One by one, interested parties walked to to the microphone Wednesday afternoon, introduced themselves to the members of the Land Use Planning Commission, and told those commissioners why scrapping their one-mile “adjacency” principle was the wrong thing to do.
One by one by one. After 10 speakers said roughly the same thing, a common refrain was becoming clear: Don’t rush. Wait. Please. After 20 people testified, there was no doubt the audience shared the same mindset: Leave the development rules that govern rural Maine alone. Don’t make it easier for businesses or industries or subdivisions to locate to these special places.
Thirty people spoke. Then 35. Then 39. All of them shared similar thoughts. It was, apparently, unanimous. Nobody wanted LUPC to adopt its new rule.
Imagine it: Everybody in attendance at a Maine public hearing was in total agreement.
With that being the case, why was the LUPC even advancing its proposed rule, which would extend the distances within unorganized territories where businesses or subdivisions could be sited?
Then, the 40th witness stepped forward to testify, and the previous consensus didn’t really seem to matter any more.
Patrick Strauch, the executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, said his group supported some sort of change, and that a changing forest products industry will benefit from the flexibility a new rule would provide.
While people live in those unorganized townships, the reason those areas matter to those of us who don’t own houses or camps there is really quite simple: The companies that Strauch represents — those large timber owners who own huge tracts of Maine land, and those who process that timber in a variety of ways — allow the rest of us to access their road systems as we please, and to recreate on land that we don’t own.
When the Maine Forest Products Council talks, the rest of us listen.
Even if folks like Jeff Reardon, the Maine Brook Trout Project Director for Trout Unlimited, tell the LUPC that changing that adjacency principle could be troublesome.
“Of particular concern are increased road densities and the road/stream crossings those will require, and the risk of introduction of nonnative fish species into lakes and ponds where development occurs or vehicle access becomes easier,” Reardon said.
And even if folks like retired forester (and current photographer) Roger Merchant says he’s worried about what will happen to the woods of Maine should this proposal go through.
“When I look at the LUPC map of primary and secondary zones and read the related materials, a picture of a significant change in the unorganized territories becomes very apparent for me,” Lambert said. “Tourism being a significant small business driver in rural hubs and regions, I wonder [who’s] visiting Maine’s unorganized territories. Are they coming to visit wind-farmed mountaintops, Wide-swath power lines, and expanding commercial subdivision developer?”
Merchant doubts that’s true. But he also doubts that people like him are being listened to.
“As a photographer, I feel like I’m a voice in the wilderness when I talk about scenic beauty value, because you can’t attach a dollar sign directly to that, like you can to a cord of pulpwood,” Merchant said. “But as a photographer, the lakes, rivers, mountains’ scenic vistas and adjacent small towns are what bring people to rural Maine, to visit, and maybe to live.”
Aaron Megquier, the executive director of Friends of Baxter State Park, said a change in the current LUPC standards could have an effect on one of his favorite places.
“We believe that this proposal could significantly harm the scenic value and remote character of Baxter State Park, and would go against agency precedent, which has been to not allow development that would cause harm to scenic views from important public lands and waters,” Megquier said.
Instead of moving development away from struggling rural downtowns like Millinocket in the Baxter State Park region, the LUPC should be trying to help those downtowns succeed, Megquier said.
So where do we go from here?
Here’s hoping the LUPC heard one thing loud and clear, even if it ends up revamping its development framework.
There’s no hurry. Slow down. And eventually, get it right.
All Mainers deserve that much, whether they own the state’s forests or not.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.
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