Guest Column Downeast Coastal Press
October 24, 2006

Blaming the Victims to Cash in for Votes

Erich Veyhl

Downeast landowners have always enjoyed the wildlife in our natural environment, but the environmentalists' land grab controlling private property as if it were a government bird sanctuary is another matter. In discussing the recent takeovers of private property by the state Department of Environmental Protection, a Lubec town official and longtime resident told me, “We opened our arms and welcomed these bird people and they stabbed us in the back.”

They certainly have. One of them is Rep. Ted Koffman (D–Bar Harbor) of the environmentalist College of the Atlantic and a director of Maine Audubon. As chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Koffman slipped through the new DEP land seizures in stealth legislation on behalf of the viro lobby and the DEP.

Legislators who thought they were supporting a roll–back of controversial DEP–initiated rules tying up private property adjacent to seasonal “vernal pools” had no idea what else the DEP and Koffman had slipped into its rules behind an ambiguous reference to “shorebirds.” The DEP has admitted it did not make the maps available before the legislation passed–maps that would have exposed the scope and intensity of its intended authority.

The result was a devastating new major rule change and maps targeting private property as unusable 250 feet upland from the water or “wetlands” at the political discretion of the DEP, all “approved” by legislators who knew nothing about it. There was no vote in the Senate at all, as the leadership rammed the approval through “under the hammer.”

To their everlasting credit, Rep. Harold Ian Emery, Rep. Howard McFadden and Sen. Kevin Raye stated as soon as the problems surfaced that they would seek to rescind the authority when the Legislature reconvenes. Other legislators outside Washington County soon joined.

Sen. Raye also requested DEP Commissioner David Littell to cease imposing his assumed authority interfering with private property owners, pending review by the Legislature. Littell immediately refused, wrapping himself in an alleged “constitutional obligation to enforce the law,” as if his ill–gotten new discretionary powers were a constitutional mandate to take over private property. Littell has also vowed to fight a repeal.

As the controversy spreads, one cynical reaction is quite a spectacle: Democrats, whose party is responsible for the land grab and the unethical means by which it has been implemented, are trying to cash in on the controversy by blaming their political enemies and victims.

First, Koffman tried to blame his new DEP rules on the real estate lobby for not catching what he and the DEP had hidden. (Isn't everyone in government supposed to safeguard our rights?)

Then at a Machias meeting in September, Senate candidate Tom Finlay (D), who wants to displace Sen. Kevin Raye (R), blamed Raye for voting for what Finlay's own party leadership had hidden from the Legislature.

At the meeting, Lubec Planning Board chairman Warren Foley had correctly identified the environmentalists as the root cause, but hadn't realized the nature of the stealth legislation initiated by the DEP and Koffman: “The legislators created this boondoggle on Washington County and the state,” he said. “DEP and Inland Fisheries are charged with enforcement. ... The people who twisted the arms of the Legislature in the first place are the ones who need to be driven back.”

Someone else said, “We have to speak up now; they're taking our land,” when Finlay, without identifying himself or his candidacy, burst out with an exhortation to vote against his opponent: “Your legislator voted for this. You vote your legislator out of office.” After a brief exchange in which I pointed out that Sen. Raye had not voted for the new authority, had known nothing about it, and was in fact opposing it, Finlay said, “But he should have known” – as if Koffman's DEP maneuver was Raye's fault.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings (D–Portland) recently announced “the Legislature has over–reached in this area” – as if “the Legislature” were an alien entity he had no part of.

Harold Prescott (D), who is challenging Rep. Ian Emery (R), has recently called for repeal, but argues that if the Democrats are still the majority, he will have more clout – as if Koffman and the Democrat leadership would permit repeal. Koffman has already announced his own “review” bill for political damage control. Like Littell, he wants to minimize what he has to give back, claiming the prohibitions increase the value of the land for the “moneyed and educated.”

And so we see the spectacle of a political maneuver so damaging that its own supporters are trying to blame their enemies and victims – even while they avoid openly opposing their leadership in Augusta acting under the undue influence of the viro lobby. They still want the controls but are reluctant to openly admit it before an election.

Meanwhile, property owners are terrorized with the threat of losing the use of their own property, and in some cases with bankruptcy or at best forced to pay thousands of dollars contending with the requirements for “permission” the DEP does not want to, and need not, grant as it treats their land as “resource protection” zones.

Gov. Baldacci could rein in his DEP or call the Legislature back into session, but has not. After all, he routinely appointed viro lawyers and lobbyists to top positions in his administration.

We do, however, have an election. Decent, honorable, law–abiding people are fed up with the way our government – which is supposed to protect our rights – has been captured by “bird people” as an instrument of coercion to take what they want. Vote.

Postscript: Sen. Raye and Reps. McFadden and Emery were all re–elected despite large Republican losses statewide in the House. Democrat House Majority leader Cummings did not introduce the repeal bill he promised before the election and has so far not shown any indication for reform. Governor Baldacci won re-election with 38% of the vote, but lost in Washington County. The Baldacci adminstration and the Democrat leadership are pushing a bird habitat bill with stronger controls, although several Democrats have bucked the leadership and signed on as co–sponsors of Sen. Raye's reform bill. Last update 3/25/07

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