AUGUSTA, Maine — A state senator from Ripley hopes to rescue legislation put forward by Gov. Paul LePage targeting the Quimby family’s efforts to create a northern Maine national park, he said Saturday.
Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said he was surprised to find that the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee had by a wide margin opted against LD 1828, An Act To Limit Consent Regarding Land Transfers to the Federal Government. Especially, he said, since the Legislature had overwhelmingly passed a resolve against a national park a few years ago.
“The governor is amazed. He can’t understand it,” Thomas said Saturday, who planned to spend part of the weekend rallying support for the bill among legislators.
“I am sad. I am disappointed. It is an important bill and we need to make people understand how important it is that the state of Maine has some say when land is acquired by the federal government,” added Thomas, the bill’s sponsor. “Once it is acquired, we lose all jurisdiction. If they don’t want us to snowmobile, hunt, or fish on that property, that is the end of it.”
The bill would require state approval of federal land purchases or projects exceeding 40 acres, said Thomas, who said publicly for the first time Saturday that the bill targeted the national park proposed by wealthy landowner and environmentalist Roxanne Quimby and more recently by her son, Lucas St. Clair.
Quimby offered in 2011 to give the National Park Service 70,000 acres she owns adjoining Baxter State Park in 2016, the service’s 100th birthday. She said she would raise $20 million in a nationwide campaign to complement a $20 million endowment she said would pay for the park’s maintenance.
More than a dozen business, civic and environmental groups have expressed support for a feasibility study of Quimby’s plan, saying the study is a logical means by which to assess the park’s impact on the area. But the effort drew no support from the towns around it right up to Maine’s federal delegation.
LePage added the bill to the Legislature’s workload in early March. The governor can place bills before the Legislature at any time during this short legislative session, unlike lawmakers, who must get approval of their bills before the session.
The bill drew heavy support from park opponents when it went before the Judiciary Committee on March 25 and two committee members who opposed the bill when they voted on Thursday said they didn’t support a park.
The rejection drew bipartisan support because committee members generally agreed that if enacted, the proposal would curtail landowner rights and overreach state governmental authority, they said Saturday.
“We all vocalized fairly strongly the rights of property owners and how government should not intrude on those rights and dictate to whom they can and cannot sell,” said committee member Rep. Stephen W. Moriarty, D-Cumberland. “This is a foundation of many of our laws. We didn’t want to see the state interceding in land transactions as a third party.”
“If it is aimed at the possibility of a national park, I don’t see any situation where that is happening at this point,” said Rep. Charles R. Priest, D-Brunswick, the committee’s co-chairman. “It seems that you would need some immediate instance of the park being talked about. It seems to me to be a bill that doesn’t respond to any immediate problem.”
The bill could force landowners to wait eight to 12 months to sell their land to the federal government if the Legislature wasn’t in session, Priest said. The law it would replace, meanwhile, hasn’t been challenged since it was written, which Priest believed was in 1915, he said.
Thomas, who said for the first time on Saturday that the bill was intended to force a legislative vote on a national park, argues that the bill wouldn’t necessarily prevent federal projects such as a park or wildlife preserve.
It would, he said, effectively assert landowner rights against the federal government, which he described as generally a lousy land manager.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said he was among those who would work to revive the bill when it went to the floor for a vote on Monday or later in the week.
“We are going to keep talking to legislators and trying to dial back some of the hysteria about it. This is not breaking new ground,” Meyers said. “I was kind of stunned by the reactions of some people. This is not some kind of constitutional test.”
“People are hooting and hollering about property rights, but when you are going to transfer land to a public entity, it becomes everybody’s business,” Meyers added. “Nobody is saying yes or no, it is just saying we need to look at this.”
“If the thing does fail this time, it will be back at some point.”