If a local environmental group lacks standing to intervene at the Board of Environmental Protection over a development in Bangor, virtually all contentious hearings the BEP has held over the last decade would have been considered improper. The precedent has been set and reset for 30 years, and instead of trying to confuse the issue with invented technicalities, the developers would do better simply to present their case clearly and persuasively to the board.
The ability of environmental groups to intervene in development drew wide attention in 1972, when Justice William O. Douglas wrote in a dissent that, “Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation” in Sierra Club v. Morton. The court eventually agreed the Sierra Club had standing to block the Disney Corp. from building a ski resort in what is now part of Sequoia National Park because its members hiked on that land and would suffer a specific loss or injury if the development occurred.
The BEP standards follow this pattern, so it is common to see, for instance, the Natural Resources Council of Maine given standing on issues connected with undeveloped land in northern Maine. The Audubon Society and other environmental groups receive similar consideration. Developers would rather these groups disappeared, but as long as a group acting as a petitioner has a direct interest in the outcome of the BEP discussion and “has reasonably specific contentions regarding the subject matter,” according to Maine statute, they qualify.
If anything, the petitioning group in this case, Bangor Area Citizens Organized for Responsible Development, has even more of a claim of standing that the typical group. Unlike the NRCM arguing over, say, Plum Creek development, the BACORD members actually live in the area near the site of the proposed development and several have used the area for bird watching and field trips. What they would lose should the development goes through is abundantly clear and certain.
The developer, Widewaters, shouldn’t be surprised by citizens raising questions about the environmental impact of a 224,000-square-foot structure and parking lot, whether it is a Wal-Mart Supercenter that is planned for the site or the Widewaters All Natural Food Co-op. The development will leave a huge, long-term imprint. Area residents who are concerned about its effect on the environment would be foolish not to explain their position to the state’s environmental board, and the board would be negligent not to accept their testimony.