The 129th Maine Legislature (meeting from January-June, 2019) had several pieces of legislation before it that would have expanded public use rights in/on Maine intertidal lands, and that would have reexamined the question of ownership of these unique land areas. Suffice it to say there was little legislative interest in pressing the latter issue–ownership issues will need to be raised by litigation that brings all of the arguments suggesting that Maine owns its intertidal lands before the courts, reaching to the U.S. Supreme Court, if that becomes necessary.
But expanding public use rights in/on intertidal lands was an idea that had been gaining public momentum for some time and that was now gaining legislative support. LD 1323 went through several committee hearings–broadening and narrowing amendments were put to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; a final bill that was supported by the Attorney General’s office passed the Committee 11 in favor, 1 opposed. LD 1323 expanded both commercial and recreational uses in/on intertidal lands. The benefits to the general public and to a host of marine related businesses was huge. This proposed legislation narrowly passed the House, but failed in the Senate. It fell victim to furious opposition from the Real Estate lobby, i.e., developers and upland owners who wanted to continue to enjoy their more exclusive use of these land areas. And unfortunately, many legislators who voted no, did so on the basis of misinformation asserting that seaweed harvesting was bad for the marine environment. The latter is patently untrue, but in the closing days of the legislative session the misinformation carried the day.
The supporters of LD 1323, though disappointed, did not go away. They set about to correct the misinformation–to document scientific studies indicating that regulated cutting enhances the marine environment, and that 60 years of regulated seaweed harvesting in Maine has not evidenced the environ-mental harms alarmists talked about. Supporters have also begun documenting the economic benefits that expanded public use of intertidal lands has given rise to in other states, and in Maine. They are determined to confront the 2nd session of the 129th Legislature (which meets in January 2020) with more background data, and several separate pieces of legislation–opposition groups will find it difficult to combine their voting strength. The arguments for expanding both commercial uses of intertidal land and recreational uses of these lands can stand on their own–both expansions are good for the people and the economy of Maine. Stay tuned.