Grid-scale wind projects in the UT now will be reviewed and permitted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
AUGUSTA, Maine – Governor Paul LePage today signed legislation that replaces the state’s 40-year-old agency that has overseen land use and planning in Maine’s 10.4 million acres of unorganized territories. The bill takes effect 90 days after the Legislature’s adjournment.
Based on the recommendations of a bi-partisan, independent study committee, the legislation replaces the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) with a new land-use board and refocuses its mission on both conservation and economic development. The new agency, which is a division under the Maine Department of Conservation, also focuses on local input and improved permitting processes.
“We have found common ground,” said Gov. Paul LePage, in signing L.D. 1798 into law. “We have retained planning and permitting in the Unorganized Territories, yet we also have replaced reactive rezoning with forward-looking planning.
“Best of all, this is a bi-partisan outcome that should stand the test of time,” the Governor said.
“The signing of L.D. 1798 provides a great opportunity to set aside old battles that often pitted landowners against those who see the Great Maine Woods as a public good,” Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley said. “L.D. 1798 is a major step toward a shared vision of rural Maine.”
“We are ready to implement this important directive from the Maine Legislature,” said Samantha Horn Olsen, LURC acting director. “As we move forward, we will be mindful that success can only happen with the involvement of individuals and organizations in the areas that the Commission serves.”
The Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) was created by the Maine Legislature in 1971 to serve as the planning, zoning and permitting authority for areas that do not have the capacity to administer land use controls, known as the Unorganized Territories (UT). The Commission was charged with comprehensive planning, zoning and issuing permits for most development activities, including business and wind-power projects.
Governor LePage, Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, and Maine House Speaker Robert Nutting last year appointed a 13-member commission to study reforms to the agency. The commission last fall presented a unified report with reform recommendations that resulted in legislation.
As a result, L.D. 1798 establishes a new land use board, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission, with nine members, rather than the current seven, nominated by both the Governor and the eight counties with the most unorganized areas. The Commission members serve for four years.
The purpose and scope of the new Commission is expanded to include “the well-planned and well-managed multiple use, including conservation, of land and resources and to encourage and facilitate regional economic vitality.”
Other directives include:
To hold Commission meetings in a location within the Commission’s jurisdiction, with project-review meetings to be held as close as possible to the project site;
To move land-use staff out of Augusta into field offices closer to the Commission’s jurisdiction;
To reform the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) for the UT. to reflect the new legislation;
To identify areas of the UT that display significant potential for economic investment and job creation;
To provide an annual report to the legislative oversight committee.
Grid-scale wind projects in the UT now will be reviewed and permitted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Regulation of forestry activities in the UT will be handled by the Maine Forest Service.
In addition, one environmental specialist will be transferred from LURC to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Commissioner Beardsley outlined several steps already being taken to initiate reform. Some LURC staff offices have been moved closer to the UT; State Planning Office planners have been moved to offices adjacent to MDOC planners: and the department is in conversation with numerous UT landowners and residents, counties and other organizations.
“Our goal is to engage these individuals and organizations that have their feet on the ground,” the commissioner stressed, “then build a comprehensive land use plan and develop prospective zoning and permitting processes that reflect the aspirations of the UT.”
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