Last time the Land Use Regulation Commission updated its guiding document for the state’s 10 million-acre Unorganized Territory, there were no wind farms in the area, small seasonal camps were the popular dwelling there, paper companies owned much of the land and large conservation ease-ments weren’t in place. More than a decade later, all of these things — and more — have changed, which is why LURC must have a more up-to-date plan to manage future growth in the territory.
At the same time, much has not changed in the North Woods. Investment companies may have replaced timber companies, but they still manage the land to grow trees. Vast tracts of private land are still available for public recreation, including hunting, fishing and hiking. Protecting these activities in an updated plan is also necessary.
The commission is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Land Use Plan, the document that guides policy decisions in the territory, which is mostly in northern Maine, but also includes many offshore islands. It was last updated in 1997.
Although the Comprehensive Land Use Plan will guide LURC decisions, no changes in the commission’s rules can take place without legislative approval.
The commission is gathering public comment on the draft revisions to the plan, which can be found at www.maine.gov/doc/lurc. Public hearings will be held Sept. 28 in Augusta, Sept. 29 in Bangor and Sept. 30 in Presque Isle. There will be two sessions at each location: 1-4:30 p.m. and 6-10 p.m. Public comments may be submitted until Oct. 21. The plan will be further revised based on the comments collected with a final plan expected early next year.
LURC is, in effect, the planning board for about half the land in Maine. With development becoming more spread out and changing from small seasonal camps to large year-round residences and increased demand for wind energy, which is often targeted for undeveloped areas, what happens in the Unorganized Territory increasingly affects all Mainers. Whether they live in towns that border the UT and are increasingly bearing the costs of emergency and other services for new development there or are hunters who rely on deer wintering areas to protect the herd or kayakers hoping to paddle on an undeveloped island, managing land use in the LURC jurisdiction matters to them. It also matters to landowners, many of whom increasingly view development as an alternative to the financially unpredictable timber industry.
Balancing all these interests is not easy. That is why LURC must have the right tools. An updated land use plan that is realistic about the threats to and benefits of the Unorganized Territory is one of those tools.