Fulfilling Baxter's Vision
For years, Mainers have been hearing about "once-in-a-lifetime" conservation deals that would protect the state's crown jewels. A deal announced recently to add land around Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park actually lives up to such accolades. The 6,000 acres, including the lake, which offers stunning views of Mount Katahdin, was the last parcel that Governor Percival Baxter intended to add to the park he created. He proclaimed the lake one of the most beautiful in Maine.
Famed Hudson River School artist Frederic Church painted the lake and mountain around 1850. Nearly one hundred years later, one of the country's first modern painters, Marsden Hartley, spent eight days in a cabin on the lake, experiencing a "spiritual reawakening" there, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Before he was president, Theodore Roosevelt camped at the lake, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas stayed at the sporting camp that is there today.
With the complex agreement recently announced, the views captured by the artists and appreciated by statesmen will be preserved forever. For that to happen, $14 million must be raised by July 1 from private donors to repay the Trust for Public Land. The California group has already spent $7.5 million to buy land that will be given to the Gardner Land Company, and it will spend another $5.5 million buying state-owned land that will also be given to the Lincoln company in exchange for the Katahdin Lake parcel. The Gardner family did not want money for the land, but instead wanted other parcels with harvestable timber so its employees could keep cutting trees and working in their mills.
While this is a reasonable request, it means the deal must be approved by lawmakers. Disposing of public lands requires two-thirds legislative approval, which should be forthcoming because giving up remote land to obtain such an important parcel makes sense. It also requires that the state buy other land in the same counties to make up for what was sold.
The Katahdin Lake parcel will likely be managed by Baxter State Park as wilderness, meaning hunting will not be allowed. This should not be an issue — Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his diary that it is not good hunting ground. Plus, the Department of Conservation has pledged that the new land will offer good hunting, which further complicates the agreement but should prompt sportsmen to support the project.
More than $3 million has already been raised from private donors. Federal dollars from the Forest Legacy Fund cannot be used because that money must be used to protect working forests. The state could press this issue with its congressional delegation by arguing that the land to be purchased with the money will be working forest. However, because Maine has gotten a disproportionate share of Forest Legacy money for other conservation projects, it cannot expect much support for this position. Money from Baxter State Park's trust fund cannot be used because it would cut into resources used to manage the park. The park's acquisition fund is nearly empty after two land purchases in the 1990s.
This project offers the opportunity to help fulfill Governor Baxter's vision. It is worthy of legislative approval and generous financial support from Maine residents and other donors.
—Bangor Daily News
A couple of summers ago, a cruise ship passenger stopped a local resident on Main Street in Bar Harbor and asked for directions to Starbucks. When told there wasn't one here, she looked at the merchants' guide map she was holding.
"This says there's a Starbucks on Thames Street," she said. The resident replied: "We don't have a Thames Street." "Are you sure that's a map of Bar Harbor?"
The visitor looked at the map again. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "This is Newport, Rhode Island."
One might conclude that the woman didn't much care what town she was in as long as it had a Starbucks. And that explains why some people don't like chains: They tend to rob communities of their individuality, their traditional identities. Every town begins to look like every other town. Chains also can put tremendous competitive pressure on locally owned establishments.
Over the past few years, towns across the country have started prohibiting chain restaurants. In Maine, York enacted such a ban in 2004. Last fall, Ogunquit voters approved a similar ban by a 71 percent majority. The town of Shapleigh has scheduled a vote on outlawing chain or "formula" restaurants.
The Ogunquit ordinance, like many others, defines formula restaurants as those with the same name, employee uniforms, color schemes, architectural design, signage, or similar standardized features as another restaurant, regardless of where the other restaurant is or who owns it.
Perhaps it's time the four towns on Mount Desert Island consider such an ordinance. Bar Harbor already prohibits drive-through restaurants in all zoning districts, which probably discourages the likes of McDonald's and Burger King from setting up shop on Route 3. However, those fast-food places seem to do quite well without drive-through windows in many downtown settings, as do Dunkin' Donuts, Ben & Jerry's and, yes, Starbucks.
Ordinances banning chain restaurants would not have to apply to those already here. So the Subway outlets on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor and at the One-Stop in Somesville could stay.
Otherwise, let's allow island communities to maintain and continue to develop their own, unique identities. And let Newport be known for its Starbucks.
—Bar Harbor Times
To protect Maine's other lakes, ponds, and streams, the Messalonskee Lake boat landing on Route 27 should be closed indefinitely. The Messalonskee Lake Association wants the state to shut down the heavily used boat ramp to stem the spread of variable-leaf milfoil, an invasive aquatic plant that can quickly overtake lakes and ponds when its fragments are circulated by boats, people, animals, and water currents.
Closure of the boat landing would leave Messalonskee Lake with a boat ramp near downtown Oakland, which can handle most motorboats and provides parking, and with a smaller boat launch in Sidney, which is shallow and provides no parking. While loss of the ramp would be unfortunate for those who enjoy Maine's tradition of easy and open access to the water, it is the best answer for preventing the spread of a serious environmental problem.
Of the seven bodies of water that make up the Belgrade Lakes, Messalonskee Lake — also known as Snow Pond — is the only one plagued by milfoil, according to state data. Aggressive steps need be taken to protect the rest of the Belgrade Lakes — Great Pond, Long Pond, North Pond, East Pond, Salmon Pond, and McGrath Pond — and the other 6,000 lakes in Maine. Those steps should include removing the Route 27 boat launch and relocating it to a place where there is no milfoil that could attach itself to boats or trailers that are being brought out of the water.
Major General Bill Libby, of Waterville, president of the Messalonskee Lake Association and head of the Maine Army National Guard, delivered letters to the commissioners of the state departments of Conservation, Environmental Protection, and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The letters outline how milfoil has become a scourge at Messalonskee Lake despite four years of state restrictions and inspections at the Route 27 boat ramp. Libby said that the milfoil infestation at Messalonskee Lake has grown so bad that he cannot envision it ever being eradicated.
By closing the ramp on Route 27, he said, the state would take an essential step toward preventing boaters from spreading the plant to the other Belgrade Lakes or to Maine's other pristine lakes and ponds. State officials and members of sportsmen's groups, who have opposed past efforts to close the Route 27 boat ramp, should support the measure this time.
Variable-leaf milfoil is an aggressive plant that forms dense mats that clog waterways and crowd out native aquatic plants. It often chokes off the habitats of fish and other wildlife and can create ideal breeding areas for mosquitoes. Milfoil's thick growth can also make lakes unusable for recreational purposes, including boating, swimming, and fishing.
We have applauded the state, environmental groups, and volunteer boat inspectors in the past for their efforts to combat milfoil by monitoring lakes, keeping close watch on boats as they enter and leave, and teaching the public about milfoil and its dangers. While we hope these programs will continue, more extreme measures are needed.
—Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Maine's legislature has been largely free of ethics complaints in recent years, but a Wilton legislator's efforts on behalf of a paper mill where he works has shed new light on an old dilemma. Critics of Representative Thomas B. Saviello, a Democrat turned independent, say he has crossed the line with his repeated interference in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency that regulates pollution discharges from International Paper, where Saviello is the environmental manager.
Saviello's conduct has had environmental groups grumbling since his election in 2002. The issue blew up this past fall, when an open-records lawsuit produced documents that suggested he conducted ethically compromised negotiations with dismissed DEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher over hazardous waste violations at his mill. Saviello denied Gallagher's charge, but her replacement, David Littel, says Saviello was an active participant in the talks.
The case raises a perennial question: Where is the line between legitimate participation and undue influence for Maine's part-time citizen legislators?
Clearly, it's in the state's best interest to attract the best and most qualified people to serve in the state House and Senate. Maine's legislators, however, make an average of $9,000 per year for sessions that can last for more than five months. So unless they're retired or financially independent, they have to maintain an income from other professions. They also have to plan for the day when they're no longer in the legislature and must resume private lives and careers.
Their work often provides them with a level of expertise that is invaluable in drafting laws — laws which often affect their professions. The perfect legislator would be one who knows everything about government and has no conceivable financial interest in anything. But in the real world, many (if not most) legislators work for businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations that can be affected by legislation that arises in committee and ultimately comes before the full chamber. This makes questions about conflicts of interest almost inevitable.
Maine's ethics laws recognize this tension and essentially ask legislators to police themselves. Many do. The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices regularly responds to requests for rulings from legislators on gifts, speaking engagements, and the like.
The Saviello case is a rare but important variation. So, the ethics commission needs to do a thorough and unflinching review of it.
If public confidence in government is to be maintained, it's not enough that officials avoid actual, demonstrable conflicts of interest, state ethics law says. They must also "scrupulously avoid" the appearance of misconduct.
—Portland Press Herald
A Fitting Name
The new bridge over the Penobscot River on Route 1 deserves a name befitting its graceful towers, harp-like cable arrays, and gorgeous setting. Not the clunker proposed recently.
The Downeast Gateway Bridge is a fine name, in a pedestrian sort of way. The legislators who selected it felt since their $84-million bridge was a metaphoric gateway to Maine's Down East region, it was a good, descriptive name.
It's sure better than Waldo-Hancock Bridge, the name of the once-modern steel span built for one ten-thousandth of the cost of the new one. But the new bridge is a modern marvel, an architectural exclamation point. Surely it deserves something a little fizzier.
The inevitable naming contest produced some funny nominees: The Wicked Big Bridge. The Big Scary Bridge. The Wicked Big Scary Bridge. (Our favorite.)
Maine Department of Transportation engineers probably didn't like that scary stuff. No sense of humor.
So Downeast Gateway Bridge it is, though locals will surely shorten it to "Downeast Bridge," "Gateway Bridge," or even the "D-G Bridge." Until it, of course, gets swamped by lollygagging summer tourists. Then that fancy structure may indeed take a colorful new name, like "that gosh darn bridge."
Or something even fizzier, perhaps.
-Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland