Portland Press HeraldIt simply would be nice to fix the place up a bit.
Portland Mayor James Cohen and members of the Cumberland County Civic Center board of trustees both make valid points about the facility's renovation.Cohen sees an aging and outdated building and thinks the city should get involved in a conversation about renovating the arena. The trustees point out that they looked at a $30-million renovation four years ago and concluded it wasn't worth it.
Both are right. It does not make sense to pour another $30 million into a facility that can be replaced for less than twice that amount. However, it is worth asking what might reasonably be done to improve the 1970s-era facility.
The Civic Center is showing its age. To this point, the topic of renovations has always been coupled with some fairly ambitious expansion plans to maximize revenue from skyboxes and other amenities. Perhaps the trustees and the city ought to sit down and talk about more modest goals. What, for instance, would a $5-million investment do for the Civic Center? What about $10 million?
Absent outside financing, from the state or a private party, an investment on the scale of $30 million for a major renovation, or $60 million for a replacement, seems unlikely. Both the city and the county depend on local property taxes for revenue, and those taxpayers are already unfairly burdened. But that doesn't mean fans of the Portland Pirates hockey franchise or concertgoers or area high-school graduates all have to suffer in a dumpy facility.
Yes, it would be an economic boost to overhaul or replace the Cumberland County Civic Center. But short of that goal, it simply would be nice to fix the place up a bit.
Cohen has started a conversation that ought to continue.Bangor Daily NewsFishing Rules That Work
New England fisheries regulators, who met in Portland recently, approved a further reduction in the number of days groundfishermen can go out to sea. There is a better way to manage the country's fisheries without forcing fishermen to sit at home. A quota system, coupled with a strict overall limit on what can be caught, would allow fishermen to fish when it was safe and economical.
If further evidence is needed that the current system of input controls — limiting days at sea, gear restrictions, closed areas — is not working, the New England Fisheries Management Council meeting provides it. After dropping the allowed number of days at sea from eighty-eight to fifty-three in 2004, the council cut fishermen's time on the ocean by another 8 percent. There were proposals to cut even further.
A reduction is necessary, the council said, because the number of fish is still dropping in New England waters. According to the latest assessment by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the cod population had fallen by 20 percent between 2001 and 2004. The agency also said the yellowtail flounder population had been overestimated by 77 percent.
As a result, the council determined that the yellowtail flounder catch must be cut nearly in half and the cod catch reduced by one-third in the Gulf of Maine this fishing season, which begins May 1. To limit the catch, the council plans to restrict how much time fishermen can spend fishing.
A better approach would be to set a hard limit on how much of each fish stock can be caught and to assess penalties if the limits were exceeded. Such a provision is included in an updated version of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, national fishing rules that are now being revised by Congress. The next step is to set up a system of quotas to divide up the allowable catch among fishermen.
The bill currently requires a two-thirds vote among fishermen in New England to enact quotas here. Instead of impediments to quotas, lawmakers and fishermen should realize that existing rules aren't working and that a new approach is needed.
Although groundfishermen resist catch limits and quotas, a strict new regime was approved for the region's herring fishery with the support of fishermen. To stop herring overfishing, a new management plan puts in place strict catch limits and bans trawling near shore to reduce catches and decrease by-catch, the unintentional capture of unwanted species.
The herring plan shows that strict limits can be accepted by fishermen. It is a model that the council and Congress should follow with groundfish.Bar Harbor TimesAcadia Transport Spat
An intermodal center designed to reduce traffic coming to Mount Desert Island was proposed last year for a site in Trenton for which Friends of Acadia has a purchase option. It's a location that makes good sense — far enough off-island to cut into the summer traffic crush coming to MDI, yet close enough to make visitors think they have arrived at their destination. That latter factor is almost as important as the first: put a center too far away and no matter how convenient it is folks won't be willing to take public transit to get to their destination.
There are those, however, who oppose the Trenton location, including the Ellsworth City Council, which recently instructed its city manager to seek intervenor status in hopes of persuading the state to look for another site for the center — one that they say would be more beneficial to the entire region rather than to just MDI. They say they hope to lure people to visit other places in the region — not just their own city, but Blue Hill and Washington County besides. Such generous posturing aside, it seems likely that their reasoning for wanting the transit center relocated is much more centered on their own community.
No offense is meant here toward Ellsworth; we spend more than a bit of money there, and are glad to have the abundant and convenient shopping opportunities it provides. We would, however, strongly suspect that the vast majority of the visitors to our neck of the woods come to see the natural wonders of Acadia National Park and not strip malls and big box stores. Still, we would agree with those who say something needs to be done in Ellsworth. So why not two hubs? Senator Dennis Damon has said he sees the need for an intermodal center serving Acadia — and a second serving Ellsworth and the rest of the region. We agree with Senator Damon on that. The more extensive the public transit system we have, the better for all of us.
