The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
Not Ready for a Fight
What’s best for Androscoggin fish in the long term?
For a long while, our displeasure at the second-class treatment of the Androscoggin River, versus the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, regarding the restoration of the river’s habitat has been apparent. Now here comes the federal government — namely the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — proposing endangered species status for Atlantic salmon that used to swim in great numbers in the Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Penobscot rivers.
Let’s get the cynicism out of the way. It’s an honor just to be nominated.Cynicism aside, we fear this designation could pose more trouble than it’s worth, because the Androscoggin is not ready — politically or environmentally — for what an endangered species declaration would demand. In fact, this otherwise laudable environmental advancement by the federal government could jeopardize nascent efforts now under way to bring the Androscoggin to equal footing with its sister rivers.
Make no mistake — we appreciate this scrutiny upon the Androscoggin. For too long, the river has escaped it, for reasons of too little political will, too much political pressure, or simple inattention to the declining habitat. This is changing. Androscoggin advocates are growing in number and influence; their work so far has been veiled, but important. They don’t always agree on means, but their ends are united: what’s good for the river is good for everybody who lives and works along it.
A model of cooperative conservation is emerging, which for the Androscoggin is the course we endorse. As long as this river remains critical for industry, community, and recreation, hard-line approaches should be unwelcome.
An endangered species designation could bring this outcome. Rumblings are already starting. Fighting over salmon has precedents in recent Maine history. While there’s much to gain from the designation, there’s also much to lose.
Political infighting and a lack of compromise among stakeholders about the Androscoggin have been primary contributors to why the river has failed to meet Clean Water Act standards, despite being its inspiration. Now river progress is in its infancy, but this thunderclap of a potential designation regarding Atlantic salmon — just one species of the watershed — could wreak havoc upon this process. As this proposed designation moves ahead, this concern must be kept in mind. Public comment is running through December 2.
MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM, PORTLAND
A voice, not a veto
It’s a very good thing for a commercial enterprise to sell a product that everybody uses. It’s even better when the product is essential to its consumers, who require a constant amount of it each day.
Food is one such product. Electricity is another. But the difference is that, with the exception of an occasional protest over routing a highway, few people strenuously object to the transmission of food near their houses. Power lines, though, are something else. Even though everyone depends on what they carry, many people object to living anywhere near them and strongly oppose building or upgrading lines near their houses.
That’s understandable, considering that the lines sometimes create a humming noise that could be disturbing. And some people still have questions about the safety of residing in their vicinity, though many studies have found that the distances established by law provide more than adequate protection from any ill effects.
The most recent example is a protest from abutters to a current power line in Yarmouth that would be upgraded as part of a statewide project called the Maine Power Reliability Program. Right now, two high-voltage power lines supported by thirty-five-foot poles run along the middle of a narrow strip near a family neighborhood. Central Maine Power Company intends to upgrade the line with taller towers and a 120-foot-wider cleared corridor.
That has produced protests from neighbors, whose concerns need to be given a prompt hearing and due consideration by regulators. But the growth of the economy and a changeover to more green methods of transportation and production will require more, not less, electricity. Society will need to power battery-operated vehicles and produce goods and services in non-polluting ways. And if its generation is to be diversified by the introduction of wind and solar facilities, those new generating sites will also require that current lines be expanded and new ones built.
Abutters with concerns deserve an open process for their protests. However, that process should not take an undue amount of time to be completed, and requests for data from utilities should have a clear purpose or be limited by regulators. After all relevant concerns have been addressed, society’s need for more power will still remain.
KENNEBEC JOURNAL, AUGUSTA
Learning from money mistakes
The original twenty million dollars from Maine’s failed investment in what turned out to be a high-risk venture called Mainsail II has been recovered from Merrill Lynch. That much we know. What the future will tell us is whether state Treasurer David Lemoine and others at the State House truly have learned lessons from an investment experiment that put Maine on the precipice of losing millions of dollars.
Last November, Lemoine told lawmakers that Mainsail II’s assets had been frozen, putting Maine’s investment at risk. Mainsail II was something that money-manager types call a “structured investment vehicle.” These vehicles buy bonds and other securities and fund them by issuing debt. Sound complicated? They can be. Risky too, at times; so-called SIVs are being blamed in part for playing a role in the country’s ongoing, subprime-mortgage crisis.
Lemoine’s 2007 disclosure about Mainsail came three months after the fund got into trouble, and Lemoine was roundly criticized for the delay. Lemoine, in turn, blamed bad investment advice, namelyfrom Merrill Lynch. He noted that Connecticut, Florida, and King County, Washington, also had put money into Mainsail. Lemoine vowed to get the money back.
On August 28, Lemoine announced that Merrill Lynch essentially agreed to refund Maine’s twenty million dollars. To our mind, that still makes Mainsail a failed investment — the state made no money on its $20 million investment — but the losses could have been much worse.
Merrill Lynch had a lot at stake in this issue, and Maine had considerable leverage. Investment firms’ reputations are what lead small and large investors alike to consult them. Merrill Lynch assuredly did not want to lose Maine’s investment business nor did it want to lose face with state governments and other investors in general. The Maine attorney general was looking into the investment firm and how it handled Mainsail.
And, let’s not forget that Merrill Lynch is the program manager for Maine’s state-sponsored college-savings plan, NextGen. That relationship was set up by Lemoine’s predecessor as treasurer, Dale McCormick. NextGen is big, with net assets of $5.2 billion as of June 30, 2007.
In the future, Lemoine and other leaders at the State House assure us that a mistake like Mainsail should not happen again. They say there are more checks and balances built into the review process before Maine can plop down such a large amount of money. Future investments will receive more scrutiny.
