MACHIAS — The statewide drumbeat for regulatory reform, which helped Republicans earn sweeping political victories in November, continued Monday in Down East Maine.

“It’s too bad that when we think about getting something permitted in Maine, we automatically default to the fact that it’s going to take a lot of time, it’s going to take a lot of money and you better have an army of engineers to answer all the questions,” said Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority and chairman of the Washington County commissioners.

More than 100 people gathered in the performing arts center at the University of Maine at Machias for the three-hour-plus hearing held by the Legislature’s Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform. It was the third of seven sessions scheduled around the state to let Mainers weigh in on regulatory reforms proposed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

LePage made his suggestions based on business roundtables he has held throughout the state since his election.

Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, the Senate majority leader and co-chair of the reform committee, told the audience that the bipartisan panel wants to hear real solutions to real problems.

Regulations that came in for criticism included Maine’s pesticide notification process, site development rules and fishing limits.

But it was clear from the testimony that many Mainers – even business owners who are unhappy with Maine’s current regulatory system – don’t necessarily see the elimination of environmental regulations as the route to making Maine more business-friendly.

“Every community in Maine, every state in our nation, needs to have healthy businesses,” said Robert Costa, an environmental scientist, site evaluator and land surveyor based in Machias and Perry. “A business that does not pollute is a viable business for the state.”

Pollution destroys natural resources, he said, “which a considerable number of jobs depend upon, especially here in Washington County.”

Alan Dwelley of Calais, who owns a bed and breakfast, said he agreed with others who testified that Maine could not – and should not – go back to “the 1950s” in its environmental regulation, but more must be done to improve the business climate.

“Regulators need to project a more positive attitude … in making the process as simple and easy as possible to work through – kind of a ‘get the job done attitude’ – within the parameters of whatever regulatory provisions are,” Dwelley said.

John Cook of Perry said businesses that must pollute the air and water to make a profit should have to “jump through the regulatory hoops.”

“If you need to make a mess of the environment to make a profit, then this is not the state to do that. In Maine, I think we have a higher standard, for good reason,” Cook said.

Many of the more than 20 people who testified were fishermen or farmers. They expressed support for the environment and preserving natural resources, but thought Maine’s regulations had gotten too far out of balance with the needs of business.

“We want regulations that are clear, easy to understand by normal people, written in plain English and not arbitrarily interpreted,” said Mary Thompson of Addison, a semi-retired small-business owner. “We want smaller government and less regulation, but it’s mostly the clarity and the uniformity.”

“There has to be some sort of fairness and balance. Most true farmers are conservationists, but they are not preservationists,” said Bob Hammond, a blueberry and cranberry farmer from Harrington who is president of the Maine Farm Bureau Association.

Everyone who testified expressed appreciation that the panel had made the trip to Washington County. “It’s not often Augusta comes to us,” said Jeanne Guisinger of Perry.

The committee is scheduled to hold its next public hearing from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: [email protected]