Editorial Opinions from Across the State.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Memo from the Boonies
Unclear on the concept. That's the only explanation for the attitude of this country's chief telecommunications official, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, who said recently that he's concerned about the high cost of subsidizing cell phone tower construction in rural areas that don't have the customers to justify the expense.
Well, duh. This has got to be a guy who never travels to a place where he can't get cell phone reception.
Here in Maine, those rural areas wouldn't be rural if they had lots of people in them. If they had lots of people in them, then they'd be profitable places for telephone companies to provide cell phone service. But they don't, ergo the need for government subsidies to extend the important capacity to get cell phone reception in the willywacks.
Or are we just supposed to say "tough luck" to those who live on the back side of beyond? By that reasoning, we would never have electrified our rural landscape during the earlier part of the last century.
But we did, because as a nation we realized that the benefits of the modern world should not be isolated to city dwellers. Now, the FCC is debating cutting back on the government funds that have so far subsidized the extension of cell phone service into the countryside. As anyone who has traveled outside of the Beltway surely knows, in some rural areas you can count on losing your connection with every dip in the road, every rise of a hill. Those connections are necessary, not the least for the safety of our rural residents.
So here's a challenge to Commissioner Martin: Come to Maine and spend a week working up in Washington, Somerset, and Kennebec counties. Have your driver tootle you around from town to town (you can recognize a town, commissioner, because it usually has a gas station in it or a Renys, which is our version of a department store). Try to conduct all your business from your - disconnected, sorry - car, or the side - disconnected again, darn! - of the road, or the hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon - heck! lost you again! - attached to the gas station at the -
And then tell us about those rural customers who don't justify the expense of extending cell phone service. When you're one of them, things might look a little different.
Bangor Daily News
Building on Conservation
The Millinocket area, like much of Maine, lacks the type of accommodations and amenities that many tourists seek, costing the region and state valuable tourism dollars. A resort plan that cleared its first regulatory hurdle recently could begin to solve this problem. If, as the developer and regulators believe, such a project will draw more tourists - and their money - to the region, they should re-examine the project, say five years after it is complete, to see if it is attracting people and if more money is circulating in the local economy.
The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) unanimously approved the rezoning of 244 acres on Millinocket Lake as the first step toward the building of a $65-million resort there. Local businessman Matthew Polstein proposed to build an eighty-room adventure lodge, twenty resort homes, a dozen rental cabins, a conference center, seven family compounds, and a thirty-five-acre subdivision on the property. Mr. Polstein already operates rental cottages on the lake and the New England Outdoor Center, which offers snowmobile tours, white-water rafting, and other outdoor activities.
With the rezoning approved, Polstein must still obtain development permits from LURC as the project moves forward. He hopes to open the lodge in 2009.
According to a 2003 study of the area encompassing Greenville and Millinocket, three million people took day trips to the region, but less than 19 percent spent the night there. The study, by Longwoods International, a Canadian company that has done many tourism studies for the state, found that people primarily visited the area to travel through areas of scenic beauty and experience the natural environment and engage in outdoor activities such as camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, or rafting.
The company has noted in several reports that Maine lacks high-end accommodations that many travelers, especially well-heeled baby boomers, desire. Without such hotels, restaurants, and outfitters, the state is losing tourism dollars that it otherwise could attract.
Polstein's resort is the state's first large-scale opportunity to put this theory to the test. Knowing whether such facilities do attract large numbers of visitors and encourage other businesses to develop nearby will help the state know whether to continue to pursue this option.
It is also the first development to test the notion that protecting large swaths of land will boost tourism. Polstein says one reason for proposing development on Millinocket Lake is its proximity to the West Branch and Katahdin Forest lands, which are protected from development by conservation easements.
Although conservation and ecotourism have often been controversial in Millinocket, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue praised the project for blending the region's reliance on forestry and nature. It gives the region "new economic opportunities here that we desperately need," he said.
On a minor note, using the supposed traditional spelling of the state's highest mountain - Ktaadn - in the resort's name may cause unnecessary confusion among out-of-state visitors, something Maine and the region can ill afford.
Whatever it is called, this is a project worth watching.
Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland
Moose Lottery's Disturbing Message
Scientists use adverse changes in the numbers or characteristics of wildlife species as reliable indicators of environmental problems. That could also apply to the annual Maine moose lottery, a fixture of the state's hunting scene since 1982.
It's not that moose are an endangered species - far from it. However, state officials and hunting groups are worried about a falling trend in another species: moose hunters. They're concerned that a decline in interest in winning a moose-hunting license could also apply to a decline in the appeal of hunting in general.
The lottery was created to regulate the number of animals taken, and over the years has attracted hundreds of thousands of applicants from Maine and other states. But in recent years, the number of lottery entrants has declined, despite a complicated system of selling multiple chances and awarding more of them to regular applicants.
