AUGUSTA — The fate of a Republican-backed plan to abolish the state commission that manages development in Maine’s vast unorganized territories will likely be decided next year, after the issue is studied.

At least that’s what appears to be happening.

On Tuesday, the legislative committee reviewing L.D. 1534, a bill to abolish the Land Use Regulatory Commission, held a brief meeting that was so chaotic that several lawmakers and observers said they were confused about what had happened.

Sen. Roger Sherman, R-Houlton, who co-chairs the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, began the meeting by announcing that serious questions have been raised about how to implement the bill, and that he doesn’t want to rush it through the committee.

The bill would eliminate LURC and transfer its land-use authority to the counties in the affected areas — which are larger than New Hampshire and Connecticut combined.

Instead, Sherman said a “transition team” will be formed to study the issue this summer. He said the team will include state and local officials, and possibly lawmakers. He did not explain the scope of its mission or its goals.

He said the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will discuss the issue over the next few weeks.

Sherman announced the plan after the committee voted 7-5 along party lines to reject an amendment offered by Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, to create a study commission to look at streamlining LURC and report back to the Legislature next year.

It is unclear how Sherman’s plan would differ from McCabe’s amendment.

McCabe, the lead House Democrat on the committee, said lawmakers are confused about Sherman’s “vague” and “rambling” description of his plan.

Rep. James Dill, D-Old Town, said the process lacks transparency.

“Its clear that the heavy hand of leadership is behind the latest secret proposal that was crafted in a back room somewhere in the State House,” he said. “They knew they were losing. The writing was on the wall. Now they are coming back with a half-baked idea that the Senate chair can’t even explain.”

The proposal to eliminate LURC has been pushed by Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, who compared the commission to a “colonial power” during a hearing last week.

Gov. Paul LePage said during his campaign that he would abolish LURC, which is viewed by many people in rural Maine as an impediment to economic development.

Maine’s counties don’t have planning boards or planning functions. While most rural counties back the bill, commissioners from Piscataquis County oppose it, arguing that transferring land-use planning to the counties will cause them to raise taxes so they can cover added administrative costs.

In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Sherman said he told Raye and administration officials that the bill’s implementation issues are too complex for the committee to review in the few weeks remaining in this legislative session, which is scheduled to end June 15.

“There is no doggone way we are going to do it in the time we have left,” he said.

He said the group that would study the issue would look at a wide range of options, including keeping LURC with some reforms.

Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono, said Sherman’s plan appears to address Democrats’ objections, and that she may be able to support it.

However, she said, the chaotic nature of Tuesday’s meeting — which apparently was adjourned without the required approval of the majority of the committee members — reflected a larger problem.

“The process itself has broken down,” she said.

The committee will meet again today to discuss the issue.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: [email protected]