AUGUSTA — Rep. Lance Harvell told fellow lawmakers Thursday that they will hear “a giant sucking sound” this spring once people realize how expensive it’s going to be to comply with the state’s Uniform Building and Energy Code.

“Let’s repeal it and start over,” said Harvell, a Farmington Republican.

Harvell is the sponsor of L.D. 43, which would repeal the statewide building code that went into effect in December. He said he finds the high level of government interference in home-building projects “morally offensive.”

However, dozens of people, some representing large groups of builders and architects, told the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee that the code is consistent and fair and should remain in place. The code also protects consumers, said Richard Dolby of Hallowell, former acting director of the Bureau of Building Codes and Standards for the state and former code enforcement director for the city of Augusta.

“We’ve got people out there building houses who have never had one minute of training,” he said. “I can buy a hammer, put my name on a truck, and I’m a residential builder.”

Committee Senate Chairman Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, asked those who testified to provide specific examples of how the law could be improved — lawmakers spent years negotiating details of the code before approving it in 2008.

Kathleen Newman, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Paul LePage, told the committee that the governor does not support full repeal, but he has convened a group of stakeholders who will make recommendations later this session for improving the existing law.

“Uniformity is important, but significant amendments should be made,” said Newman, a former lobbyist for the building industry.

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said the committee should consider making towns with fewer than 5,000 people exempt — current law sets the exemption at 2,000 — and reducing the insulation rating required under the code. He also said there aren’t enough qualified inspectors to enforce the law.

Builder Chris Goodwin of Pembroke said he recently gave a customer an estimate for a 24-foot by 36-foot garage that increased from $22,000 to $30,500 if built to the standards to meet the new code.

“You’re putting the project out of reach for the homeowner and I will lose the job,” he said.

On the other side of the issue, the Maine Contractors & Builders Alliance, which has 175 members in the midcoast, submitted written testimony in favor of keeping the law.

“A statewide, uniform building code levels the playing field,” the group wrote. “Restricting some builders from undercutting a job by using substandard specifications will ultimately protect the consumer.”

Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, said the uniform code should be considered one of the best legislative accomplishments in recent years. Mainers will benefit from energy-efficient homes, he said.

In response to Harvell’s comment, he said you already can hear “a giant sucking sound” in the state because of money spent on foreign oil.

“That giant sucking sound is the dollars coming out of this state and going to huge multinational corporations that we don’t much like, companies like BP and Shell,” he said, “and the other guys are terrorists.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

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