LISBON — Former Lisbon resident Agnieszka “Aga” Pinette, a student at the University of Maine School of Law, has received a Switzer Environmental Fellowship, an honor given to those considered potential national environmental leaders.
The Lisbon High School graduate is one of 20 people in the country to receive the fellowship.
She graduated from Dartmouth College and worked for the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission before attending the University of Maine School of Law. She won the prestigious award for her legal analysis of who has a right to use Maine’s beaches, along with her other work.
Pinette, 35, of Brunswick is a single parent and a native of the country of Poland. She left there with her family in the 1980s after her father was jailed for being involved in the labor movement.
“They arrested him in the middle of the night,” Pinette said. “I was 5, I remember that. They gave him an ultimatum of ‘stay in prison or leave the country.’ That started our journey.”
She and her parents came to Portland and lived there a few years. Wanting to own their own home and finding Portland’s housing market too expensive, the family moved to Lisbon. Pinette went to Sugg Middle School and Lisbon High, graduating in 1995.
She graduated from college with a degree in environmental earth science. After college, she worked for LURC, where she spent much of her time as the senior land use planner, leading a team that reviewed the controversial Plum Creek development.
The Plum Creek proposal in the Moosehead region was one of the costliest and most contentious development battles in Maine’s history.
Last May, after four years of hearings, the Maine Supreme Court supported LURC’s rezoning of 400,000 acres to allow up to 975 house lots and two large resorts on 16,000 acres over the next 30 years.
Initially the project proposed to place 11,000 acres in conservation; LURC revised this figure and preserved 400,000 acres, Pinette said.
The amount of development remained the same as the project first proposed, but it will have to be designed smarter, with less impact on wildlife and the environment, Pinette said.
While Pinette was a law student, she also worked on analyzing Maine’s tax policies in an effort to prevent fishermen and lobstermen from being forced out of their homes due to rising property taxes as coastal property around them was gobbled up for pricey vacation homes.
The current editor-in-chief of the Maine Law Review, Pinette’s most recent project is her academic analysis of the privatization of some of Maine’s coastal beaches.
Her article, which will be published in the upcoming Maine Law Review, is geared for lawyers, judges and legal academics. It doesn’t draw a conclusion, but pulls together practices and laws about Maine’s beach property, some dating back to the Colonial era, Pinette said.
At issue is the right of private homeowners versus public use of beaches. Private beach homeowners have argued the public has no or limited rights to beaches in front of their homes, while the public has walked those beaches for generations.
As the courts take up the issue, “at risk for people who buy shorefront property is do they have the right to tell people to get off their land?” Pinette said.
At high tide, a beach in front of a private home “is private property,” Pinette said. Less clear is the public’s rights on low-tide beaches, she said.
Pinette said she was drawn to work in the environmental arena after taking a sustainable agriculture course in college.
“I fell in love with working the soil,” she said. “I also learned about the problems we humans create trying to create a better life for ourselves. Industrializing that whole process comes at a cost.”
After graduating from law school, Pinette said she hopes to contribute to improving her community and “do something of leaving this place a little better than it was.”
For more about Pinette: