The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
HERALD GAZETTE, CAMDEN
The Lobster Wars of 2009
The seamier side of fishing in the Gulf of Maine was exposed again with the July 20 Matinicus shooting, which left one lobsterman recovering in a Lewiston hospital.
These eruptions of violence are not new. A glance back in time illustrates how fishing territories are forged on old alliances and agreements hashed out decades ago. On the surface, state and regional agencies, such as the Maine Marine Patrol and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, attempt to keep the peace during times of disagreement, but their influence is just that, topical.
“The local legal system, which rules lobstering off the rocky coast, sometimes runs counter to the laws of the state and nation,” wrote James Acheson in a 1972 article published in Natural History magazine. “It may be enforced with surreptitious violence, which can escalate into ‘lobster wars’ and even homicide.”
He described the art of boundary determination: “While lobstermen will discuss boundaries in terms of major geographical features, such as the Damariscotta River or Pemaquid Point, actual boundaries are usually drawn with reference to minor features — a reef, a small cove, a sand bar, sea buoys — features that have significance only for men intimately acquainted with the area.”
Those growing up with lobstering have said that in calmer years, lobstermen abided by boundaries, and if someone crossed, buoys were tied, and a message was sent to say “move back over the line.” Thirty years later and the calm is punctuated by violence and lawsuits.
When business disputes on the water involve weapons, the fragility of a civil society becomes ever so apparent. The violence cannot be blamed on low lobster prices, pitiful as they are, or a shrinking fisheries resource. It’s a blatant breakdown of self-rule, and results in even more financial ruin. While shooting someone over a territorial discussion may be a personal duel, the taxpayer also ends up paying, shouldering the cost of transporting police and investigating the crime, not to mention the emergency rescue.
We all end up losing, and as one fisherman’s daughter, wife and mother anonymously wrote after July’s shooting, “Everyone needs to teach our children violence is not the answer! Where does it lead us when we show that violence, in jail or prison, where does it lead the family that is left behind? Think before you react, be helpful instead of hateful, and most of all teach your children that violence is not the answer.”
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
The Text Message Can Wait
It’s convenient,” said Robert Smith, 22, a recent college graduate in Windham. He says he regularly texts and drives even though he recognizes that it is a serious risk. He would rather text, he said, than take time on a phone call. “I put the phone on top of the steering wheel and text with both thumbs,” he said, adding that he often has exchanges of ten messages or more. Sometimes, “I’ll look up and realize there’s a car sitting there and swerve around it.” — New York Times, July 27
Get him off the road. Now.
Ever since the Maine Turnpike crash in 2005 that killed Tina Turcotte, a new-found emphasis has been placed on the bad habits of drivers. What’s been discovered is that bad driving habits can become ingrained. Bad drivers will stay bad drivers.
Remember Walter Noble, of the multiple drunken driving incidents and revoked license fame in Franklin County? He compiled a driving record so swollen with infractions and arrests it became apparent that nothing short of spike strips would stop him.
There have been investigations of the dangers of the suspended drivers still cruising Maine roads. A series in the Portland Press Herald in 2008 found, for example, crashes involving these drivers were six times more likely to cause a death. The evidence supports two conclusions: That drivers who display regular disregard for rules of the road are more dangerous to themselves and others. Plus, this behavior is hard to change, as evidenced by myriad examples of repeat offenders.
Texting is a prime arena for this. We hope Mr. Smith is an exception, not the rule, but if his cavalier approach to typing while driving becomes widespread, the roads of Maine have just become more perilous.
The article in which Smith was quoted talked about a study of long-haul truckers who texted while driving. Researchers found texting, as compared to other habits that distract drivers, is exponentially more dangerous than once thought. Each text message can sway a driver’s attention for five full seconds, which means Mr. Smith, during an average commute, may stop watching the road ahead for almost a minute. Then, by dumb luck it seems, he’ll look up and realize he’s barreling toward a stopped vehicle.
Texting is unsafe. Lawmakers in Maine should ban it specifically. Drivers should be told of its dangers and punished if caught doing it. As Smith told the Times, “I’m pretty sure that someday [my behavior is] going to come back to bite me.”
So true. Or even worse, Mr. Smith, you could end up killing somebody else.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
A Vital New Breast-feeding Law
Their doctors recommend it, their babies thrive on it, but women still run into social walls when they try to breast-feed their children.
Fortunately, those walls are coming down. Breast-feeding in public is already legal in Maine, and beginning this month, employers will be required to make reasonable efforts to provide lactating mothers with sanitary, private places in which they can express breast milk for later feedings.
