Commentary

Maine: How We Got Here

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In 1770, General Thomas Gage was Governor General of all British possessions in the Americas. In the century and a half since the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, we had become the freest and most prosperous population on the face of the earth. The French and Indian war, together with the war against France back in Europe had drained the British treasury and they tried to raise taxes. Britain became much more tyrannical.

General Gage wrote back to London: “Democracy is too prevalent in America and claims the greatest attention to prevent its increase. A large part of the problem is the vast abundance of cheap land in America. The people themselves have gradually retired from the coast and are already almost out of the reach of law and government. It is in the interest of Great Britain to confine the Colonists on this side of the back-country. By restricting American settlement to the Atlantic coast, the material base of American democracy might be undercut.”

So came the first tyrannical efforts to prevent free men from settling rural America and what they called “the Maine.” Tyrants continued those efforts for two more centuries. It took that long to establish LURC, which went into effect on September 23,1971.

Horace Augustus Hildreth was born in 1902 in Gardiner, Maine. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1925 and received his Bachelor of Laws from Harvard in 1928. He worked as an environmental attorney. Over time, he began to strongly disagree with the forestry practices of the paper industry.

Horace Hildreth was elected to the Maine House in 1940 and the Maine Senate in 1942. He served as Senate President for the 1943-44 term, won the Republican gubernatorial primary and was elected the 59th Governor of Maine by a landslide margin. He chaired the National Governor’s Conference in 1947, the year of the Bar Harbor Fire. Governor Hildreth was invited to the meeting of the wealthiest property owners as they decided how Bar Harbor was going to be when rebuilt.

After they decided how much to donate to Acadia National Park, they decided what they wanted Maine to look like in a hundred years. One of their goals was to have no paper company land in Maine by 2047. It didn’t take a hundred years. Today there is not one acre of Maine paper company land. The effects of the environmental industry and their benefactors has been a disaster for Maine’s economy. There is not one paper or pulp mill operating on the Penobscot River today.

Central Maine Power had campaigned for the power of eminent domain dating back to 1923, pitting the president of Central Maine Power Company, Walter Wyman, against state legislator and future Maine governor Percival Proctor Baxter. No significant progress was made until Horace Hildreth was governor.

Then CMP and their Armed Pinkerton agents began to drive the families and businesses out of Bigelow, Dead River, Long Falls and Flagstaff. They began to flood Flagstaff Lake and when the lake was full, the water came up to four feet below the front steps to J. P. Morgan’s hunting camp. Old J.P. now had a fishing camp and CMP never did build the hydro station they promised at Long Falls Dam. There is a book called “The Lost Villages of Flagstaff Lake.”

Governor Hildreth had a son named Horace “Hoddy” Hildreth who was born on December 17, 1931 and also became an environmental lawyer after graduating from Bowdoin College. He became one of the first environmental lawyers in Maine.

He managed to get onto the Natural Resource Committee and pushed through the first shore-land act in Maine, which abolished the right to build boat houses in our lakes. I am old enough to remember men building a boathouse in the lake. It didn’t hurt the lake and the fishing was better.

The legislature tried several times to enact a Maine land use law. It failed every time until 1970. Then it passed (by only ONE VOTE!) LURC (known in Northern Maine as Liberals Undermining Rural Communities) and the DEP ran wild with a dizzying variety of rules. Economic opportunity in Northern Maine began to be choked off.

To be continued…

About Roger Ek

Roger Ek has been an advocate for rural Maine since he was elected to the Verona Planning board in 1974, shortly after the Maine Land Use Law or LURC was enacted. He has degrees in management and engineering and worked in the paper industry for decades. Roger has testified many times at the legislature on behalf of rural Maine and Maine landowners.

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