February 23, 2019

Lawmakers continue to debate Allagash bill

AUGUSTA – Members of a legislative committee questioned state officials Monday about their reasons for limiting vehicular access to the Allagash River as well as the legal status of a bridge over the protected waterway.

Lawmakers on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee are considering a bill, LD 2077, that would force the Department of Conservation to change some aspects of its management of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Sen. John Martin, an Eagle Lake Democrat, introduced the bill in response to Allagash-corridor residents frustrated by the limited number of sites to access the river for day use.

Committee members were told Monday that changing the official status of the Henderson Brook Bridge from “temporary” to “permanent” could invite lengthy and costly litigation similar to the legal fight over John’s Bridge.

Lawmakers also probed state proposals to install a moveable barrier, known as a “plug,” at the Umsaskis Lake access point in order to deter people from driving their boats to the river’s edge.

Dave Soucy, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, said the plug could be removed to allow recreationists with disabilities, people with large or heavy boats or anyone else to drive down to the river.

However, the state would like to deter vehicular access because the river’s federal designation as a “wild” river means most river access is supposed to be by trail only, Soucy said.

Martin’s bill would also require the Department of Conservation to receive legislative approval for any changes proposed to the Allagash management plan.

Critics contend that would undo years of efforts to build consensus among the various parties that have been battling over the Allagash for decades.

The committee will hold another work session in Augusta at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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