The Maine Viewpoint
JOURNAL TRIBUNE, BIDDEFORD
An Attitude Change in OOB
Is it just us, or are "politics as usual" finally coming to an end in Old Orchard Beach? After years of tumult created by the populace, business owners, assorted town managers, and members of the town council led to situations that created a sort of unwanted identity for the seaside community, things seem to be relatively calm as the winter comes to a close.
Examples of this change in attitude have been many, and we couldn't help but take notice. Despite a complicated and sometimes tense border dispute between Saco and Old Orchard Beach regarding water rights offshore, cooler heads (with the assistance of Augusta) prevailed, and it appears that the situation has been concluded without verbal explosions or lawsuits. Interim Town Manager Louise Reid, a saint among the sinners, successfully and quietly controlled three months of town business, seeing two major issues through (the border dispute and the tragic murders of three of the community's residents), and then passing her torch to the new, town hall leader, Steve Gunty. Now Town Councilor Sharri MacDonald has announced that, without any sort of apparent agenda other than paying attention to her constituents, she will be holding public chat sessions open to all just to gain information about the wants and needs of the people of town.
What? Is this still Old Orchard Beach? We hope it is, and is just a trend forward from a past riddled with controversy, lawsuits, and insults.
We applaud MacDonald for giving her time to the people of Old Orchard Beach, with the hope that she will take back the information gained to the council so decisions that reflect everyone's wishes will be made. For years, we've seen numerous public sessions, periods of outcry, and downright anger go unnoticed or unheeded.
The best example is the Ballpark, which was the subject of public referendum votes, multiple planning sessions involving the taxpayers, and at least one major economic study, all to seemingly no avail.
Factor in obstinance by members of town hall when it comes to business owner opinions, the public's right to know, and the overall feel that the common man had little voice in the community, and one can see where even the smallest positives create such an impact.
We hope the relative peace and tranquility will continue, and the town will move forward without the previous pains. We also hope that other councilors will join MacDonald in her quest for the pulse of the community.
Come November 4, yet another casino proposal will come before the citizens of Maine. The referendum ballot handed to voters will contain the following question: "Do you want to allow a certain Maine company to have the only casino in Maine, to be located in Oxford County, if part of the revenue is used to fund specific state programs?"
Casino means just that. The Las Vegas-style facility, if approved, would contain not just slot machines but also bazaar games, lottery games, video facsimiles, card games, table games, and other games of chance, including poker, dice, roulette, baccarat, money-wheels, and bingo, all designed to separate a player from his or her money.
Though the ballot question doesn't say so, the "certain Maine company" is Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC, headed by one Seth Carey, of Rumford. In the hope of enticing voters to support the plan, Carey and company are proposing to distribute 39 percent of the total gross gaming device income in a twenty-two-way split - everything from repayment of student loans to development of an east-west highway.
But there is a level of arrogance attached to this proposal that hasn't been seen before, at least here in Maine. The legislation would give Evergreen Mountain Enterprises a lock on the casino business, thanks to a provision asserting that, other than the approved commercial race tracks that operate slot machines, the Oxford County casino must be the only gaming facility in the state for at least ten years. And get this: the president of Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC - presumably the aforementioned Seth Carey - must be appointed a voting member on the governing body or board, if any, of each of the twenty-two recipients or programs sharing in the revenue from the casino.
The enabling legislation also would remove any limit on the total number of slot machines allowed in Maine and lowers the minimum age to play slot machines or games of chance from twenty-one to nineteen.
As most promoters do, when he announced his plan back in 2006, Carey represented the idea as a plan for "bringing economic prosperity to the region" and talked in glowing terms about a "commitment to investing in our communities, our people, and our educational system." And why not? If he and his backers can pocket the millions of dollars they anticipate, 39 percent of the revenue seems like a reasonable price to pay for a gambling monopoly of at least ten years' duration.
With his sales pitch, Carey was able to gather the fifty-thousand-plus signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot. But are a majority of Mainers really so gullible as to accept such a proposal? We trust that they are not, and will give the measure the resounding "no" vote it deserves when they go to the polls.
KENNEBEC JOURNAL, AUGUSTA
The Perfect Summer Job
Oh, do we want Norm Shaw's summer job.
Shaw's employment requires him to spend his summer messing about in boats. And as one author has famously said, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
In Shaw's case, it's one boat, actually - his Boston Whaler. Between June 15 and September 15, Shaw uses the boat to deliver mail to the one hundred residents who live around the sparkling waters of Great Pond. It's a thirty-three-mile route that traces a wake along rocky shores clad in fragrant pine and hemlock. What could be better?
We don't know what Shaw is paid, but here's our offer to his bosses in the postal service: whatever you're giving him, we'll do it for less.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
A Toll Too High?
It's understandable that some residents of York might not want the noise and other difficulties associated with a new toll plaza on the Maine Turnpike. But it is also true that the current plaza needs replacement, and a new facility has to go somewhere.
The Maine Turnpike Authority has been studying a replacement for its present structure for years. With about half the traffic on the toll highway using E-ZPass devices to pay tolls without stopping, any new facility would feature high-speed lanes that would allow E-ZPass holders to go through the plaza at higher speeds, reducing or eliminating lines during periods of high traffic volumes.
