A Viewpoint on the Public Hearing for LD 159

-Lock Kiermaier, Policy Outreach Coordinator for GrowSmart Maine

On Wednesday, March 30th, the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources held a Public Hearing on LD 159, "An Act to Foster Economic Development of the Laws Governing Site Location of Development and Storm Water Management", sponsored by Senator Thomas Saviello. In a well attended and sometimes heated hearing, Senator Saviello offered testimony which supported the basic elements of his bill. The bill summary as posted on the Maine Legislature's website : "This bill revises the thresholds for review by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) pursuant to the laws governing site location of development by changing the definitions of "subdivision" and "structure." It ensures consistency between the laws governing site location of development and the Natural Resources Protection Act in standards pertaining to a development's effects on existing uses, scenic character and protected natural resources. The bill also provides that rules adopted by the department after January 1, 2010 pursuant to the laws governing site location of development and storm water management are major substantive rules as defined in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 5, chapter 375, subchapter 2A, with certain limited exceptions in the rules governing storm water management for minor clerical corrections and technical clarifications."

Senator Saviello's testimony was enthusiastically endorsed by others including DEP Commissioner Darryl Brown, the Maine Real Estate and Developer's Association and the Maine Association of Realtors. Those favoring passage of LD 159 emphasized the need for consistency in state statute, elimination of redundant requirements, regulatory fairness and increased efficiency.

The hearing also featured numerous testimonies strongly opposing passage of LD 159. Opposition to LD 159 was expressed by various individuals and organizations including Andy Fisk, Former Bureau Director of Land & Water Quality at DEP; the Natural Resource Council of Maine and Maine Audubon . Those opposing passage of LD 159 maintained that the site location of development laws had been consistently and effectively vetted, updated and amended since their original passage in 1970 and represented a balanced and effective means of protecting Maine's environment. Opponents also stressed that current law provided ample and reasonable opportunity for carefully planned development projects to take place in a timely manner.

Testimony from Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine, was offered Neither For Nor Against LD 159 and sought to find an acceptable middle ground between the two opposing points of view. GrowSmart Maine advocated for a multi-tiered system of regulation as opposed to a single threshold or "cliff", suggesting that a desired consistent regulatory environment is not achieved by removing DEP authority from certain scale development, but advocated for the retention of "routine technical" rules developed by the DEP whenever practical to reduce cost and increase both legislative and executive branch efficiency whenever possible.

A Work Session for LD 159 has been scheduled by the Environment & Natural Resources Committee for Wednesday, April 6th at 2 PM in Room 216 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta.