FILE - ME lake

View of Mount Katahdin across Millinocket Lake in Maine.

State environmental officials last week heard arguments on a statute that would give Maine some of strictest standards for water quality in the country.

Representatives for the Penobscot Nation and environmental groups support tighter restrictions on waterways that tribal members use for sustenance fishing.

But during a public hearing before Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection (BEP), paper and pulp industry advocates advised against adopting new standards that could affect economic recovery in a sector just starting to realize improvements following years of mill closures.

As reported in the Portland Press Herald, Millinocket-area representatives have cited concerns that stricter water quality standards could potentially stifle economic development at the former Great Northern Paper Company. Officials have been working to reopen the 1,400-acre property as a multiuse industrial site.

“This is going to impact what we can and cannot do on this site,” Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore said. “In cases like ours, it is a premature restriction that we can’t afford.”

But Dan Kusnierz, water resources program manager for the Penobscot Nation, told the BEP the new rule would provide “cleaner water not only for tribes but also all people that use water segments designated for sustenance fishing.”

When she served as Maine’s attorney general, now-Gov. Janet Mills filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the Maine BEP seeking to prevent stricter federal water quality safeguards for tribal sustenance fishermen.

The sustenance fishing rules under discussion at the BEP last week were part of a package of bills and executive actions by the Mills administration meant to improve state and tribal relations.

In the wake of a lengthy legal battle over water quality standards, the Maine BEP was authorized to put forth a compromise this year that names certain bodies of water as sustenance fishing areas that must adhere to tighter standards.

The measure passed by the Legislature calls for implementation of the new standards by March 1.

Forest industry advocates last week asked the BEP to allow a stakeholder group to first explore whether the state should adopt site-specific water quality standards that reflect characteristics of each area.