Thursday, February 16. 12:30 pm, Room 437 at the State Capitol, 30 minutes before the hearing on a bill to reform the Land Use Regulation Commission. Chaos.
People began arriving at 10 am this morning for the 1 pm hearing. Committee clerk Megan Ricker put out sign-up sheets for speakers at 11:30 am. This not being my first rodeo, I signed up to speak first, as a proponent of LD 1798, even though I strongly oppose two of its sections. The opponents list was much longer than the proponents list, and proponents always get to speak first. I also placed my coat and briefcase on a seat by the window in the hearing room, to reserve a spot there.
Returning to the room at 12:20 pm, I found the room jammed, every seat taken, lots of people standing. But miracle of miracles, my jacket and briefcase kept my seat open!
At 1:10 pm, Capitol security cleared the room of all who were standing, directing them to the visitor’s center four floors below, where they could listen to the hearing. It was most unfortunate that the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee moved the hearing from their larger room in the Cross Office Building, to this tiny fourth-floor room in the Capitol.
It seemed to some observers that this indicated how little consideration the committee intended to give to the hearing and testimony. The hearing was moved so that legislators could be closer to the House and Senate chambers, where the state budget was to be debated starting at 4 pm. The committee’s chairs announced their intention to continue the hearing even when committee members were called to their respective chambers to cast votes on budget amendments.
Although this was a “public hearing,” political dignitaries got to testify first, without signing up to speak. It caused me to fondly remember the days when Rep. Paul Jacques chaired the legislature’s Fish and Wildlife Committee. He made legislators and lobbyists wait until every member of the public had testified. Even though I was a lobbyist at that time, I appreciated Paul’s thoughtfulness in putting “real people” first.
Of the legislators who testified, I thought Bob Duchesne did the best job, focusing on a few very specific parts of the bill that he thought were either unprecedented, unfortunate, or in need of amendment (or all three).
I also enjoyed the testimony of Rep. Herb Clark, who spoke passionately about the needs of the people in his Millinocket district for recognition and help.
It was also good to hear from some Republican legislators who spoke against the part of the bill that would allow counties to opt out of LURC’s jurisdiction and take on its responsibilities. I believe they did so in order to support ACF Committee member Russell Black, a Republican from Wilton, who has been steadfast in his insistence that the opt out had to come out.
Russ has been under a lot of pressure from the Governor and his Republican leadership and fellow committee members, to change his position. I’ve known, liked, and respected Russ for many years, and my respect has only grown as I watched him stand up to the pressure on this important issue.
After quite a bunch of legislators spoke, some taking more than the specified 3 minutes, members of the LURC Task Force that prepared the recommendations that are the substance of this bill, got to speak, even though they spoke to the ACF Committee a few weeks ago when presenting their report and recommendations. Two bites of the apple for them!
After four of them spoke, we heard from Bill Beardsley, Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Chairman of the LURC Task Force, and Patty Aho, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.
We were 90 minutes into the hearing before the public got an opportunity to testify. Knowing that mine was the first name on the sign up sheet for proponents, I got ready for my 3 minutes of fame.
Alas, they decided to let people testify first who traveled to the hearing from a distance of 100 miles or more. Made we wish for a moment that I had signed up to speak using my camp location in T10R5 above Millinocket!
Four people took advantage of this lucky break to speak. Finally, 105 minutes into the hearing, they hauled out the sign up sheets – and decided to start with opponents! AAAGGGHHH! I put my testimony back in my briefcase and settled back.
Then a guy got to read his poem because he’d left his dog outside in his car. Wish I’d brought my cat today.
Ok, now we’re at 110 minutes, and finally, it should be my turn as the first proponent. But inexplicably, they went to opponents first! I’ve never seen that in all my years here. They always start with those in favor of the bill. I can only assume they saw my name listed first on the proponents list.
One opponent got his 3 minutes, and then they returned to two people from an island who should be been called as part of the group who traveled more than 100 miles. Turned out to be two speakers, a man and his wife.
Then it was back to signed-up opponents.
Two hours and ten minutes into the hearing, the first proponent on the sign-up sheet got to testify: ME! I will include my brief testimony of 2 minutes and 15 seconds at the end of this report.
Expecting the hearing to go well into the evening, when I’ve got church choir practice, I decided to post this report and head on home.
What? You want to know what was said at the hearing? Well, you should have listened on line. I can sum it up this way.
One guy early in the hearing quoted Glen Campbell, from his song Rhinestone Cowboy. “There’s been a load of compromising,” sang Glen. The fellow testified there’s been too much compromising and it is time to abolish LURC.
As he wrapped up his testimony, I was thinking of the first two lines of Rhinestone Cowboy: “I’ve been walking these streets so long, Singing the same old song.”
Today – same old song.
My Testimony on LURC Bill, February 16, 2012
I’ve spent time in the unorganized territories since I was a kid, fishing out of my aunt and uncle’s camp at Seboomook. In the 1970s, for Congressman David Emery, I worked on the issues surrounding the spruce budworm outbreak, from funding to observing the spraying. I was up there when the big bomber crashed into Eagle Lake. Quite a sight.
I shot my first deer hunting out of an International Paper logging camp. I’ve hunted and fished all over the North Woods with Maine’s best guides and by myself, and stayed at some of the state’s finest sporting camps there, including Matt and Ellen Libby’s on Millinocket Lake.
For the last 20 years, my wife Linda and I have owned a camp in T10R5 on Maine’s best wild trout lake – a lake I have to share with Representative Herb Clark – who I am certain catches more fish than me. Linda and I pay property taxes on our camp.
For most of my adult life I’ve worked on North Woods issues, tried to improve fishing and enhance wildlife habitat there, and made many friends in the forest products industry. I served on numerous task forces working on those issues, and as you know, served for 18 years as an advocate for sportsmen in my job with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
I value and appreciate the opportunity to recreate in the North Woods on private land, and applaud those private landowners for their generosity. I tell you all of this to let you know that this is personal to me, as it is to so many.
We all agree that the state’s 10 million acres of northern forest should remain intact, sheltering our wildlife, feeding our economy, feeding our soul. The owners of those lands share these goals.
Today, a group of smart people, who know the issues and the territories, have put in front of you a thoughtful set of recommendations. Most of us can agree to most of them – although the level of enthusiasm for each is measured.
On two recommendations, we are seriously divided. Certainly anyone serving on an important commission like LURC should be vetted by this committee and confirmed by the Senate. That’s an easy fix for you.
The opt out should come out. I heard Commissioner Bill Beardsley predict it would never be used. So why fight about it? Take it out.
That should give you a unanimous vote on a bill that addresses every issue and concern we’ve had about LURC and its performance over the years.
It will show Maine people that you can collaborate and cooperate and deliver a good piece of legislation, together, in this troubled and difficult legislative session.
I know you can do it. And I can’t wait to write that story.