A bill that would have created stricter environmental regulations on Maine’s lakeshores was sunk by the state Senate Thursday.
The bill fell a few Senate votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto by Gov. Paul LePage. The final tally in the Senate was 21-14, while the House supported the veto override 125-21.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the bill’s sponsor, Thursday. “I think it’s clear that Maine lakes will continue to be jeopardized by the fact that we don’t have adequate protection for fertilizer setbacks.”
L.D. 1744 aimed to restrict the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides within 25 feet of bodies of water. It also outlined goals for developing a photographic record of shorelines and a plan to develop training for municipalities to better regulate shoreland zoning laws.
The bill had passed the Senate unanimously last month, but Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who represents a number of lakes communities, including Belgrade, Rome and Rangeley, Wednesday said he would not vote to override, and Thursday applauded the override.
In a news release Thursday night, he said the bill was for a “one size fits all” solution that wouldn’t have worked for Maine’s lakes.
“It appears …McCabe was more interested in making a political statement than protecting our lakes,” Saviello said in the release.
The bill was vetoed Wednesday by LePage, who called the proposed law draconian, saying it was too restrictive and would create unnecessary work for the Department of Environmental Protection without providing adequate funding.
About 10 percent of the state’s nearly 6,000 lakes are listed as impaired by the Environmental Proection Agency, including Long Pond in Belgrade, Rome and Mount Vernon and East Pond in Oakland and Smithfield.
The Maine Lakes Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes the protection and care of Maine’s lakes and watersheds, supported the bill during legislative hearings and officials from the group said they were disappointed Thursday.
“It would have been a positive thing for Maine lakes. There will never be quite enough protection for our lakes, but every bit helps,” said Peter Kallin, a director for the group and former executive director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance.
Managing the state’s lakes is a balance between property rights for lakeshore residents and protection of state resources, he said.
He said the the bill would have helped get more people to comply with shoreland zoning laws, which already put restrictions on development along lakes.
“Those new rules would have helped a lot in the case of older homes that are grandfathered from having to comply with new shoreland zoning regulations. Everyone wants a big, shiny lawn in front of their house, but that’s not always a good idea next to a lake,” said Kallin.
Phosphorus, commonly found in lawn fertilizer, as well as dirt and human and animal waste, causes algae blooms that lower the quality of lake water by choking off other life in the lake. The lower a lake’s water quality, the more property values around the lake go down.
The state’s shoreland zoning laws provide protection for most of Maine’s lakes, but lakes associations have raised concerns over enforcement, according to Kallin, who said there is inconsistency in training for zoning officers among municipalities.
In Thursday’s news release, Saviello said said that he, other legislators and members of lakes associations “worked to establish a framework that would have banned the use of fertilizer within 50 feet of a lake shoreline, unless soil testing is done.”
He said the smaller setback and lack of testing made the final bill inadequate.
He said McCabe’s bill “called for an unworkable, one-size-fits-all approach that would restrict the growth of plant life that prevents erosion.
“In addition, it would put an unreasonable burden on the DEP to enforce the 25 foot limit on every major lake in Maine without providing funding to do it.”
The original legislation submitted by himself and Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, included funding for the Lake Smart program, which educates lakeshore homeowners on best environmental practices, and the Coluntary Lakes Monitoring program, Saviello said. “That funding was stripped in the bill that went to the governor’s desk,” he said.
“Maine’s lakes are among the most precious of our natural resources. We need to take informed, thoughtful steps in order to protect them, and this flawed bill did not do that.”
In his veto message, LePage said that there were a number of flaws in the bill including that it would place more restrictions on Maine people, would be a burden to the DEP and did not account for funding to cover the enforcement.
“This is particularly troubling since the sponsor is among the most vocal critics of the DEP, frequently arguing that it does not do enough to carry out it’s mission. Yet, here is that same critic adding an enormous new work requirement to the department,” LePage’s veto message said. “Perhaps he (McCabe) feels that DEP staff should volunteer their free time on evenings and weekends in order to carry out his whims?”
McCabe said Thursday that he plans to reintroduce the bill in a future session and was disappointed by the governor’s “personal attacks.”
“I was really surprised to see the governor sort of lash out at me personally in the veto message,” McCabe said. “It was more about me being a vocal person about the DEP than it was about the veto.”
In a press release after the vote Thursday, McCabe said it was “disgraceful that Senate Republicans chose to back up the governor and the chemical industry rather than these important natural resources.”