AUGUSTA — The town of Randolph — or any city or town in Maine — would be prevented from charging fees on ice fishing shacks under a bill that gained unanimous committee approval Monday.

The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted in support of L.D. 1747, which was introduced by Rep. Mike Shaw, D-Standish, following a decision by selectmen in Randolph to charge a $15 fee for each smelting shack along the town’s Kennebec River frontage.

Selectmen voted last June to collect the fee, estimating it would bring in about $2,000 for the town. They have not enforced the ordinance however, preferring to wait for the outcome of the proposed state law.

Lawmakers on the committee said they don’t think there’s a need for any assessment, that it would be hard to enforce and that no one entity owns the ice.

“We didn’t think there was just cause to impose a fee on temporary shacks,” said Sen. Thomas Martin, R-Benton, chairman of the committee.

Martin said on Sebago Lake, for example, it would be difficult to keep track of whether a shack was in one municipality or another. State law already prohibits fees for ice shacks on lakes and ponds that are not public water supplies. Shaw’s bill would extend that prohibition to coastal or tidal waters — such as the Kennebec — and public water supplies, such as Sebago Lake.

Rep. Jane Eberle, D-South Portland, said if there was evidence that municipalities had to spend money on environmental damage caused by the shacks, that might be one reason to allow a fee. But lacking that sort of evidence, she too couldn’t justify allowing towns to charge fees.

“It seemed like this would be an added layer that wasn’t necessary for the municipality or the business owner,” she said.

The bill, which will now go to the full Legislature, is considered an emergency, which means it will need two-thirds support to pass. Shaw, the bill’s sponsor, said he’s confident the measure can get the votes it needs.

“I’m an ice fisherman,” he said. “I think it’s one of the last things you can do virtually for free.”

The Maine Municipal Association opposes the bill, saying it’s an unnecessary intrusion on the rights of cities and towns to collect fees.

“It’s an erosion of home rule authority,” said Kate Dufour, a lobbyist for the association. “We don’t see what the problem is here.”

Randolph Selectman Peter Hanley said the town wanted to collect the fee to help pay for the harbor master and the constable, who has to respond to late night parties on the river.

“What they should do if things get out of control, they should call the (IFW) committee and let them answer the phone at 11:30 (at night) or 12:30,” he said.

Jim Worthing, owner of Worthing’s smelt camp on the Kennebec, could not be reached for comment Monday. But he told the Kennebec Journal last month that the town is anti-business.

“Anything you try to do, they tax you on it,” he said. “We bring a lot of business to the town.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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