Augusta, ME - Citing the impending departure of Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) director John S. Williams, Maine PEER is calling for a sorely needed assessment of the agency's effectiveness in enforcing the law. Recent developments, including Maine's troubled economy, last year's legislative efforts to abolish the Land Use Regulation Commission and to remove the nationally significant Allagash Wilderness Waterway from its jurisdiction, and a survey of LURC employees, indicate the agency is facing severe problems.
A survey of LURC staff reveals that it is an agency in trouble. A study conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) indicates that LURC does not have adequate resources to properly process permits and enforce the law. Many respondents raised concerns about the consolidation of the Agency's Compliance and Enforcement divisions into one department last summer. A clear majority (86%) feared that just such a move would impair enforcement efforts.
When asked what the most important improvements in the Land Use Regulation Commission would be, staff replied, "adequate staffing, a fair approach to balancing development with resource protection, and a new director who supports LURC's land use regulation mission."
While attempts in 2001 to eliminate the agency and remove its jurisdiction over the Wild and Scenic Allagash Wilderness Waterway failed, 86% of LURC staff showed concern that they do not have the resources or support of their superiors to do a proper job. The same number of people also felt that LURC does not have the adequate resources to properly enforce the law.
One of the reasons for LURC's problems appears to be fear of political backlash. A majority (71%) of respondents indicated problems with LURC's issuance of after-the fact-permits for projects that would not normally receive approval through proper channels. Worse, 86% felt that permits were often approved to keep influential people happy.
Some respondents recommended that the Agency hire an outside contractor to study the agency's effectiveness. Peat Marwick Associates conducted just this sort of study over a decade ago. As a result of that investigation, LURC rules were strengthened and more staff was hired.
"As we approach the end of the Williams' administration, it is time to properly evaluate the needs of LURC and begin addressing the enforcement issues raised by the agency's own employees," stated Tim Caverly, director of Maine PEER. "Clearly LURC is under attack. The next director will need to understand the problems and become an advocate for the agency. A comprehensive study could be used by the legislature to justify and approve necessary changes. Without a solid Land Use Regulation Commission, the future of Maine's stunning environment is in question."
The employee survey is available upon request.