In 2001, there were more than 85,200 applicants, but this year, there were only 65,100. Maine applications were down 26 percent, while nonresidents seeking licenses declined by 16 percent. That doesn't affect the number of licenses awarded (set at 2,880), but it does reduce state revenues.
Some officials worry that longtime participants who have never won have dropped out, despite efforts to give them more chances. Others think that because more land is posted against hunting, especially in southern Maine, the lack of opportunity hurts the sport. Still others are worried that fewer young people are interested in hunting moose or anything else, which would adversely impact the funding resources used to benefit wildlife.
If hunters become an endangered species, the impact would be severe, not only on the state's financial resources, but on its natural ones.
A Boom for Brewer
The recent announcement that Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield and South Brewer Redevelopment, LLC, will work together to complete a purchase and sale agreement that could create more than five hundred jobs at the former Eastern Fine Paper mill certainly is cause for rejoicing. Cianbro intends to convert the mill site to a modular construction facility that will fabricate and assemble large modular steel building frames weighing in excess of a thousand tons for industrial process plants throughout North America.
Several plans to redevelop the forty-one-acre site have come and gone since Eastern Fine Paper closed its doors in 2004 and laid off the remaining 240 employees. But the Cianbro proposal is easily the most promising and was welcomed by Niemann Capital, LLC, the community development firm previously selected for the site.
Economic development on this scale has implications that extend well beyond Brewer. In an era that has seen a steady decline of manufacturing in Maine, and the accompanying loss of thousands of high-paying jobs, it is gratifying to see that a Maine-based company has the faith and vision necessary to make such an investment.
Those involved with the project believe there already is an existing Maine workforce of highly talented and skilled craft professionals who have remained here even as the jobs many of them previously held disappeared. And for those who are not skilled but would like to learn, said Cianbro President Peter Vigue, Cianbro has its own education and training program in place as well as a solid relationship with Maine's technical schools.
Bringing large industrial projects to Maine is nothing new for Cianbro. The company completed two semi-submersible oil rigs in 2006 and has done oil tanker rehabilitation and now a ship conversion project that employs more than five hundred workers on the Portland waterfront and at facilities in Bath and Brunswick. Additionally, Cianbro joined with Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and the city of Brewer in 2003 to construct a biomedical research and professional center now overlooking I-395.
Some hurdles still remain if the new company, tentatively named Brewer Module Facility, is to be up and running by its target date of April 1, 2008. Permits must be obtained from appropriate state and local agencies. Hazardous waste left behind from decades of papermaking and abandoned above-ground fuel storage tanks must be removed. Some dredging of the Penobscot River also may be required to accommodate barges, and that will require the involvement - and approval - of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
But early indications are that Cianbro and city officials are committed to making the new facility a reality. "We believe Maine is looking at a unique window of opportunity," said Vigue. "Right now, today, Maine is rich with a significant number of seasoned, talented people with craft skills - welders, pipefitters, millwrights, electricians, and more. And, at the same time, our state is wealthy with young people looking for hope, ready to be mentored, and wanting to live and work in Maine. Together, it is time to seize the moment and let customers know Maine is open for business."
Portland Press Herald
A Disconnect over Plum Creek
For Plum Creek Timber Company and its Moosehead Lake development proposal, maybe environmental interests don't want a rock at all. We refer to the adage where a person is asked to bring forward a rock, only to be told upon retrieving one, "Not that rock, another rock." Plum Creek is on its third plan for developing its lands around Moosehead Lake.
Recently two of Maine's most influential environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon Society, announced they would oppose Plum Creek's latest plan for the Moosehead region submitted to the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC). This may be more than a little frustrating for Plum Creek officials. With their second plan, they were told by critics it had too much shoreline development and not enough conservation of shore lands. They responded with a new plan that does feature less waterfront development and more protection along the water's edge.
Speaking with representatives of Plum Creek and the environmental groups, one begins to sense a fundamental disconnect. This debate involves where development should occur, and what lands should be preserved, but the scale of the Plum Creek proposal is an equally important question.
Opponents say Plum Creek's plans for 950 house lots and two resorts over more than 5,200 acres would result in an additional 2,300 dwelling units in the Moosehead region. For Maine Audubon and NRCM, that's just plain too big.
But how much development is appropriate for the Moosehead region is a fundamental question that likely won't get resolved without guidance from LURC. That's because Plum Creek isn't a charity - it's a business.
The overall size of the Moosehead project goes directly to the bottom line. It is rightly the job of Plum Creek officials to maximize company profits within the bounds of responsible corporate citizenship. They can't be expected to scale the project back unless told by LURC to bring forward a smaller development instead of a rock.