MILLINOCKET, Maine — Dump LURC.
That’s the message the Town Council unanimously agreed Thursday to send to the Legislature regarding the Land Use Regulation Commission, which oversees use of the state’s 10.5 million acres of Unorganized Territory. Town Manager Eugene Conlogue will have a resolve ready for council review at its May 14 meeting, he said Friday.
Councilor David Cyr, who attended a legislative hearing in Augusta on Wednesday, told councilors of his support for LD 370. Co-sponsored by Reps. Henry Joy, R-Island Falls, and Jeffery Gifford, R-Lincoln, the bill would eliminate LURC after having the agency develop a plan to transfer its duties to county commissioners and the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
“It would be the best thing for the citizens in the northern part of the state,” Cyr said Thursday, adding that four of the 10 boards of county commissioners that represent Unorganized Territory support the idea.
Councilors agreed that LURC had failed to represent the best interests of businesses and territory residents. A return to the county government system of years past would put residents back in control, Cyr said.
The elimination would occur by July 15, 2010, the bill states. The bill is among six legislative efforts that would dump or seriously curtail LURC, a review of pending legislation showed Friday.
LURC Director Catherine Carroll, who also attended Wednesday’s hearing, defended her 25-member agency’s efforts. Her review of the state’s county commissioners showed none interested in taking over for LURC, she said.
“There is nothing broken here that needs fixing,” Carroll said Friday. “For the taxpayers’ money, I think we provide a very good service. We are running a very tight ship.”
Carroll called the anti-LURC efforts something that “happens perennially. Some representatives will ask to do away with LURC, and we get through it, every time.”
Councilors agreed Thursday that LURC had done little if anything to promote business in the Katahdin region. Council Chairman Wallace Paul said LURC is an agency feared by many northern Mainers.
“It’s a great idea for the counties to take this over,” Councilor Scott Gonya said. “Then we might have a chance to get things done a little more quickly. I see this as a long road … There are people probably laughing at this idea, but we have to do something different because this [LURC] hurts our economy.”
“When I learned at this meeting that we had every environmental group supporting LURC, then I saw that we had a problem,” Councilor Jimmy Busque said. “You know that they are not working for the benefit of the economics of the state of Maine.”
“When it started out, it had the best of intentions,” Councilor Michael Madore said of LURC, “but it lost its direction and now they’re getting their direction from outside the state of Maine or outside northern Maine.
“There is no way that LURC is working for what’s best in the state of Maine,” Madore added.
LURC has proved its efficiency in handling the Plum Creek development and many other large, complex projects, such as wind farms, that otherwise might be bogged down in jurisdictional disputes or the different methods of the counties they inhabit, Carroll said.
“I have to trust that the people who come to us for permitting would prefer one-stop shopping and that nowadays we have many developers out there with large projects that cross county lines,” Carroll said.
The county commissioners who would supplant LURC are very involved in LURC’s review of projects, Carroll said, and the commissioners always welcome local input.