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For Immediate Release

Date: 05/17/11

Rural Legislators Back Bill to Abolish Land Use Regulation Commission

AUGUSTA - The Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry today heard testimony regarding a bill to abolish the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) and transfer its rule-making authority to county governments.

The legislation, LD 1534, is "An Act To Reform the Land Use and Planning Authority in the Unorganized Territories." The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeff Gifford (R-Lincoln), said the measure, if passed, would free up landowners to make productive use of their property. "This would be a big economic boost for northern Maine," he said. "The people who own the land have been stifled by LURC. They have no voice in the planning decisions that affect their economy, their heritage and their future."

LURC, established in 1971, is empowered to make planning and development decisions for more than 10 million acres of private property in Maine, concentrated in eight counties. Nowhere else in the United States is there an equivalent of LURC, and Rep. Gifford said residents of rural counties resent that such control over their property is exerted by an un-elected authority from outside the area.

Lead testimony for the bill was provided by Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Washington). "In rural Maine," he said, "the acronym LURC is synonymous with heavy-handed government bureaucracy and overreach." In every other part of Maine, he noted, planning decisions are made by local residents who have a shared stake in the outcomes of their decisions. LURC, he added, "more closely resembles a colonial power able to impose its members' will on any given part of the unorganized territories."

Speaking before a packed hearing room, Sen. Raye said two recent proceedings convinced him that LURC should be abolished and its responsibilities transferred to county government. "Those proceedings," he said, "were the absolutely shameful process surrounding the proposed Plum Creek development in Piscataquis County, and the painful process surrounding the development of a new Comprehensive Land Use Plan. As a resident and a legislator from rural Maine, I was appalled at the repugnant and humiliating nature of both processes."

He went on to say, "The fact is that the LURC model is not worthy of a democratic society. It is a paternalistic anachronism of a bygone era when those who were running Augusta at the time favored central planning and felt that local government was not up to the challenge of running their own affairs."

Forty years of LURC management, Sen. Raye said, have left a sad legacy in the counties that contain most of the unorganized territories, including a 10.7 percent unemployment rate, a high poverty rate and rural out-migration that threatens the region's heritage and future.

Under the terms of LD 1534, major development issues under the jurisdiction of the Natural Resources Protection Act will be handled by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Timber harvesting and forest management in the unorganized territories will fall under the jurisdiction of the Maine Forest Service.

Also, a new Land Use Review and Appeals Board, comprised of representatives of each of the eight countries with major portions of the unorganized territories, will consider appeals of local planning decisions. Current LURC rules will carry over to the counties.

Rep. Aaron Libby (R-Waterboro), one of the Legislature's few full-time farmers, co-sponsored the bill. "That government is best that governs least, and the best government is the one closest to the people," he said. "States are better in that regard than the federal level, and counties and municipalities are better than the state. We should always strive for local control, and LD 1534 will allow for more control in the hands of the counties and the people." ###

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445