The current plaza, built in 1969, had a projected life span of twenty-five years, a sell-by date that ran out fourteen years ago. Sited on wetlands, it is sinking at a rate of about an inch a year, and its location on a curving section of highway gives approaching motorists relatively little time to slow down if longer lines or other obstructions impede the approach to its gates. That's why the authority has been looking at new sites for a plaza and has narrowed its selections down to four locations, all within the town of York and all within a stretch of a few miles north of the present plaza.
Two of those locations, however, have raised the ire of people living near the sites, who object to potential noise and what they see as threats to the town's water treatment plant. Those objections aren't trivial, and yet the highway is a major public utility. Making it as safe and efficient as possible is an appropriate goal for the authority.
Site selection is still in a preliminary stage, however, and it may well be possible to take abutters' objections into account in the process. But a new toll plaza is necessary, and one will be built. Somewhere.
MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM, PORTLAND
Financing The Courts
The Maine judicial branch appears to have found a way to head off one fiscal crisis, but there are more on the way. Before confronting the next funding shortfall, the legislature should create a fee system that would let the court system retain some of the money it collects to pay for growth in constitutionally required services.
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said recently that she will not declare a six-week moratorium on criminal trials in order to slash seven hundred thousand dollars from her budget. Instead, she is planning to delay paying the court system's June bills until July, moving those costs from one fiscal year to the next.
While that is better than the proposed moratorium, which would likely have prompted a lawsuit on behalf of indigent defendants, it does nothing to get at the real problems. The court system is getting more expensive to run because the number of criminal cases is increasing. Unlike other parts of state government, which can be stretched or shrunk based on the best judgment of the legislature and governor, a certain level of court services is constitutionally required.
People accused of a crime have a right to go before a judge, whether the state is in good financial shape or not. And if they are at risk of jail time, they are entitled to a lawyer, whether they can afford one or not.
The need for these services tends to increase when the economy takes a dive, meaning that tax-revenue shortfalls and court-budget overruns are probably destined to co-occur. The legislature should create a mechanism that would let the courts retain dedicated fees to assure that support for the court system would increase when the system gets busier.
If not, Maine may have to explain in court why it cannot pay for the basic rights that our constitution requires.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
A Credit Crisis for Consumers
The news that Hannaford Bros. is the victim of fraud, including the pilfering of more than four million customer credit-card numbers, is a devastating blow to the sense of security consumers should have about their financial information. Most of us who carry credit or debit cards know and take security precautions; after all, the threat of identity theft or fraud is an omnipresent - and not exactly new - concept. We keep our Internet shopping confined to reliable, secure sources and shred the credit offers that overflow our mailboxes, lest they be misused.
In short, we know our credit-card information is a black market commodity. Enough television commercials, public information campaigns, and "Hey, have you heard what happened to . . . " conversations have occurred for consumers to wise up to the threat.
Then something like the Hannaford breach occurs: the local grocery store, which doesn't have a retail Web site for maleficent hackers to mine financial gold. The person or persons who stole credit card numbers did so as transactions were processed. Writing on washingtonpost.com, computer security blogger Brian Krebs says the Hannaford breach could have even started at the cash register, which means financial information data might have been stolen before the consumer, or their information, even left the building. What's more frightening, Krebs reported, is the Hannaford breach could foreshadow a tumultuous year, in which consumers experience a new credit crisis regarding the protection of their personal information.
And there's little lawmakers or government agencies can do but clean up afterward. Maine's legislature has enacted several identity theft provisions. More are necessary, as officials realize Maine's laws reference personal identity theft, not the brazen wholesale lifting of numbers.
Now the crime has changed; the law must as well. From a consumer perspective, it's safest to assume larceny as the mother of invention. In our digital world, those bent on ill-gotten gains will go to great lengths to break computer security.
The lesson is simple: consumers must monitor their credit with vigilance, as hackers are staying a step ahead. Fraud and identity theft aren't faraway concepts - it is happening in your local grocery store.
If it can happen at Hannaford, it can happen anywhere. Buyers must beware.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
A New Kind of Green Lobster
Few food products are as well "branded" as the Maine lobster. It's so well known, in fact, that disreputable retailers in other parts of the country have tried to sell shellfish that don't even remotely resemble the state's iconic seafood under the Maine
lobster label. Fortunately, consumers who have had the real thing aren't fooled.
A proposal that would tweak that branding for twenty-first-century consumer tastes, targeting the increasing demand for green, or sustainable, fish is a promising
development. Maine lobster distributors are hoping to earn the endorsement of the Marine Stewardship Council, a London-based organization that has been encouraging responsible fishing since 1997. If they're successful, Maine lobster would be sold under the organization's blue "ecolabel," a seal that tells consumers the shellfish was harvested in a manner that ensures the survival of the species and that catching the lobster was not harmful to the ocean.
Several U.S. food-store chains, including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Target, and Costco, plan to phase in carrying only council-certified seafood. By not going green, Maine lobster could be on the outside looking in at a significant market.
Governor John Baldacci has formed a task force to study what it would take to win certification. Two lobster dealers will raise private funds to pay for a third party to evaluate Maine's lobster harvesting practices. While it's possible that regulatory changes might be needed to win the ecolabel, they probably would be slight.
Maine's lobster fishery is a model of sustainability and has been for generations, through a fairly amicable partnership between state regulators and fishermen. Maine lobster should be the crustacean of choice for both the discriminating consumer and the consumer with a conscience. The ecolabel will help realize that goal.