ROCKWOOD, Maine — A Rockwood woman asked during a public meeting Tuesday how the Somerset County commissioners expect to handle land use issues should the Land Use Regulation Commission be abolished when they haven’t been able to supervise the small transfer station in this Unorganized Territory community.
The meeting to discuss LURC and other local matters, called by Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-North Anson, and Somerset County Commissioner Robert Dunphy, drew about 15 residents. While LURC was on the minds of residents, they also expressed frustrations with road conditions, state fish and wildlife regulations, the dwindling deer population, the transfer station and recycling.
Robert Dunphy, who was appointed to the LURC Reform Commission but since has resigned because he was nominated to serve on LURC, has said publicly that he disagrees with some of the decisions the commission has made in the past.
Resident Anne Ehringhaus, who raised the issue about the transfer station, said she had attempted for two years to get the commissioners’ attention without success. She said she had called to get a copy of the transfer station contract but was told by a county clerk that the contract could not be found. Ehringhaus said the transfer station is one of the few services the community receives. If the operation of the transfer station is a problem, how could the commissioners take on LURC duties? she asked.
“I am not for getting rid of LURC, I’m very much for optimizing LURC,” Ehringhaus said. She suggested that the commission members should have professional qualifications and not be appointed by the governor.
Seasonal resident Albert Manville II said he does not favor abolishing LURC. Instead, he said it needs to do a better job and it must have consistency, better alignment and professionalism among its members. When commission members are appointed by a governor, it is often a payback and they often have no qualifications, which results in a “cronyism issue,” he said.
“To say that the three county commissioners are going to run the permitting process is absolutely ludicrous — there’s no way,” Manville said. “As Anne has indicated, you can’t even maintain the roads and the accountability of the dump issue is an ongoing concern.”
Manville also questioned how the process could be aligned among the counties and who would be qualified among the commissioners to issue permits, do rezoning, and handle water quality, erosion issues and habitat planning.
“[I’m] very much in support of maintaining LURC, but let’s fix it, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water,” Manville said.
Manville’s wife, Sandy Scholar, said the state should take a closer look at land use fines. The present fine system is “very unfair,” she said. As an example, Scholar said that when residents do something illegal on their property, they receive a full fine, but when Plum Creek allegedly destroyed a deer yard and took millions of dollars worth of timber from the yard, the company was able to negotiate its fine down to $2,500.
“That’s wrong,” Scholar said. “The fines should apply to everybody.”
The problem isn’t with LURC’s staff members, because they are just implementing state rules, said resident Liz Munster, who also opposes abolishing LURC. “They’re not perfect, but we need control and regulation in this area.”
Resident Tony Soychak disagreed.
“I’m against LURC,” he said, adding that all it cares about is fining people. He said it took him 15 years to get a LURC permit.
Soychak also had other problems unrelated to LURC. He asked for the intervention of state and county officials in getting some of the fly fishing-only waters open for worms or lures and an open season on smelts from Moosehead Lake. Soychak also suggested that money be solicited to restore the hatcheries and that all coyotes be killed. He also said something needs to be done to eliminate cormorants.
Munster, too, had some local concerns.
“Our roads are just a nightmare. I mean, I’m in my 60s and I get shaken baby syndrome,” Munster said of driving conditions along Route 15.
Robert Dunphy said Route 15 is a state road, adding that “we have no influence” with the Maine Department of Transportation.