AUGUSTA – A legislative committee will continue working today on legislation that would change how more than 10 million acres of the state are managed.

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee held a public hearing earlier this week on proposals to eliminate the Land Use Regulation Commission, a 40-year-old board that oversees development in Maine’s unorganized territories and about 40 municipalities.

On Thursday, the lawmakers sifted through testimony and gathered more information about the seven-member commission and the land that it oversees.

The committee focused on L.D. 1534, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Gifford, R-Lincoln, which would eliminate the commission in 2012 and delegate its responsibilities to county governments, which could choose to work together.

The Maine Forest Service and the Department of Environmental Protection could also have expanded roles for certain permitting, including wind power development.

A similar proposal was defeated in the last legislative session, but this time the effort is strongly supported by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry.

Raye, who is from Washington County, offered strong testimony against LURC during the public hearing on Tuesday.

“In rural Maine, the acronym LURC is synonymous with heavy-handed government bureaucracy and overreach,” he said.

Bill Beardsley, commissioner of the Department of Conservation, testified that while LURC’s regulations have met conservation objectives, the commission has failed in other parts of its mission.

“Counties where LURC plans, zones and permits most of the land are, without exception, the poorest counties in Maine,” he said. “In these same counties, in the 40 years of LURC oversight, there have been virtually no significant capital investments.”

Many of the commission’s critics point to Plum Creek’s development plan in the Moosehead Lake Region, which took five years to get permitted and is now delayed again, as an example of its shortcomings.

One issue that’s still unaddressed is how counties would pay for their increased responsibilities.

“It’s a function that they don’t currently perform and there is a cost to it,” said Bob Howe, executive director of the Maine County Commissioners Association. The association supports getting rid of LURC and increasing local control, but Howe said there are concerns about implementation.

“It’s largely, I believe, an issue of local control, that people who live in the unorganized territories should determine the fate of the unorganized territories,” he said. “Some of the counties wanted to be sure there was a means of paying for it so it doesn’t fall on the local property tax.”

Environmental groups, meanwhile, say LURC plays a crucial role in wildlife and resource protection. They have said that maintaining the commission is a top priority this legislative session.

Democrats sent out a press release Thursday cautioning against eliminating LURC and touting an effort by Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, to build a compromise.

“There certainly needs to be changes in how the commission operates,” he said in the release. His proposal, L.D. 819, would increase predictability, give local stakeholders greater input and streamline permitting, according to the release.

The committee is expected to vote on the proposals today.

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

[email protected]