WATERVILLE — Evan Richert, former director of the Maine State Planning Office, began his keynote address Wednesday with a request.

“Do me a favor,” he said. “Whenever I mention the phrase ‘State Planning Office,’ I’d like you to say, ‘It’s not over yet.'”

Richert was speaking during the annual meeting of GrowSmart Maine at the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville.

Richert’s request was a jab at the LePage administration’s recent proposal to reduce the size and mission of the State Planning Office, and it elicited laughter from an audience of more than 30 representatives of state municipalities, nonprofit organizations, businesses and more.

And the audience obliged.

During an hour-long presentation that charted population growth and sprawl in suburban Maine — and the role the State Planning Office could play toward curbing that outward growth — the audience often shouted “It’s not over yet.”

Richert, who serves as a principal of Richert Planning and on the board of directors for GrowSmart Maine, based his presentation on U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000 and 2010.

First, however, Richert looked at population changes in Maine from 1950 to 2010.

Since 1950, northern Maine has lost 100,000 people, central Maine has lost 3,000 and Coastal Maine has gained more than 140,000.

However, net population changes in the years between 2000 and 2010 show different trends.

In northern Maine, population decline slowed during the first decade of this century. The net loss of population was about 750. In central Maine, the population grew by 17,000 during the first decade, but was not enough to compensate for losses in the previous century. Most of that growth was seen in suburban areas.

In coastal Maine, the in-migration was 22,000.

Overall, the state of Maine experienced net growth during the first decade of this century.

Richert said many urban areas in Maine had growth of up to 5 percent.

But suburban areas grew faster. And that growth poses problems with agriculture and production in Maine, he said.

“When suburban land knocks up against rural land, suburban land wins. The dynamics of land economics and of politics, simply will not allow the rural to survive well into the future.”

Richert said surburban constituents have the power to shut down proposals for wind farms, or end agricultural practices such as sludge spreading and forestry.

Richert said the State Planning Office developed a plan in the late 1980s to prevent suburban encroachment on rural lands, but the Growth Management Program guidelines were voluntary.

“Had the growth management program been taken seriously when it was adopted over 20 years ago, and stemmed some of this outward flow, we might have been able to stop some of the conflicts,” he said.

GrowSmart Maine is a non-profit organization that “promotes sustainable prosperity for all Mainers by integrating working and natural landscape conservation, economic growth and community revitalization,” according to its website.

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