Once again, the Maine Legislature has stood up in support of the Land for Maine's Future (LMF) program. Thanks to a two-year effort led by a coalition of organizations including Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the legislature voted overwhelming in support of a $5 million bond issue. This question will now appear on the November 2012 ballot:
"Do you favor a $5,000,000 bond issue to purchase land and conservation easements statewide from willing sellers for public land and water access, conservation, wildlife or fish habitat and outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing and deer wintering areas, and to preserve working farmland and working waterfronts to be matched by at least $5,000,000 in private and public contributions?"
This year's question will be the fourth time since 2005 that Maine voters will be asked to support LMF at the polls. On six previous occasions, since the program's inception in 1987, Mainers have approved land bonds: $35 million (1987), $50 million (1999), $12 million (2005), $20 million (2007), and $9.25 million (2010).
If a majority of Maine voters vote in favor of this measure (it will be assigned a ballot question number later this summer) the new funds will become available to LMF and help build upon the program's 25 years of successes, successes that include the acquisition of conserved properties in all sixteen counties totaling more than 532,000 acres. In addition, LMF has secured public access to more than 1,000 miles of shorefront and 158 miles of rail-trails as well as valuable islands, rivers, mountain tops, and wildlife habitat. The program has also conserved a quarter of a million acres of working, commercial forestland supporting 2,200 woods and mill jobs and 29 farms helping to sustain the state's agricultural economy. Lastly, LMF has saved coastal access for nearly 1,000 fishing families, families responsible for landing more than 16 million pounds of seafood annually.
From the beginning, the Trust has been an active supporter of this preeminent state land conservation program. In fact, through the years MCHT has helped to protect numerous coastal gems with LMF support, including preserves on Whaleboat Island, Bog Brook Cove, and Marshall Island. More recently, MCHT completed a project on Sipp Bay in Perry and helped the State to expand the Camden Hills State Park. Both of these projects received funding from the LMF bond that passed in 2010.
Despite the program's impressive resume and long track record of popularity with Maine voters, securing passage in the State Legislature was no easy task this year. The first step in the process was gaining support in the legislature's Appropriations Committee. Here Senator Roger Katz (R-Augusta), the bill's lead sponsor, played a critical role in ensuring that LMF was part of the $95 million in bond proposals approved by the Committee. The next stop was the full legislature where it was necessary to secure two-thirds support from both chambers. In the Senate, the land bond passed 30-5, while members of the House of Representatives voted 106-34 in favor of the bill.
Following the strong bipartisan vote in both bodies, the LMF bill was sent to the Governor for his approval. While Governor LePage refused to approve the bond, he did not veto it either. This outcome effectively cleared the way for the LMF bond to be sent to Maine voters in November.
In the months ahead, MCHT will continue to work closely with the coalition of organizations supporting the LMF bond and will provide updates through Election Day on November 6. Please contact MCHT Public Policy Coordinator Jeff Romano if you have any questions or need additional information.