Russ Black Emerges As Hero on LURC Reform

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We’re getting to the end of the Book of LURC and may have been given a sneak peak at the story’s ending this week. It’s certainly obvious now that Representative Russell Black is the hero in this ongoing saga. It’s rare that one legislator can stand up to his or her leadership and governor and come out the winner. Black just did.

In Chapter One, Governor Paul LePage proposed to abolish the Land Use Regulation Commission, the regulatory and planning authority for the half of the state not organized into municipalities including what we fondly refer to as the North Woods.

In Chapter Two, the legislature rejected the Governor’s proposal and broke out into an ugly partisan battle over differing versions of a bill to create a task force to study the issues and make recommendations. Being in the majority, Republicans enacted their version of the task force.

Legislature gets briefing on DIF&W Reorganization

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Same number of positions. No new money. But the reorganization plan for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is a thoughtful restructuring that reflects the priorities of the agency’s new leadership: Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine, Bureau of Resource Management Director John Boland, and Colonel Joel Wilkinson.

This afternoon, Chandler briefed the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committee on what he called a “restructuring” plan, reporting that Governor LePage approved the plan “several months ago,” but the plan had to be “tweaked” quite a bit to meet Personnel System requirements.

The reorganization leaves the agency with the same number of positions, a few of which have been redefined – some tasks added, some eliminated.

Takings Tops Agenda At Legislature This Week

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A controversial bill that would require the state to compensate private landowners for actions that diminish a property’s value – the so-called “takings” bill – tops the legislative agenda this week. The Judiciary Committee will work on the bill at 1 pm on Thursday (March 9).

I just waded through a 14-page report from Peggy Reinsch, Legislative Analyst for the Judiciary Committee – and that’s just the summary of the public hearing! This is a very complex issue, with vocal proponents and opponents. The original bill has significant problems, so it’s sure to be amended, if it even emerges from the committee.

DIF&W Revenue Down With No Relief in Sight

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Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recently decreased its revenue projection for this fiscal year, reflecting the fact that, with only five months left in this fiscal year, there is no chance the agency will raise the amount of money expected when the budget was enacted last year. Both DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine have confirmed this news.

Seven months into this fiscal year, the department’s revenue is $900,000 less than expected, and $825,000 less than the agency raised in the same period last year. The state’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Gilbert Bilodeau, Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Service Center, provided this information in his February 15, 2012 “Monthly Financial Update” to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

Twin Pine Camps Tops in Maine's North Woods

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Snow-covered Mount Katahdin is hard to ignore, right there across Millinocket Lake from our perch in the River Driver’s Restaurant. There’s no prettier dining spot in Maine.

The restaurant is at Twin Pine Camps, part of Matt and Wendy Polstein’s New England Outdoor Center, a North Woods destination offering a range of accommodations and great food. Combining amazing outdoor adventures in all seasons with fine dining and luxurious accommodations, Matt and Wendy have created the type of facility you would more commonly associate with Maine’s thriving coastal tourism industry.

The only difference is that they have created their dream destination ten miles west of Millinocket – the perfect location if you enjoy the outdoors as much as we do.

Read more.

Legislator Muzzled on LURC Bill

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Rep. Russell Black, a key member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, was ordered by committee leaders to stop talking to people about the bill to reform Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission.

Black’s bill to aid the maple syrup industry has also been held up in the Senate, to add to the pressure on the only Republican member of the ACF Committee to oppose a provision in the bill that would allow counties to opt out of LURC by taking on its duties at the county level.

So far, Black is holding tough in a very impressive performance of integrity and strength.

The committee is headed to a showdown on the LURC bill on Thursday afternoon. Last week the committee found some areas of agreement, then broke down after committee member Rep. Karen Foster offered an amendment that addressed two contentious issues including the opt out provision.

Governor Stifles Legislative Inquiries to Agencies

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There was a time when a request from a legislator was a top priority for response from any state agency. If a member of the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, for example, had a question about anything – from a legislative bill to a pending fishing rule change – he or she could wander into the DIF&W Commissioner’s office and get an answer. A written request from a legislator went right to the top of the Commissioner’s to-do pile for a fast response. Top staff at the department treated legislative requests in the same manner, making responses their highest priority.

Those days are apparently over. I recently obtained a February 22, 2012 memo from Carlie McLean to the Commissioners of the state’s natural resources agencies. Carlie is Governor LePage’s Senior Natural Resources Advisor. It’s important to state that I did not obtain this memo from anyone in any state agency.

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