A New Attack on the Allagash
Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland
State Senator John Martin is at it again. Martin, D-Eagle Lake, reignited a simmering conflict over management of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway with a stunt destined to become a prominent part of the conflict's sorry lore.
Martin, along with Representative Troy Jackson, D-Fort Kent, saw the July Fourth holiday as an opportune time to reopen the closed Old Michaud Farm Road with a bulldozer and a chain saw. The road was closed by the 2003 settlement of management issues known as the River Driver's Agreement.Martin signed the accord, but he didn't like it. (He now says he didn't know what he was signing — a dubious claim from a savvy pol like him.) So this past session, Martin muscled through legislation that abandoned the River Driver's Agreement in favor of management by a politically appointed panel, to which Martin, naturally, got himself appointed.
Yet rather than giving the process he designed a chance, Martin cowboyed up on a Caterpillar for an act he and Jackson knew would enrage environmentalists who see the Allagash as something akin to a holy place. The duo knew their Independence Day grandstanding would be an instant hit with those who object to the access limits and other restrictions imposed on the waterway when the state agreed to manage it for maximum wilderness character.
The pair apparently had the landowner's permission, but that's not the point. Recall the howls of indignation from locals this winter when a pair of well-known guides cut some brush to seek safety from deteriorating ice conditions.
Sound like a double standard?
Governor John Baldacci is in a tough spot. Booting Martin from the panel would only make him a martyr. Condoning this breach of civility with inaction will infuriate conservationists. Meanwhile, Martin must be quite pleased with the ruckus he's wrought.
Bangor Daily News
A Laptop Success Story
The goal of Maine's laptop program was to ensure that technology became an ally to students, rather than an obstacle. Numerous studies have found that this has happened, so it is welcome news that the program has been renewed for another four years.
After lawmakers included the money in the state budget, the Maine Department of Education recently signed a $41 million agreement with Apple Computer, Inc. to provide new laptops to more than thirty thousand seventh- and eighth-grade students and their teachers over the next four years. The new computers have more memory, faster processors, and built-in DVD drives and will cost $289 each, less than the $300 per machine in the original contract. Upgraded wireless networks and professional development for each of Maine's 241 public middle schools are also included in the contract.
The deal is also available to high school and elementary schools as well as private schools. Districts would be wise to use a portion of their technology budget to buy the low-cost, well-equipped computers. Older computers will be upgraded using privately raised funds and then used in other grades, spreading the state's investment even farther.
While more work needs to be done to correlate test scores with laptop use, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, as the program is officially known, is improving teaching and learning, according to a recent survey by the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, & Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine. Teachers reported that they could access more up-to-date information, customize curriculum to meet student needs, and explore topics in greater depth because of the laptops. As a result, teachers said students participated more in class, were more motivated, and did more work independently with the individual computers.
In 2001, the Task Force on Maine's Learning Technology Endowment said, "Our schools are challenged to prepare young people to navigate and prosper in this world, with technology as an ally rather than an obstacle." Five years later, Maine has made technology an ally.
Getting the technology in the hands of students was a big step — for which Maine received accolades from around the world. Ensuring it remains up-to-date is necessary or technology will once again become an obstacle. This new contract ensures that won't happen. The next challenge is to get laptops to the state's high school students.
Sun Journal, Lewiston
It's an embarrassment, and it ought to be front and center in the upcoming race for governor. Among all fifty states, only Maine and Louisiana experienced a decline in economic activity last year.
We're often skeptical of such rankings; too often they are compiled and promoted by groups with an interest in tax policy. But these dismal statistics come from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The study, which was publicized by a story in the New York Times, compared job growth, unemployment rate, wage income, and factory workers' average weekly hours. Maine lost 1,700 manufacturing jobs in 2005 and 800 financial sector jobs.
Louisiana's bottom-rung ranking is clearly related to the devastation left by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. So, had it not been for the ravages of nature, Maine may have been all alone at the bottom of the list.
The state had hoped that growth in other sectors, like education, health, and professional services, would offset the decline. That happened to some extent, but it wasn't enough to offset the losses. Mainers thrown out of high-paying jobs are not finding equal or better jobs in other fields.
According to the New York Times story, Maine's job growth last year was flat, compared to 0.6 percent in New England and 1.5 percent for the nation. And this year isn't shaping up much better. So far, some four hundred workers have lost jobs at the Georgia-Pacific tissue plant in Old Town. The Bangor Daily News recently reported that if a buyer is not found for that mill, an additional one thousand related jobs could be lost in the region. Georgia-Pacific agreed to work with the state for sixty days after the closing to help find a buyer, but that deadline expired in June. And the impending closure of the Brunswick Naval Air Station promises to have a similarly negative ripple effect in this area.
Conservatives have long argued that Maine's tax and regulatory system leaves the state with an unfriendly business climate, making it difficult to recruit new businesses or even keep existing businesses going. Governor John Baldacci will no doubt get an earful of that argument from Republican challenger Chandler Woodcock between now and November's election.
Baldacci has a ready list of the things Maine has done to become more competitive. But the Federal Reserve study speaks for itself: We're still losing ground.
Times Record, Brunswick
Deciding Bath's Future
Much of the debate about the New BathPort condominium project has centered around the impact that the project's three buildings would have on "the character of Bath." With the city council's decision to put on the November 7 municipal ballot a citizen-initiated referendum to overturn the council's approval of the contract rezoning requested by New BathPort developers John Hall and Edwin Rogers, Bath's character will take center stage.
In the months leading up to the vote, residents of Bath will have an opportunity to define their city's character by the way they approach the controversy. Far more than any issue related to building height, contract rezoning, or design standards, the tenor of the New BathPort debate will reflect the true character of the people who live and do business in the "City of Ships."
Already, rumor and innuendo have crept into the discourse about New BathPort, circulated largely by e-mail and street chatter. This type of communication — while effective in shaping opinions on perhaps the most volatile issue to arise in Bath during the last decade — knocks meaningful discussion off course and reflects poorly on the character of Bath.
The city's character — and its reputation throughout Maine and beyond — will be enhanced by thoughtful, open discussion of this project and its repercussions. Unfounded conspiracy theories and character slurs will only distract voters from the critical issue that they must decide on November 7.