Governor LePage Withholding Land Conservation Funding

Decision bad for State’s economy and contrary to the will of Maine’s voters

TOPSHAM – March 10th, 2015 For the second time in three years, Governor Paul LePage is holding up voter-approved bond funds from the State’s Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program. The Governor withheld these same bond funds in January of 2013, pending legislative passage of a bill to repay the State’s hospital debt. After the legislature agreed to repay the hospitals, Governor LePage announced, “As a measure of good faith, I am hereby directing the State Treasurer to begin to prepare those bonds for my signature on an expedited basis.”

Last year, the Governor borrowed $955,000 for land conservation, but now seems to be backing away from his promise to invest these funds and may not borrow the remaining $11.47 million of LMF dollars – funds that were overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2010 and 2012. A strong indication that LMF funds are being withheld occurred in late February, when grant recipients that were nearing completion on their projects received the following message from the State’s LMF Program Director, “At this time the LMF Program is not able to make funds available to applicants.”

“The Governor’s latest decision to withhold LMF funds contradicts his previous statements, including the good faith commitments his administration made affecting dozens of landowners in July of 2014,” explained Maine Coast Heritage Trust President Tim Glidden. “This approach erodes the trust between businesses, local community partners and state government, while resulting in lost opportunities to strengthen Maine’s vital tourism, farming, forestry, and fishing economies.”

Currently, LMF has $2.2 million cash on hand, which would only cover the cost of a small number of the 36 active projects (totaling $11.35 million) that the program has been working to complete. This latest decision jeopardizes the future success of the vast majority of these projects. The projects in question include 50,000 acres of conservation, recreation, forest and agricultural land, located in more than three dozen communities and 13 counties across the state.

“In a winter like we are currently experiencing, I am especially concerned with the impact this decision could have on Maine’s struggling deer herd,” shared Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine Executive Director David Trahan. “Protection of critical wintering habitat to support Maine’s white tail deer population was a primary objective of the 2012 bond funds, which received strong bipartisan support in the legislature and overwhelming endorsement by Maine voters.”

If not borrowed by November, more than two-thirds of the funds approved at the ballot box in 2010 – $6.47 million – could expire by the end of 2015. Allowing the funds to expire would effectively veto the will of Maine people expressed at the ballot box and will further erode the quality of a program that enjoys an almost three decade reputation of excellence.

“I am disappointed with the Governor,” said State Representative Russell Black. “His recent actions will have a chilling effect on conservation work across the state. Maine voters have approved these bonds by nearly 2 to 1 margins seven times. LMF has contributed to the state’s long-term economic health by conserving working farms, working forests, waterfronts for commercial fishing, and tourism-related recreation sites all across Maine.”

“The Land for Maine’s Future Program is important to rural communities, because it secures access for hunting, fishing, hiking and trail riding – critical pieces of our culture and important local economic drivers,” added Milt Baston, Selectman from Strong. “Projects like Orbeton Stream, which recently received support from LMF, are great examples of how small towns around the State benefit from this program.”

“The recent news that LMF is withholding the grant award for Eagle Bluff came as a shock to us,” explained Eric Johns, Chairman of the Clifton Planning Board. “Many partners collaborated on this community project to protect a premier rock climbing destination just minutes from Bangor. We’ve put our time, money and reputations on the line anticipating State Government will follow through on its obligation; we hope those responsible for executing the commitment carefully re-think their decision and follow through promptly as promised.”

“This funding is essential to honor the promises made to landowners, businesses, and private citizens who have spent money and negotiated in good faith with the State and its partners,” stated Kennebec Estuary Land Trust Executive Director Carrie Kinne.  “Even the threat of holding up this funding could unnecessarily result in projects failing.” 

In 2012, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) conducted an economic analysis of the return on Maine’s investment generated by the LMF program between 1998 and 2011. The TPL study analyzed the past (i.e., 1998 to 2011) and likely future (i.e., over the next ten years) economic returns generated from LMF acquisition spending, and found that every $1 invested in land conservation through LMF returned $11 in natural goods and services to the Maine economy.

Contact: Tim Glidden, 729-7366
Jeff Romano, 441-9441
Tom Abello, 406-0230