Citizens and Experts to Testify Against LD 1798 in Effort to Protect North Woods and Keep LURC Strong

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Alexandra Fields

Environment Maine

AUGUSTA – Today at the Maine State House in Augusta, concerned citizens, experts, and legislators will testify in support of strong protections for Maine’s North Woods at a public hearing in front of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The citizens will testify on LD 1798, which would roll back 40 years of protections for the North Woods by diminishing the scope and power of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC).

The hearing comes a week after volunteers gathered at the State House to deliver 17,000 messages – from every legislative district in the state – urging legislators to protect Maine’s North Woods and reject the rollbacks contained in LD 1798. Environment Maine organized the collection of the postcards, letters, and petition signatures.

“More than 17,000 people have made their voices heard: The North Woods are at the heart of Maine’s natural heritage and demand our protection,” said Alexandra Fields, Preservation Associate at Environment Maine. “These rollbacks endanger Maine’s natural heritage and threaten to destroy the places we love forever.”

The bill, LD 1798, was written by the LePage administration based on the recommendations of the LURC Reform Commission, the task force created by the Legislature last session to decide the future of LURC. LURC was created with strong bipartisan support in 1971 to guide development and protect the character of Maine’s North Woods. The majority of the task force’s members, who were appointed by Governor Paul LePage, Senate President Kevin Raye, and House Speaker Robert Nutting, had publicly testified in favor of abolishing LURC before their meetings began.

“Though LD 1798 wouldn’t abolish LURC immediately, it stands to reduce the agency’s powers in the short term while eliminating it over time,” Fields said. “Allowing county commissioners to appoint themselves to LURC would compromise the Commission’s ability to make unbiased decisions while the ‘opt-out’ clause would give counties the ability to ‘drop out’ of LURC’s protections entirely. There’s no question that this puts our treasured places at risk.”

The Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will convene for the hearing today at 1 PM in Room 437 of the State House. They will meet again next Thursday, February 23 at 1 PM for the work session and likely votes on the bill.