In March of 2015, Governor LePage stated publicly that for the second time in three years he was preventing the State Treasurer from borrowing voter-ratified Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) bond funds. This announcement last winter kicked-off a nine-month impasse between the administration on one side and land trusts, LMF supporters and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the other. Then, in an unexpected turn of events, the Governor announced on December 14 that he intends to work with the Treasurer to issue all available LMF bonds in 2016.
The Governor’s announcement was welcome news, especially to the applicants of the more than 30 LMF Board approved projects that have been in limbo most of the year. Collectively, these applicants have been seeking to conserve nearly 50,000 acres of conservation, recreation, forest and agricultural land. Four of these initiatives are sponsored by Maine Coast Heritage Trust: Clapboard Island, The Goslings, High Island, and Weskeag Marsh. MCHT has already acquired the first two with borrowed money serving as a bridge loan until LMF pledge dollars arrive. We hope to be made whole in the coming year and complete the other two projects.
The journey to date has been a long one. Following the Governor’s announcement in March, MCHT helped to mobilize a coalition of LMF supporters around the state. We partnered with other land conservation organizations, local land trusts, sportsmen, businesses, and various community leaders. Our coalition received strong support from Republican and Democratic state legislators as we turned to legislative solutions to break the stalemate. In addition, throughout the year the five public members of the LMF Board provided compelling testimony in support of the program, the integrity of its processes, and the need to remove politics from its day to day operations.
Collectively, our message boiled down to two key points: voters overwhelmingly approved these bonds and LMF benefits Maine people from all walks of life. Our efforts were buoyed in October when statewide polling numbers indicated 74% of Maine voters supported releasing these conservation funds. The autumn polling numbers were not surprising, considering the LMF program’s track record of success, including: securing access for commercial fishermen, clammers, and wormers; preserving working forests for loggers, foresters, and mill owners; conserving places for hunters, hikers, anglers, birdwatchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy with their families and friends; and protecting valuable farmland for the production of healthy, local foods.
In 2016, MCHT will be working with our partners, state lawmakers, and the administration, to ensure the LMF program returns to business as usual. Special thanks to all those who stood up for LMF and the work of land trusts this year. Together, our voices made a difference.