Augusta - In a surprise move, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) has revoked permission for a logging company to replace a wooden bridge with a new steel- reinforced span in the heart of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The reversal resulted from a filing by Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Maine PEER) demonstrating that the permit applicant, Blanchet Logging & Lumber Company, does not own Henderson Brook Bridge and thus has no right to rebuild it.
The proposed bridge development would have created a steel girder-framed superstructure in the middle of the Wilderness Waterway, and the proposal set off renewed criticism from environmental activists about the way state manages its only designated Wild and Scenic River. The LURC action this past Thursday may also end an 18-year controversy over control of the bridge.
A 1984 land trade turned ownership of the Henderson Brook Bridge to the state, but a confused paper trail led LURC in 1994 to declare that Blanchet Logging Co. was the "actual owner of the bridge." Three years later, LURC issued a permit to Blanchet Logging to replace the bridge but without asking the company to acquire required permits from the Army Corp of Engineers and the National Park Service.
Last November, Maine PEER allerted LURC about records documenting the bridge's ownership. In a response dated December 21, 2001, a LURC Permitting Compliance Division Manager asserted that Blanchet was the owner of the bridge. Little more than a month later, LURC Acting Director Catherine Carroll conceded that the previous ownership determination was incorrect. According to her letter, Blanchet Logging had notified Bureau of Parks and Lands Director Tom Morrison that "there is no evidence that Blanchet owns the bridge."
"For the Department of Conservation to authorize such a large development based on such a basic error does not bode well for the agency's ability to do its job of conserving Maine's resources," said Maine PEER Director Tim Caverly, "LURC cannot continue to operate on a shoestring budget if it expects to avoid future blunders."
A survey of LURC employees conducted by Maine PEER last summer determined that the agency does not have the resources to properly process permits or enforce the law. Caverly is calling for a complete review of LURC and an investigation as to why of the Department of Conservation almost gave away state assets.