AUGUSTA (AP) – The chief sponsor of a bill to give loggers and haulers negotiating power in setting rates for wood said Tuesday he can accept changes negotiated with the governor as a condition for signing the measure.

“I think we can” live with the changes, said Rep. William Smith, adding that the legislation will retain its basic purpose: to put loggers on more even negotiating ground with the wood purchasers.

Gov. John Baldacci signed the logger rate-setting bill Monday night on the condition that a separate bill be submitted that will limit the scope of the new law. The clarifying bill is to be considered by lawmakers this week.

The bill signed by Baldacci allows haulers and harvesters to organize associations and negotiate collectively for rates. A board of arbitration representing loggers, landowners and the public would settle disputes between loggers and landowners and set rates.

Negotiators working into Monday night agreed on modifications that set a new formula to determine which landowners would be covered, said Kurt Adams, the governor’s chief legal counsel.

One of the administration’s concerns was that without the change, landowners might be less willing to sign land-conservation easements with the state, Adams said.

The bill signed by Baldacci applies only to landowners that hold more than 400,000 acres in a defined market area. Only three companies meet that definition: Irving Woodlands, Plum Creek and Wagner Forest Management.

Under the revision that was being drafted Tuesday, a new formula would combine raw acreage with percentage of land ownership in a given market area. In effect, it would leave only Irving affected for the present, Adams said.

Irving does not support the change, a lobbyist for the company said.

“The question for the governor is, if it’s not a bad bill, why is he asking for changes before the ink is dry?” said Jim Mitchell.

Mitchell said the bill will increase costs for wood it processes, adding to the burden of doing business in an “intensely competitive world market … It will have an impact, it will have consequences.”

Ted Johnston, a lobbyist for Wagner Forest Management, said Wagner supports the revision.

Wagner opposed the original bill, which it saw as flawed, “but it’s law now. That train’s already left the station.”

Wagner appreciates being carved out of the revised legislation and is urging lawmakers to vote for it, said Johnston.

Loggers who pushed for the bill signed by Baldacci say they now have a hard time making money from rates they’re offered from the largest landowners.

Smith, D-Van Buren, said most of the complaints came from loggers working in Irving’s area.

The Maine Pulp and Paper Association said the bill if enacted would result in higher fiber prices and add to uncertainties about the supply of fiber across Maine. Also opposing the bill was the Maine Forest Products Council.

AP-ES-04-27-04 1648EDT

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