March 23, 2019
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Piscataquis County commissioners oppose abolition of LURC

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The Piscataquis County commissioners were unanimous Tuesday in their opposition to a proposal to abolish the Land Use Regulation Commission and turn its zoning and planning board functions in the Unorganized Territory over to county governments.

Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, has submitted a bill to abolish LURC, which oversees the development and conservation of about 10 million acres in the Unorganized Territory. If adopted, the measure would turn LURC’s duties over to counties that include parts of the Unorganized Territory.

Other legislative proposals, which have either been submitted or are being drafted, would address LURC’s governance.

Davis was particularly disturbed with the lengthy process Plum Creek Timber Co. had to undergo for its planned development and conservation of land it owns in the Moosehead Lake region. The company’s plan includes the development of about 1,000 house lots and two resorts, and the conservation of about 400,000 acres.

But the county commissioners were skeptical of Davis’ legislation.

‘’The people that are pushing the wholesale elimination of LURC seem to be more interested in making a political statement than looking at the public policy details, which is what has caused us  to pause in this process,’’ Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday.

While Commissioners Eric Ward, Fred Trask and Lizotte are opposed to the outright repeal of LURC, they did agree that some modifications should be made to streamline the permit process to make it more user-friendly. They also said the county should have at least an advisory role on projects of a certain magnitude.

‘’We’re not necessarily in favor of just the status quo going forward with no changes,’’ Lizotte said.

Figuring out how to address those modifications won’t be easy since some of Maine’s 16 counties contain little or none of the Unorganized Territory, while eight — Piscataquis, Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Aroostook, Penobscot, Washington and Hancock counties — have the most.

‘’It seems those counties have a direct stake in any changes in the process,’’ Lizotte said of the eight counties. ‘’You can understand why it’s difficult to reach consensus when you have 16 strong-minded boards of commissioners with varying degrees of engagement with the Unorganized Territory.’’

Ward noted there are 200 unorganized townships covering millions of acres just in neighboring Piscataquis and Aroostook counties, almost as much Unorganized Territory as the rest of the counties combined. ‘’We have a lot at stake,’’ Lizotte said Tuesday.

So do the major landowners in the Unorganized Territory, Trask said. These landowners also should have a voice in the process, he argued.

Lizotte agreed. Major landowners typically own land in multiple counties, he said, so is it better for them to deal with one board or eight different county commissions and the unpredictable ways each would address projects?

The board agreed to convey its opposition to the repeal during the next Maine County Commissioners’ Association Ad Hoc Committee meeting.

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