LePage taps former Cumberland legislator for state conservation panel

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CUMBERLAND — A former state legislator who drew the ire of local officials for not voting to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of Land for Maine’s Future funds has been nominated by LePage to sit on the LMF board.

The governor’s nomination of Mike Timmons to the board is expected to be confirmed Tuesday, Jan. 31, by the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Timmons said Monday.

If the panel approves, the appointment to the three-year seat will go before the state Senate, according to Timmons, a Republican who represented House District 45 for two years before his defeat last year by Democrat Dale Denno.

“I look forward to (serving on the board); it keeps me involved a little bit,” Timmons said Monday.

Timmons was criticized by town officials in 2015 after not voting to override LePage’s veto of the release of the LMF bonds for the Cumberland-North Yarmouth Knight’s Pond/Blueberry Hill preservation project. He was one of six lawmakers to switch positions and uphold the veto.

Timmons on Monday said the Knight’s Pond situation has “been resolved; the bond’s been dissolved, the check’s been delivered.”

He said his qualifications for the LMF board include a decade as president of the Cumberland Fair, where he collaborated with officials from the state forestry, agriculture, and fisheries departments.

“There isn’t anything in (the LMF job) description that I do not feel I’m not qualified for,” Timmons said.

The Cumberland Town Council in February 2015 approved a contribution of $300,000 from its Open Space Acquisition reserves for Knight’s Pond. Two months later, North Yarmouth voters approved spending up to $100,000 from the town’s Future Lands fund for the $1.13 million acquisition and preservation of the mostly-forested land.

More than $460,000 in other funds came from foundations and private individuals. But an additional $225,000 grant from the LMF program, needed to complete the purchase, was in jeopardy in 2015 after LePage’s decision not to release voter-approved bonds earmarked for LMF conservation projects.

With those funds still in doubt, the two land trusts voted in September 2015 to advance the necessary funding so the property could be purchased. The trusts provided a bridge loan to complete the funding, and a ceremony to celebrate the preserve’s opening was held in autumn of 2015.

In December 2015, LePage told the Legislature that he would allow $5 million in LMF bonds to be issued.

“I didn’t intentionally, in any stretch of the imagination, do anything other than try to get the bond – and the Knight’s project – passed, period,” Timmons said in an interview last October.

As the legislative session came to an end in June 2015, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, introduced a bill to remove LePage from the bonding process. The Legislature passed that bill, and LePage vetoed it June 30. The Senate voted the next month to override the veto, but the vote to override failed to reach a two-thirds majority in the House, 91-52.

Timmons noted in a candidates’ forum last October that Katz’s bill would have taken authority in handling LMF finances away from LePage.

“If that had happened, this item would be in court, and no check would have been issued,” Timmons said.

In an October 2016 letter to The Forecaster, LePage said Timmons was “the only reason” for the Knight’s Pond project’s success.

“He is the only member of the Legislature who worked night and day to navigate this project through the complicated process,” LePage wrote. “Mike single-handedly convinced me and the administration the project was worthy, financially sound and fully supported by the community.”

It was the second time in two weeks, leading up to the 2016 House election, that LePage issued a statement about the matter.

LePage’s claim last October that there was a lack of progress at the Knight’s Pond preservation project left local elected officials and land trusts baffled. So did the governor’s nomination of Timmons to the LMF board.

“I was very surprised … just based upon the Knight’s Pond experience,” Denno said Monday.

In an email Monday, Alan Stearns, executive director of the Royal River Conservation Trust, said, “We had to lean more heavily than expected on private donors to guarantee the completion of the Knight’s Pond project, as the Executive Branch and Mr. Timmons proved to be challenging partners.”

Stearns added that “more important than the disappointing curiosity of Mr. Timmons’ possible leadership role (is that) the failure of the Legislature to replenish funding for the Land for Maine’s Future program has already created a paradigm shift in how we approach land conservation.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.

  • Alan Stearns

    Here is the full statement of the Royal River Conservation Trust: “More important than the disappointing curiosity of Mr. Timmons possible leadership role, the failure of the Legislature to replenish funding for the Land for Maine’s Future program has already created a paradigm shift in how we approach land conservation. We had to lean more heavily than expected on private donors to guarantee the completion of the Knight’s Pond project, as the Executive Branch and Mr. Timmons proved to be challenging partners. Future projects comparable to Knight’s Pond will only be possible with even more heavy reliance on supportive municipalities and generous donors unless the Legislature rallies pro-actively, and soon. The tragic ironic outcome of Mr. LePage’s attempted advocacy for Mainers is that access to open space, hunting lands, and snowmobile trails in booming southern Maine will be very very hard to bring to lower or middle income communities. If there is any signal we could send to the Legislature and the Executive, it’s that land conservation projects should be rewarded and embraced especially when they have documented affirmative support of host municipalities, and even more when the projects include robust planned public access for all people of all backgrounds. Dissonance between town halls and the State House serves no one. Dissonance that undermines public access goals is tragic.”