LePage’s anti-park bill draws lots of support during first hearing

Posted March 25, 2014, at 7:24 p.m.
Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley
Contributed photo
Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley

AUGUSTA, Maine — Describing it as a needed curb against unwanted federal intrusion into Maine affairs, a dozen people spoke Tuesday on behalf of Gov. Paul LePage’s bill apparently aimed at preventing another national park from coming to the state.

Supporters of LePage’s LD 1828, “An Act To Limit Consent Regarding Land Transfers to the Federal Government,” said the National Park Service is among several federal agencies that manage land poorly. The bill, they said, wouldn’t necessarily inhibit appropriate federal functions.

“The U.S. Constitution very specifically lays out what the federal government can take land for,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the 20,000-member Maine Snowmobile Association, a park opponent. “Everything else is discretionary.”

Anyone seeking to stop Roxanne Quimby’s family from donating land to a North Woods national park already has plenty of means, Jeff Romano countered.

One of two speakers who opposed the bill, the public policy coordinator for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust told the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee that the law would prove burdensome to private landowners and redundant given the many ways the park effort has been blocked.

“We think it is a solution in search of a problem,” Romano said during a public hearing on the bill.

“There are vehicles that exist already to stop the national park, if that is their [the LePage administration's] goal,” he added. “They have been used already — the [opposition from the] congressional delegation, the administration … selectively these groups have served as a block for the national park.”

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley. Tuesday’s public hearing will be followed by a work session on Wednesday, said Rep. Charles R. Priest, D-Brunswick, the committee’s co-chairman.

Thomas has said he wants to change the bill from requiring state Legislature approval of federal land transfers of plots 5 square miles or greater to lands larger than 5 acres. The committee hasn’t settled on a threshold, Priest said.

The bill wouldn’t necessarily block a federal park or federal recreation area, but it would guarantee the Legislature a final say in whether one comes to Maine, Thomas has said.

Meyers said that his organization’s research has shown that Kansas is among several states that have placed limits on federal land-ownership rights outside of those automatically granted for military purposes, customs houses, dockyards and post offices.

Maine’s present blanket approval of federal land uses is unnecessary, he told the committee. Kansas limits automatic permission to federal land purchases or accepted donations to 80-acre parcels or smaller, Meyers said.

He described federal intrusion as an annoyance to the state’s popular and economically beneficial snowmobile industry. When the federal government stopped snowmobiling in wildlife preserves and national parks abruptly in 1998, snowmobilers needed a year to get permission to resume riding on unplowed motorized-traffic roads in Acadia National Park, Meyers said.

New Hampshire snowmobilers who ride a trail near White Mountain National Forest have to cut a wide arc to Gorham, Maine, and North Conway, N.H., to bypass the national forest. The federal government took three years to allow snowmobilers to resume accessing another trail near Calais, Meyers said.

Other speakers found the bill too broad. David Trahan, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the bill should be limited to granting permission to national parks. Romano said the bill would unnecessarily burden private landowners, who would probably limit federal land transfers from January to April or June, when the Legislature was in session.

Priest doubted that the bill would face any objections regarding its constitutionality. He said that the present law at least implies the need for state permission for federal government land use, or it wouldn’t have been written.

The committee probably hasn’t yet decided what to do with the bill, Priest said.

“I think people have to think about it a little bit before they come up with reactions,” he said.

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