Local legislators were on opposite sides of a bill that would repeal the state law that requires communities to conduct studies of the economic and environmental impacts of proposed large retail stores.

The Maine House of Representatives voted 90-59 on May 3 to approve LD 322. This bill overhauls the state’s Informed Growth Act so that communities no longer are required to conduct the studies but municipalities are allowed to adopt their own such laws.

The state Senate followed suit on May 5 and voted 24-10 to repeal the law. All three local Republican state senators — Sens. Chris Rector of Thomaston, A. David Trahan of Waldoboro, and Michael Thibodeau of Winterport — voted for repeal.

The Informed Growth Act was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci in 2007 as a way to regulate so-called big box stores such as Walmart. The 2007 law requires that a study be done on the impact from retail stores that are 75,000 square feet or larger. The developers are required to pay $40,000 to the communities that would then commission the studies.

The study would need to determine whether the new store would have an undue adverse impact, including on existing businesses. That study would be used to determine whether the retail project should be approved by the town.

Voting May 3 to repeal the 2007 law were Republican Reps. Dana Dow of Waldoboro, Jonathan McKane of Newcastle, Wes Richardson of Warren, and Deborah Sanderson of Chelsea.

Voting to keep the law were Democratic Reps. Edward Mazurek of Rockland, Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, Joan Welsh of Rockport, Andrew O’Brien of Lincolnville, and Walter Kumiega III of Deer Isle.

“I feel that big corporations should work with the communities in which they plan to move. Most businesses in Maine cities and towns are small locally-owned businesses. To keep our unique way of life and feel to our communities, it is not asking too much from these giants to work and study the situation within our Maine communities,” Mazurek said.

O’Brien said the Informed Growth Act was a good tool for municipalities to get information about the economic impact of proposed big box retail developments.

Welsh said she voted against weakening this law, primarily to protect small businesses in the communities.

“The Informed Growth Act just requires communities to go through a process that identifies the impacts on the community of building large retail stores and then allows that community to make an informed decision about whether or not to move forward with a decision about allowing a large store to build in their area,” Welsh said.

Rep. Richardson said that he supported repeal because he supports local control and that the bill would allow local communities to decide whether they want such requirements.

Rep. Kruger disagreed.

“The law just took effect in December 2010, so it has not had a chance to see if it helps towns with planning decisions. The “opt-in” aspect makes things worse in my view, as it would have the effect of pitting towns against each other,” Kruger said.

Rep. Walter Kumiega III, D-Deer Isle, said communities need to have a comprehensive report on what the impact of a new large development would mean.

“It seems reasonable to require that the state set a standard for that report so each community works from the same type of data,” Kumiega, whose district includes Vinalhaven and North Haven, said.

LD 322 would also eliminate the $40,000 fee assessed to large retail developers for the study and allow municipalities to set the fee amount.

If the governor signs the legislation, it would become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns in late May or June.