Millinocket, Maine–When the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) decides whether to ratify a civil settlement with Clayton Lake Woodlands today, it may be the last major enforcement action the agency is able to see through, according to Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Maine PEER), a watchdog group that represents LURC employees.
The settlement, which will fine the company $10,000 for environmental damage to Glazier Brook, is hailed as a major environmental victory for the state, but LURC employees state that they no longer have the staff power to follow through with actions against major polluters in the future. Severe budget cutbacks and sweeping staff reductions are crippling LURC’s enforcement abilities, employees say. By July LURC will only have one person in its East Millinocket field office. Yet, even fully staffed, it took LURC two full years to bring the Clayton Lake Woodlands case to fruition.
This week’s settlement agreement states that Clayton Lake Woodlands caused “numerous violations” of environmental standards when shoddy road construction caused major siltation of the brook, a tributary of the Allagash River. Silt can clog trout spawning beds and choke out fish habitat. In addition to the fine, the timber company will be required to clean up environmental damage caused at eight other sites.
Indicators of plummeting LURC enforcement include the following:
In 2000 and 2001, the LURC Director has blocked more than 20 separate cases that staff had forwarded for referral to the state Attorney General’s office for prosecution. Only ten such cases have been referred over the past ten years;
In a 2001 Maine PEER survey of LURC employees, 86 percent of respondents said that the agency did not have the resources to “properly enforce the law.” More than half (57 percent) also felt that the agency was not proactive in preventing violations before they occur;
This past winter LURC was hit with the latest round of budget cuts, chopping 20 percent of its staff and charging the agency thousands of dollars for formerly free services of the Attorney General’s office, creating yet another financial barrier to prosecuting future environmental violations.
“The state wants to use the Clayton Lake Woodlands settlement to show that it’s serious about enforcing environmental laws, but they are throwing every possible obstacle in the way of future enforcement actions,” commented Maine PEER Director Tim Caverly. “This may be the last hurrah for enforcement against corporations clouding Maine’s waters.”