The Trenton center still is in its planning stages, and approval would be needed from residents of that town for it to be constructed. If they give the go-ahead, the hub should be built. It now looks, however, like the issue might be turned into a political football, and that's just wrong. Infighting and selfish interests have doomed many a worthy project before; that should not be allowed to happen in the case of the Acadia intermodal center, whether Ellsworth gets its own facility or not.Maine Sunday Telegram, PortlandDirigo Finger-Pointing
Amid the finger-pointing in Augusta over the state's Dirigo Health program, it's worth noting what all the stakeholders knew going into this attempt at addressing the problems of cost and access with health insurance. Health-care providers, the government, insurers, and consumer representatives all had input into the design of Dirigo Health. They came up with a plan to put controls on spending by providers, help consumers make better lifestyle and health care purchasing choices, and create a new way for Maine people to get insurance, called DirigoChoice.
It is a worthy experiment that has proven a modest success. And it has lived up to the one expectation that everyone had at the time it was passed into law: it hasn't worked exactly as intended. That's right, everyone knew that Dirigo Health was an experiment. For critics or supporters of the program now to pretend otherwise, or to protest when things didn't turn out as expected, is disingenuous.
Insurance companies and businesses are unhappy that the state has ruled that Dirigo Health has achieved more than $43 million in savings. As such, the law allows the state to recover that much in an assessment on private insurance.
The Baldacci administration and some lawmakers, meanwhile, are unhappy that insurance companies have reacted to this news by saying they'll just pass the fees to policy holders. A bill aimed at preventing that was taken up at a legislative hearing recently.
Needless to say, the insurers don't like the idea of having to eat $43 million in fees. Lawmakers counter that it was always expected that the Dirigo fee wouldn't impact consumers but would merely recover already-generated savings.
Insurers have a point when they say that any savings are already reflected in rates. Imperfect as markets are in health care, they can probably be relied upon to bring about lower insurance rates when underlying health-care costs moderate.
But there's a bigger issue here, one that extends beyond arguments over $43 million in an $8.5 billion Maine industry. Rather than sitting down together and solving problems, the stakeholders in the Dirigo Health debate are taking sides and playing power politics.
Given the stakes — and that it is an election year — that's not surprising. What all that jockeying won't do, however, is help more Mainers get affordable health-care coverage.Sun Journal, LewistonSettling for Less
It's beginning to feel like the state motto should be changed to: It could have been worse.
Bank of America recently announced that it was closing at least four call centers around the state, including one in Farmington that employs about ninety-five people. Governor John Baldacci and Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe all treated the announcement like it was a relief. Why? Because the news could have been much worse.
An unnamed source to the Associated Press said that Maine stands to lose a total of 175 full-time jobs and 170 part-time ones as Bank of America reorganizes after its acquisition of MBNA Corp., a deal that was announced last summer. The good news: the former MBNA facility in Belfast, which has about 1,700 employees, will stay open.
At its peak, MBNA employed as many as 4,500 people in the state. That number has been declining for some time. Nonetheless, the company remains one of the state's largest employers.
Given the potential of thousands of jobs leaving the state, it's no wonder political leaders from both parties saw the silver lining of Bank of America's decision. Just looking at the numbers, the state dodged a bullet. But the familiar refrain that things could have been worse gets tiresome.
During the Base Realignment and Closure Commission process last year, Maine stood to lose three installations and thousands of jobs. When it was all said and done, the facility in Limestone was expanded, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was saved, but Brunswick Naval Air Station was selected for closure.
It could have been worse.
By far, Portsmouth employs more people, and Aroostook County would have a tougher time absorbing lost jobs than the midcoast region, where BNAS real estate has great potential for redevelopment.
The state's entire political structure — Democrats and Republicans alike — fought to save the military bases. They likely did the same thing with Belfast. In both cases, the decisions about whether to stay in Maine were ultimately out of their control, resting instead in Washington and Delaware, where Bank of America has taken over MBNA's former headquarters.
When Bank of America acquired MBNA, the company announced its intentions to eliminate six thousand jobs across the two companies. At the time, the state braced for the worst while lawmakers remained optimistic that we could compete with other facilities and hold onto workers.
So far, it has. The largest chunk of the credit card giant's employees here still have a job. And the state is aggressively pursuing other companies that might be interested in the soon-to-be-vacant facilities, which were scheduled to close March 10.
It could have been worse.
Good news shouldn't be so hard to hear.