Environmental Dispute Resolution

Maine communities, and the state as a whole, at times experience divisive, expensive, and sometimes protracted conflicts. At the local level, many of these disputes are over land use. They may arise from proposed or actual changes in land use which are undesired by current residents. Or, conversely, they may arise from an

influx of new residents to a community who are opposed to certain existing land uses.

Maine also continues to experience regional and statewide conflicts, which in the recent past have included Atlantic Salmon preservation, fisheries management, pipeline siting, forest practices, Maine Yankee, turnpike widening, agricultural irrigation, and dam re-licensing. Collaborative decision-making offers a way to settle these types of conflicts that is efficient, community-building, and providing of the most benefits to the most people.

Collaborative decision-making relies on deliberations and negotiation between the parties to make a decision by mutual consent, rather than imposition of a decision by an outside authority. In the public policy arena, collaborative methods include mediation, facilitation, negotiated rulemaking, community visioning, and other dialogue-based approaches. Collaborative methods often use an outside mediator or facilitator (referred to as a "neutral") to assist the parties. In Maine, facilitated stakeholder groups are one of the most commonly used collaborative approaches. Collaborative decision-making stands apart from more adversarial methods such as litigation, legislation, and referendums.

When appropriately used, collaborative decision-making may provide the following benefits:

· Better policy decisions and resolutions of conflicts.

· Improved relationships amongst parties who will continue to interact with each other in the future.

· Improved quality of information used to solve disputes and make policy decisions.

· Increased adherence of parties to policy decisions and settlement agreements.

The state has used collaborative approaches to decision-making in the past, and the use of such approaches is increasing, particularly in certain segments of state government. There have been some notable successes. In 1992, the rules implementing the Sensible Transportation Policy Act were developed through a negotiated rule-making process, promoted by then-Transportation Commissioner Dana Conners.

Another success was the resolution of the Wells Harbor dredging dispute. This conflict pitted advocates of dredging (to allow increased boat access and moorings) against advocates of habitat protection for threatened shorebirds. Through the persistent personal efforts of DEP's Southern Maine Director to lead the parties through negotiations, an agreement was reached to the satisfaction of all involved. Over the past 10 years, the use of consensus-based stakeholder processes has become increasingly accepted as an appropriate and productive part of policy-making.

Within Maine's judicial system, collaborative methods have also taken hold. The Court Mediation Service was begun in 1985. In 1995, the program was renamed the Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Service (CADRES) and was subsequently expanded to provide mediation in Maine District Courts on a regular basis for small claims and domestic relations cases, as well as a pilot program for protective custody cases. CADRES also maintains rosters for mediation of civil and land use/environmental cases, although these are far less extensively utilized. In January of 2002, a new program went into effect requiring litigants in Maine Superior Court to attempt to settle their claims through an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process prior to proceeding to trial.


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