Tuesday, May 5, 2009

LURC

It sounds ominous even when you spell it out - Land Use Regulation Commission. When you consider what it does - a zoning board for all the unorganized territories in Maine, about 10 million acres, nearly half the state - it sounds impossibly ambitious. And when you look at the issues it covers - an addition to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, a large wind farm, permitting a trailer on a ten-acre plot, the proposed Moosehead Lake development of hundreds of thousands of acres - it sounds ludicrous. How can seven men and women handle all this?

Then you realize that although the area is immense, there really aren't all that many people up there. Piscataquis County, for example, the heart of the Great North Woods, boasts 17,000 people in almost 3 million acres. So LURC is really not much more than a zoning board for a smallish city. Or is it?

Unfortunately, the issues can be as immense as the territory. How do you deal with a Plum Creek Timber Company that wants to develop Moosehead? How do you account for the needs and wants of fishermen, hunters, hikers, snowmobilers, foresters, skiiers, tourists? How do you handle the PR departments of the investors and speculators that now own most of the territories? What about the Maine lynx and moose and bobcat and salamander? What about the lakes, the old-growth forests, the pristine streams?

Fairly and openly and slowly seems to be the MO of the Commission. Its members have a healthy mix of commercial, academic, civic and scientific experience. Yet I tremble at the thought of irreplaceable treasure in the hands of mere mortals, no matter how committed and balanced and moral, no matter how much they are policed by the public and the conservation groups. We need an immortal, a Thoreau, who more than 150 years ago saw the danger and wrote of the need of a "national preserve." Maine Woods National Park, anyone? What happened to that idea?

LURC was established in 1971, after rampant development of the wilderness in the 60s. The game is changing again and we may need a new higher power to protect us from ourselves.

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