And not a bathroom. Nobody wants to eat a meal prepared in one of those.
To help ease this transition, Portland’s public health division placed a series of life-sized models of breast-feeding mothers in public spaces throughout the city. The name of the program, “When breast-feeding is accepted it won’t be noticed,” tries to spread the message that breast-feeding is a normal activity and should be integrated into all aspects of life.
Breast-feeding is better for the mother, and it’s better for the child. Since children who are breast-fed get sick less often, their mothers miss less work, so it’s better for the employer as well.
Breast-feeding is recommended by all major health organizations including the U.S. Surgeon General, both for the nutrients and immunities it conveys.
Currently, less than half of Maine babies are breast-fed, meaning that most children born here miss out on the healthy start that it provides.
If the social barriers are part of the reason, they should come down. Mothers should be able to do this important job with dignity.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
Saint John’s Lessons
Bangor’s unofficial sister city Saint John, New Brunswick, has taken some innovative approaches to economic development that may be instructive here.
“Just over a decade ago we recognized that we had a problem,” writes Bob Manning, chairman of Enterprise Saint John. “Our undiversified economy was suffering, our reputation was poor, and we were failing to retain our skilled labor, our youth, and attract new residents to our region.” Since then, the city’s boosters have marked a turnaround.
A key first step was to include surrounding municipalities in the economic development effort. Saint John’s population is 122,389, but the population of the surrounding area within an hour’s drive is 225,000. “Working together,” Mr. Manning writes on the group’s Web site, “we could focus on ‘growing the pie’ rather than fighting over its pieces.”
For Bangor, that would mean not only inviting surrounding communities to the table, but also uniting the various economic boosters under a single flag. The second strategy Enterprise Saint John employed might seem counterintuitive, but it paid off. Rather than work to boost tourism, lure new businesses such as paper plants and other manufacturers, or even firms tied to the information economy, Enterprise Saint John instead focused on “the things that retain and attract people, ideas and investment.” Mr. Manning writes: “It is all about building a community that people want to live in, work in, raise their families, and build long-term rewarding careers. And now we’re seeing the benefits.”
Those benefits have included growth in information and communication technologies, energy and advanced manufacturing, health sciences, and tourism sectors.
On reflection, it makes perfect sense — build a community in which people want to live. Those who would relocate to places like Saint John or Bangor, lured by their quality of life, are a self-selected group; generally, they have some financial resources, postsecondary education, technical or other skills, and the entrepreneurial spark. Those are the sorts of people who will help build existing businesses as employees, or will start their own businesses. They also buy and improve houses, and they support the very things that drew them in the first place, such as quality schools, family-friendly low-crime neighborhoods, the arts, parks, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Perhaps the greatest lesson Bangor can take from Saint John is to look less for an economic savior, and instead work to give our local entrepreneurs what they need to succeed.
JOURNAL TRIBUNE, BIDDEFORD
Whither Water Extraction?
With growing concern over the problems that might arise from large-scale water extraction, a few Maine towns are taking the lead in weighing the risks and benefits.
Voters in Wells, for instance, are likely to consider a regulatory ordinance setting rules to protect water resources. The town has been immersed in water politics ever since last year, when Poland Spring sought an agreement to tap up to 432,000 gallons per day from the watershed of the Kennebunk, Kennnebunkport, & Wells Water District.
Voters made the right choice in June, when they rejected an anti-extraction manifesto that sought to award rights to ecosystems, and to strip the rights of corporations. Now that the hubbub has died down, it remains to be seen whether Wells will end up with a water-extraction rulebook that serves the town’s interests.
Critics of the town’s regulatory effort imply that the rules are being written by Poland Spring. But a look at the proposal shows provisions intended to protect water supplies and the people of Wells. It provides for an independent hydrogeologic review at the applicant’s expense, for instance. And it establishes a monitoring system that allows the Planning Board to order a shutdown if pumping is threatening to adversely affect the town. The proposal shows a clear intention not to regulate agricultural use of water, nor to restrict pumping of groundwater for residential, industrial, or commercial use within the town of Wells.
Such a regulatory approach would go a long way toward protecting the town in the event that Poland Spring arranges a water-extraction deal in town once Wells’ moratorium expires.
Town authority can only extend so far. An article in the July issue of the Maine Townsman notes that regulatory ordinances are subject to legal challenge on a variety of grounds. In it Leah B. Rachin, Wells’ town attorney, makes it clear that [Maine] towns are in an uncharted area: “One thing is sure — the legislature and Maine courts will be called upon in the months and years ahead to address the issue of groundwater extraction. Fundamental change may well be on the horizon.”