We expect and hope that’s true. Because while investment firms live and die by their integrity and reputations, politicians’ careers also can be made or broken by the financial decisions they make, especially during tough economic and budgetary times.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
Skeptical about Poland Spring
Voters in Shapleigh decisively put a six-month hold on a plan by the Poland Spring water bottling company to test water supplies in that York County community. That vote will be followed shortly by similar ballot questions in Wells and Ogunquit. They show that Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America, is rightly or wrongly facing an uphill fight to expand its operations in southern Maine.
If the testing had proceeded, it could eventually have led to an agreement to use substantial amounts of underground aquifers in the town to sell as bottled water. That ultimate end result isn’t prohibited by the 204-38 vote, but it seems clear that Poland Spring faces a public perception of its operations that is at least skeptical about them.
The moratorium, and an equivalent hold on extraction operations that Shapleigh voters also passed, are intended to give selectmen time to create an extraction ordinance that will satisfy citizens’ objections. That’s worthwhile, but some individuals and organized groups across the state want more. They have in the past proposed measures that Poland Spring said would make it unprofitable, such as a tax on water extraction for bottling. Some also allege that the state is careless about regulating large-scale water use, a charge that environmental officials deny, citing a new set of rules that govern extraction operations and sustainability.
Right now, Poland Spring uses about seven hundred million gallons of water a year, taking it from nine sites around the state. Objectors make their strongest point when they note that “the state shouldn’t be giving its water away.” Towns might well want to hold out for a better deal than some that have been offered.
Still, Poland Spring’s use of Maine water for commercial purposes is no different from other business users, such as a large farm or a paper mill. The company employs six hundred workers and uses less than 0.2 percent of the 24 trillion gallons of rainwater that fall on the state every year.
If communities don’t want to deal with Poland Spring, whether over concerns about fees, supplies, or traffic, they’re entitled. But the company is not a unique user of resources, and it deserves at least the chance to make its case to Mainers.
TIMES RECORD, BRUNSWICK
Losing more than just planes
The likelihood that the recent Great State of Maine Air Show was the final navy-sponsored event of its kind in the midcoast region focused attention on what will be lost when Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) closes in 2011. Similarly, Captain William Fitzgerald’s reminder that the P-3 Orion squadron to be deployed from Brunswick in December won’t return — and that all squadrons will be gone by the end of 2009 — forces residents to wake up to the imminence of the navy’s departure.
Regardless of how one feels about the navy’s mission, what it symbolizes, or how it’s employed by the commander-in-chief, the presence of the BNAS community has enriched this region for more than sixty years. The navy will leave behind an indelible — and largely positive — mark on the midcoast region.
The economic benefits that radiate from the base into surrounding municipalities have been catalogued extensively by state officials and local business leaders. They are tangible and significant. The Midcoast Redevelopment Authority, in collaboration with a host of other civic, governmental, and private enterprises, works daily to mitigate the loss of jobs and consumers that will result from base closure.
As challenging as that task will be, replacing the intangible assets created by the navy’s presence in our midst may be more difficult. For years, elementary school students in Brunswick have received introductory instruction in foreign languages from volunteers who learned French, Spanish, and other languages while they or family members were deployed overseas. Much of the valued diversity in local school systems can be traced to navy families.
For decades, sailors and their spouses have volunteered to erect playgrounds, raise money for school programs, operate concession stands, and keep youth sports programs alive. Generations of navy families helped build and maintain the midcoast region’s well-established community service infrastructure, from local United Way initiatives to Boy Scout bottle drives. That infrastructure won’t crumble when the base closes, but it will require fortification by those who are left behind.
To prepare for the loss of longtime neighbors for whom “service” defines their way to live, we should commit now to recognizing and appreciating how much the navy enriches all aspects of community life in the midcoast region. With that understanding, we can brace for the social upheaval that will take place outside the purview of BNAS redevelopment specialists.
REPUBLICAN JOURNAL, BELFAST
Finding energy–saving solutions
House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree is on the right track in suggesting that Maine raise fifty million to a hundred million dollars through bonding to begin the process of reducing overall state energy costs. The devil, though, is in the details.
There are several kinds of investment that the state could consider:
• Tax incentives to spur the development of alternative energy sources, including bio-fuels and wood pellets from Maine’s forests; tidal power; appropriately sited windmills; solar; and geothermal.
• Efficiency improvements for public facilities such as town halls, schools, and state office buildings.
• Investments in public transportation, such as trains and buses, and in
infrastructure to support increased car- and van-pooling.
• Efforts to make walking and biking safer and more appealing in Maine’s cities.
• Support for Maine employers to increase efficiency, which would save
energy and reduce the cost of doing business in the state.
• And the least glamorous of all: expansion of an existing Maine State Housing Authority program that helps low- and moderate-income Maine residents make basic improvements in the energy efficiency of their homes.
But we encourage the state to focus its early efforts on providing free or cheap residential energy audits for all homeowners who want them. Then, a prioritization system should channel state funds for insulation, weatherization, heating system repairs or replacement, or improved windows and doors to those single and multifamily homes that offer the quickest payback for the state’s investment.
House Minority Leader Josh Tardy said he’s willing to “keep an open mind” about a bond package, but he wants to see if weatherization efforts can be paid for through the general fund, without going out for a bond. “The other thing we have to look at is tax credits for all Mainers who invest in alternative energy and weatherization,” Tardy said.
No matter how the work is funded, residential energy improvements hold the promise of providing the fastest and best return for the state’s investment, cutting energy costs and creating jobs. They should be the foundation for a long-term state strategy to reducing Maine’s dependence on energy produced outside the state.