Maine Department of Environmental Protection Proposes Easing Permitting Process, Expense for Maine Landowners

December 2, 2011

CONTACT:
Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP Director of Communications & Education samantha.depoy-warren@maine.gov/ (207)592-0427

-DEP is asking the Board of Environmental Protection to allow for a streamlined, less costly permitting process for activities that do not harm the environment or wildlife in areas where ducks, geese or other birds may touch down-

AUGUSTA – A proposal from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection will streamline and lower the price of a permitting process for many landowners while retaining important protections for Maine’s birds, a longtime department official told the Board of Environmental Protection yesterday.

Mike Mullen, a 27-year veteran of the department’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality and now its director, encouraged the board at a public hearing to accept a DEP proposal to ease the process landowners must go through to develop portions of their property designated by state maps as moderate value inland waterfowl and wading bird habitat (IWWH) where ducks, geese and other birds may touch down to feed and nest.

Currently, landowners are forced to navigate a permitting process that includes public comment and review by other state agencies for activities within those areas including building a small family home or office. They also must pay $271 to DEP for the permit, plus charges for public noticing, letters to abutters and any consulting costs.

DEP is asking to allow activities in those areas to be eligible for a permit-by-rule, a streamlined, $65 permitting process in place for activities that do not significantly affect the environment. That process is already set for development around significant vernal pools.

Their proposal is a result of direction to the department from the 125th Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee to remove high and moderate value IWWH from resource protection and allow regulated activity in those areas to be eligible for permit-by-rule.

In an effort to balance environmental and landowner interests, DEP chose to be more protective than the committee requested by only including the 72 percent of IWWH rated as moderate and not both moderate and high value habitat, Mullen testified.

Beyond providing protections to bird habitat, the proposal would shelter wetlands by limiting new development to beyond 100 feet from the wetland’s edge –where most birds nest– and restricting the clearing in that developable area to no more than 20 percent. Those measurements are set forth in the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s “Recommended Land Use Guidelines in Inland Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitats” and would not result in an unreasonable impact on the habitat, Mullen told the board.

He added the proposal would retain discretionary authority for department permitting experts to reject a permit-by-rule or require a full permit if they believe the activity would violate standards, cause significant environmental impact or adversely impact a resource of special concern.

“What we’re proposing is balanced, workable regulations that protect wetlands and wildlife without overly limiting landowners,” Mullen said. “The department has approved all 52 applications that have come in since this habitat was designated in 2006 and in every case, we determined that the activity was not harmful to wildlife and the environment. Given this, we believe it is more than reasonable to make this a permit-by-rule activity and save landowners time and money.”

Opponents of DEP’s proposal claim it gives landowners too much latitude over how they manage their own property and activities within it, and that development in the moderate value IWWH should be limited to single family residences.

Mullen explained to the board it would be speculative to say an office with scheduled hours of operation or a seasonal camp or road would present more of a threat to birds than a single family home –regardless of its size or number of occupants– with pets and recreational rights to the land including the use of motorized vehicles and hunting.

He added that privileging certain types of development over others would go against the Legislature’s intent to create a more predictable permitting process and reminded the board that the Legislature’s direction to DEP did not ask for limits on the types of development to be eligible for permit-by-rule.

The department and the board will accept public comment on the proposal until December 27. Comments should be sent to Mike Mullen, director of the Bureau of Land & Water Quality, at mike.mullen@maine.gov or 17 State House Station, Augusta ME 04333. A map of the state’s designated Inland Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitat is available by going to http://www.maine.gov/dep and selecting “Google Earth Interactive Maps” under “Featured Links.”

The Board of Environmental Protection will likely vote in January before sending the regulation to the Legislature for their approval because the proposal is considered a major substantive rulemaking.

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