This has been a bad year for land conservation in Maine, because Gov. Paul LePage has been sitting on voter-approved bonds as a way to apply pressure to the Legislature.
Neither side has budged, and with the governor’s animosity toward the Land For Maine’s Future program, the next few years could be just as tough.
Maine is missing a window of historically low interest rates to get the most for its money, working with towns, land trusts and philanthropists to preserve property for future generations to enjoy in an undeveloped condition. Conservatives hate it when government spending is described as “investment,” but land conservation is a genuine investment that will preserve the parts of Maine that make the state a place where people want to visit and live. This has been so obvious, Land For Maine’s Future had been one of the least controversial government programs in Maine, until LePage appeared on the scene.
With a leadership standoff in Augusta, we should be looking for other ways to protect our natural resources. One way to do it might be the recent $2.75 million settlement deal between Friends of Maine Mountains and wind power developer SunEdison, two parties more used to conflict than cooperation.
The Friends group agreed to stand down on its appeal of the approval of SunEdison’s Bingham project, in exchange for money donated to land conservation and research organizations (but not to Friends of Maine Mountains), and an “exclusion zone” on the map, which outlines the parts of the state in which the company will not attempt to build wind farms.
Neither side gave up much. The Friends group probably was going to lose its appeal, and none of SunEdison’s currently planned projects is in the zone.
But both come out winners. By giving up a futile and expensive fight, Friends of Maine Mountains will help to permanently conserve valuable land, and the company will be able to get an earlier start on construction of the Bingham wind farm.
This is what’s called compromise, and we have seen so little of it in Washington and Augusta that we might have to remind ourselves what it looks like.
Both sides gave up something, neither got everything it wanted and both advanced their goals. With this deal behind them, SunEdison will keep trying to build wind farms, and Friends of Maine Mountains will keep fighting wind power. But neither side is ever going to have a complete victory.
It’s too bad we don’t see more deals like this. The governor’s all-or-nothing approach works only if you are satisfied with a fight that never ends.
When the government is unable to do its job regarding land conservation, it’s incumbent on businesses and conservation groups to look for ways in which they can work together. Deals like this may not be the optimal way to conserve land, but for now, it may be the best we can get.