ELLSWORTH, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage and legislative leaders unveiled the names of the dozen people who could play a major role in determining the fate of Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission.
Earlier this year, partisan tensions flared in the Legislature when lawmakers took up a bill — strongly supported by the LePage administration — to eliminate LURC and transfer the agency’s planning and permitting responsibilities to county governments.
But after it became clear that supporters lacked the votes to pass the bill, lawmakers passed a measure to create a 13-member commission to recommend solutions for “reforming the governance of land use planning” on the more than 10 million acres that comprise the Unorganized Territory.
The administration, Senate President Kevin Raye and House Speaker Robert Nutting released the names of their 12 selections late Friday evening. They are:
Elbridge Cleaves, president of the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust, representing a regional environmental or conservation organization.
Somerset County Commissioner Robert Dunphy, representing county commissioners with significant acreage in the Unorganized Territory.
Washington County Commissioner Christopher Gardner, representing county commissioners with significant acreage in the Unorganized Territory.
Durward Humphrey of Benedicta Township, serving as a resident of the UT.
Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association, representing a statewide sportsmen’s organization.
Greenville Town Manager Gary Lamb, representing a regional or local economic development organization as part of his role on the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.
Duane Lander from the Greenville area, representing residents of the UT.
Hank McPherson, president of McPherson Timberlands, representing small landowners in the UT involved in the forest products industry.
Sarah Medina of the Maine Tourism Commission and Seven Islands Land Co., representing the tourism or outdoor recreation industry.
Tom Rumpf of the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy, representing a statewide environmental or conservation organization.
Judith Cooper East of the Washington County Council of Governments, representing a regional planner from a council of governments in a county with significant acreage in the UT.
Donald White, president and CEO of Prentiss & Carlisle and president of the Maine Forest Products Council, representing a large landowner engaged in the forest products industry.
The 13th member is Bill Beardsley, commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.
“Population and economic decline in rural Maine has been on the increase for the past decade and the trend must be halted,” LePage said in a statement. “I believe that reform of the current land use zoning and regulatory structure in the UT will result in opportunities for renewed rural prosperity, local empowerment and decision making, and a prosperous future for our children.”
During the legislative debate over the commission’s makeup, LURC’s supporters expressed concerns that the study commission would be stacked by members intent on dismantling LURC. LePage and Raye both supported replacing LURC with another system, as did Beardsley both during his run for governor in 2010 on the Republican ticket and as conservation commissioner.
Jym St. Pierre, a former LURC staffer who now works with RESTORE: The North Woods, said he believes the group is “heavily tilted” toward those in favor of dismantling LURC.
“It’s not a surprise but it is disappointing,” St. Pierre said. “I don’t really see anyone on the list that had any direct experience with LURC from a positive side, except for Tom Rumpf of The Nature Conservancy.”
Representatives of other organizations involved in the debate over LURC’s future could not be reached for comment late Friday night.