North by East
Cartoon by Bill Woodman
Rest In Peace
The Wiscasset bypass meets its demise.
The Wiscasset bypass, on life support since the June 2010 discovery of a bald eagle’s nest in its would-be path, has died at the age of fifty-three. Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt pulled the plug on August 3.
Conceived by the Maine Highway Commission (now the Maine Department of Transportation), the bypass was supposed to be part of an ambitious plan to rebuild Route 1 between Bath and Waldoboro. It would have routed traffic around Wiscasset village, which in summer produces one of the most congested stretches of roadway in the state.
Yet for all the attention lavished upon it, the bypass failed to thrive. It remained stuck in perpetual infancy, and only a few times in its five-plus decades of nonexistence did it display even the slightest promise of maturation.
One of those times was 1974, when the Cowseagan Narrows Bridge replaced the causeway linking Westport Island and the mainland. Built to mitigate the effects of heated effluent from the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant by increasing water flow, the bridge also was designed to be part of a southern bypass route. Not long after it was completed, however, MDOT removed southern alternatives from consideration.
In 2010, the United States Army Corps of Engineers selected a route from one of three northern alternatives. A month later, the bald eagle’s nest, which is protected by federal law, was found. MDOT was forced to cross that route off its list, too.
Bernhardt described his decision to kill the bypass as an act of mercy for the dozens of homeowners whose houses stand in the proposed routes’ paths and for Maine taxpayers who would have been asked to spend $100 million to relieve a traffic problem that occurs a few days a week six to eight weeks a year. “At some point you have to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Bernhardt said at a news conference.
Besides the Cowseagan Narrows Bridge, the Wiscasset bypass leaves its siblings, the Newcastle-Damariscotta bypass, age forty-nine, and the Nobleboro bypass, forty-one; four (at least) bypass studies that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece; several hundred residents in seven Lincoln County towns who approved of the bypass in two nonbinding referenda; and 25,000 vehicles creeping through Wiscasset village each day in July and August. -- Virginia M. Wright
The United States Olympic Committee finds itself facing one tough competitor.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is encountering Olympian-strength resistance to its efforts to control the use of the word “Olympics” from a central Maine builder and cattleman. Harold Brooks, the USOC asserts, violated federal law when he sold tickets to the first-ever Redneck Olympics, which attracted some of Maine’s best toilet-seat horseshoe players, wife carriers, and mud runners to the small town of Hebron on a Saturday afternoon in August.
“That’s just insane,” says Brooks, who received a phone call from a USOC paralegal on the Monday after the event explaining that Congress had given the organization exclusive rights to the word “Olympics” in the United States through the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. The USOC wasn’t seeking damages, but it did ask Brooks not to use the name “Olympics” again.
“At first I thought she was joking,” Brooks says. “This is a word that was used by the ancient Greeks, and just like the Olympic Games imitate what people were doing in Greece, we’re imitating what people were doing in Greece. The [USOC] didn’t make up this name.”
The USOC followed up with a letter explaining the law, adding that the Redneck Olympics not only was “disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and belittles their hard work,” but also denigrated the “true nature” of the Olympic Games, which represent “ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.”
Brooks is having none of that. The Redneck Olympics, he says, was simply about having a good time — and raising money, through beer sales, for two good causes, the Homeless Veterans’ Fund and the Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston.
About 2,500 people turned out for the event that was opened by a man in a pig costume, who burst out of an outhouse with a torch in hand and set fire to a trash- can full of wood. People bobbed for pigs’ feet, and they raced each other on lawnmowers. A dozen roasted pigs and freshly harvested corn and potatoes were served. “We expected people to have a good time,” Brooks says, “but we didn’t expect they’d have as good a time as they did.”
This isn’t the first time the USOC has objected to groups using the word “Olympics.” In 1982, the Gay Olympics changed its name to the Gay Games rather than face legal action from the USOC.
Brooks, who has received calls from reporters as far away as England and Australia, concedes he will lose if the USOC takes him to court. “I can’t fight them legally,” he says. “They have too much money.”
So why not just change the festival’s name and move on? “I’m tired of all these people with money and power doing anything they want,” he explains. “This is a small thing. But just because Congress made a law in 1998 doesn’t make it right now or even make it right then. We’ve got all these problems in the world right now, and we’re going to chase down the small guy? That’s just bullshit.”--V.M.W.
Leif Erikson Wasn’t Here
An ages old theory about a Viking dam in Down East Maine is debunked by science.
We love a good mystery, so we were intrigued when we learned about the lore surrounding Norse Pond in the Down East fishing community of Cutler. Tucked in the woods about three hundred yards from the ocean, the 10.5-acre freshwater pond is part of the 1,500-acre Bog Brook Cove preserve owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. A trail offers views of this tranquil way station for migrating waterfowl, but it doesn’t come close enough for a glimpse at a structure that has puzzled people for centuries: the four hundred-foot rock wall that forms the pond’s eastern shore.
The long-held theory is that this wall is a display of mechanical skill and intelligence — a dam, in other words, built by an ancient people, most likely Vikings, hence the name Norse Pond given by Cutler’s settlers in the eighteenth century. By the 1800s, the notion that Norse Pond was manmade was pretty well accepted as fact: “Between [the pond] and the ocean rises a large hill or elevation, while behind is a second stretch of high land,” the journal American Angler reported in 1888. “Human hands at some early period converted this small intervale into an artificial body of fresh water by damming up a brook which flowed through it.”
Subsequent reports, some as recent as the 1990s, weighed the possibility that the dam’s architects were Wabanaki, Acadian, Celtic, and even Japanese (the latter suggestion came from a Japanese summer resident who took note of the wild rice growing in the pond’s shallows).
Curious if any new theories have emerged, we called the preserve’s steward, Melissa Lee, who referred us to Harold Borns, Jr. a retired University of Maine professor of glacial and Ice Age geology. Borns promptly threw cold water — make that cold seawater — on our romantic notions of men in horned helmets building reservoirs on the Bold Coast circa the year 1000 A.D.
“Norse Pond was not dammed up by humans,” Borns asserts. “The dam is nothing more than a rocky beach like Seawall at Acadia National Park. It’s just a ridge of boulders swept into place by waves about 17,000 years ago.” Borns bases his conclusion on core samples of the pond sediment that he examined with Ronald Davis, a professor emeritus in UMaine’s biological sciences department and Climate Change Institute, a few years ago.
Very simply put, after the glaciers retreated, the sea flooded the depressions they left behind. “A lot of Maine was under 250 feet of water,” Borns says. “We have even found sea shells in Millinocket.” A few thousand years later, the earth’s crust rebounded and the ocean receded. It was around that time — some 12,000 to 13,000 years ago — that Norse Pond became emergent. Humans had nothing to do with it.
Learning the solution to a puzzle brings a great deal of satisfaction, but it can be a bit of a let down, too. The thrill, after all, is gone. But Norse Pond hasn’t given up all its secrets. Last year, Borns returned to the site with Lee, retired Maine State Archaeologist Mark Heddon [page 66], and Passamaquoddy historian Donald Soctomah to examine some rock carvings along the shore. The group concluded that the shapes — some resemble the letters M, W, and a stretched-out O — were made with a chisel, probably sometime in the eighteenth century. Who made them and why is a mystery, but this much we know for certain: It wasn’t a Viking.--V.M.W.