BANGOR, Maine — Landowners and lovers of backcountry recreation offered varying opinions Monday and Tuesday about a planning document that guides policy decisions on roughly half of the land mass in Maine.
Many of the speakers at two days of public hearings have urged the Land Use Regulation Commission to tweak or rewrite aspects of the draft comprehensive plan for more than 10 million acres in Maine’s Unorganized Territory.
But while a few speakers expressed serious reservations about aspects of the plan, there has been much less anger and suspicion than commission staff heard during workshops held last year on an earlier draft of the document. The first two of three days of public hearings have attracted relatively modest crowds, also in contrast to the earlier workshops.
“It may be a good sign that people’s anxieties have decreased,” said LURC’s staff director, Catherine Carroll.
LURC will hold two more public hearings on the roughly 200-page Comprehensive Land Use Plan, or CLUP, today at the Presque Isle Inn and Convention Center. The first session is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., and the second session begins at 6 p.m.
During the two hearings held in Augusta and Bangor, the commission heard from timberland owners who urged regulators to change the tone of some of the language. In particular, some landowners are concerned that some language in the draft plan puts too much emphasis on potential effects from development and not enough on land conservation trends in the Unorganized Territory.
Landowners also cautioned the commission against policy changes or new regulations that could hurt the long-term value of the land by further restricting development.
As a planning document, the CLUP serves only as a blueprint for policy decisions, however. While the plan recommends that the commission explore additional tools to ensure development occurs in appropriate locations, it does not suggest specific changes. Any changes to LURC regulations would have to go through the rule-making process or the Legislature.
Another major focus of testimony Monday and Tuesday was outdoor recreation and whether motorized activities, such as snowmobiling and ATV riding, can co-exist with such “primitive” activities as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or kayaking.
Lisa DeHart, a registered Guide from West Gardiner, recounted how she and her family and friends had spent the night in snow huts in the backcountry off snowmobile trails. When she and her husband woke in the morning, they found snowmobile tracks directly over the snow hut where several boys had been sleeping.
The solidly built hut had remained intact, DeHart said, but it underscored the risks that lovers of such primitive recreational pursuits sometimes face when sharing land with snowmobiles. She also recalled fears of being able to get her children and dogs out of the way of snowmobilers on trails.
“It’s not that we don’t want to come off the trail and have a beer with these guys,” DeHart told the commissioners in Augusta on Monday evening. “It’s just we want to come off of the trail. People don’t hike, bike or walk their dog down I-95 for the same reason.”
Others said they were alarmed by what they perceived to be an emphasis on primitive recreation at the expense of motorized sports.
John Rust with the Maine Professional Guides Association said free access to the logging roads of northern Maine is important to sportsmen and guides.
“Our concern is that too many regulations, combined with the economy, really will push these landowners to look at other alternatives, such as fee-for-access,” Rust said.
Carroll said in an interview after Tuesday morning’s session that she was perplexed by the statements suggesting that LURC planned to restrict access or recreation. With a few exceptions in zoned protection areas or remote ponds designated by the Legislature, LURC has no authority to regulate or restrict recreational activities or access to private lands.