In some parts of the state they are now able to go “mousing” in exposed fields. Hunters are reporting that coyotes are not responding well to frozen bait as a result. We also have four houndsmen that have curtailed their efforts because of bare ground and crusty snow conditions.
Just as deer and coyotes are benefiting and adjusting we are taking advantage of these mild conditions to expand our effort to additional priority areas assessing deer use and coyote activity. We began this fall with 25 priority areas and are currently operating in 30 and will be adding a couple more.