The Universal Notebook: How to field dress a LURC

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Those of you who are still waiting for that transparency in government that Gov. Paul LePage promised when he took office a year ago won’t be surprised to know that the governor has now hijacked the Land Use Regulation Commission Reform Commission, dismissed the state Legislature, and decided to have his own henchmen write a new LURC law themselves.

OK, so everyone knows that LePage, Department of Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley, Senate President Kevin Raye, and a passel of other red-meat Republicans are determined to shoot, gut, and field dress LURC so they can pave the Unorganized Territory (UT) and put up Marden’s junk stores in every township if they feel like it. But, geezum, fellas, at least be above board about it.

The LePage plan to slaughter LURC starts with the bogus argument that what happens in the UT stays in the UT. It’s nobody’s business except those who live there (moose?). The plan, outlined in the reform commission’s report, starts by throwing a bone to those who want to retain a statewide regulatory body, but then it allows county commissioners to appoint themselves to LURC and counties to decide to set up local land use commissions if they so desire. The opt-out is the coup de grace.

Unable to ram that sham system through the last session of the Legislature, LePage appointed a commission to study LURC reform, being careful not to put any legislators on it. Then, once the study commission made its predictable recommendations, he dispatched his legal counsel, Dan Billings, to a session of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, and, voila, Monsieur LePage whipped the rug out from under the legislators and told them via his legal mouthpiece that his buddy Beardsley and Sarah Medina of Seven Islands Land Management Co. would write the new law, thank you very much.

I guess we should be grateful that the governor didn’t just let Plum Creek draft Maine’s new land use regulation laws.

Former Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine Director George Smith, no tree hugger he, watched the ACF committee meeting at which LePage’s privateers hijacked LURC and wrote a blow-by-blow account (which I highly recommend) on his website ( under the headline “Billings Whips Republican Legislators into Line.”

“I can’t ever remember an instance in which a legislative committee asked non-committee members to draft a committee bill,” Smith wrote. “Very unusual.”

A coalition of environmental and conservation organizations immediately fired off a joint press release expressing their horror at such a backstabbing assault not only on land use regulation, but on the democratic process as well.

“The chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee handed over drafting of the committee’s bill to two citizens, and barred legislators from being involved,” complained Cathy Johnson, North Woods Project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “In my 22 years following the Legislature, I have never seen a committee hand over drafting of a committee bill to unelected citizens.”

The LURC Reform Commission was stacked from the start with seven of 13 members being openly in favor of abolishing LURC. The only member on record in support of LURC was Tom Rumpf of The Nature Conservancy. TNC is now viewed as a Quisling by some in the environmental community, both for collaborating on the LURC lynching and applauding the Plum Creek development around Moosehead.

Rumpf still holds out hope that there will be an “open and transparent” public process after Beardsley and Medina get through drafting a new LURC bill.

“My understanding from conversations with Commissioner Beardsley,” he said, “is that they wanted to ensure that the bill was a reflection of the commission’s recommendations and nothing else.”

“Glancing at the draft legislation is horrifying,” said Jym St. Pierre of RESTORE: The North Woods. “It would unequivocally represent the end of LURC, the thin green line that has been safeguarding the statewide public interest in the Maine Wildlands for 40 years, however imperfectly.” 

When the governor announced his LURC reform posse, State Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, pointed out that it didn’t matter who LePage put on the committee because the Legislature, not the committee, and not the governor, makes the law. So now you know why LePage sent Deadeye Dan Billings in to stick up the Legislature and swipe the LURC legislation. He didn’t want legislators moderating any more of his crazy ideas.

How’s that “people before politics” thing working out for you now?

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.