The Maine Viewpoint
TIMES RECORD, BRUNSWICK
Base Closure Blues
Parkview Adventist Medical Center's recent announcement that it would close its maternity unit provides an important sneak preview of what the midcoast region can expect as Brunswick Naval Air Station's (BNAS) closure approaches. In discussing their plans to curtail maternity services after forty-nine years and twenty-three thousand births, hospital officials noted that the navy's impending departure factored heavily into their decision. Patients with ties to BNAS made up about 30 percent of the hospital's maternity patients, according to Sheryl McWilliams, Parkview's vice president for administration.
As Orion P-3 squadrons prepare for their final duty rotations out of Brunswick in anticipation of the base's closure in 2011, an exodus of navy families looms. It won't be a stampede that tramples those it leaves in its wake. Instead, experts warn us to expect a slow, steady out-migration, the cumulative effect of which will cause as much harm as any single coup de grace. Parkview's announcement reflects the current reality that, despite optimistic long-term visions for base reuse, the immediate impacts of the navy's departure promise to be painful. The hospital's termination of maternity services foreshadows other local setbacks likely to result from base closure.
The time for talk has ended. With local institutions basing plans for their futures on the need to brace for base closure, the situation demands action. Now.
As promising as it looks on paper, the master redevelopment plan for BNAS remains speculative. It has yet to take even the first step toward implementation - thanks in part to Governor John Baldacci's delay in nominating members to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. Even the rosiest scenarios indicate that the value of the base's potential as a community asset won't be realized until years after the navy departs.
Citing case histories from previous military base closures, members of the Governor's Advisory Council have persistently warned that Brunswick and surrounding towns could experience a "ghost town" effect that could haunt all aspects of the social network - from child-care programs through schools, charitable organizations, all aspects of business, and on to retirement communities.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
Finding Fault with Caucuses
In one sense, Maine couldn't have planned it better. Sandwiched between the Saturday nominating contests in Washington state, Nebraska, and Louisiana on one side, and the Tuesday races in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., on the other, Maine's Democratic presidential caucuses in February had a whole national news cycle all to themselves.
The result was unusual exposure to the candidates for Maine voters and a welcome influence on the outcome of the national race. But for the people standing outside in lines for over an hour during a snow shower that Sunday, "good planning" were not the words that came to mind. Party organizers prepared for a big turnout, bigger than the seventeen thousand they saw four years ago. But when more than forty-five thousand voters swamped municipal buildings, school gyms, and veterans' halls around the state, the volunteers running the system couldn't keep up.
The 2008 Democratic caucus can be seen as a sign of vibrant democracy in Maine. But even forty-five thousand Democrats voting in an election of such national importance is a sorry turnout compared to the nearly four hundred thousand votes cast for the Democratic nominee in the 2004 general election. Among the people who were not heard were those who had to work and those who will only vote by secret ballot. Many elderly and disabled voters likely stayed home rather than face the winter weather and physical demands of participating in a caucus.
The main argument in favor of a caucus is its cost. A primary is an election paid for by the state, while a caucus is a party meeting run by volunteers. Some like the format because it gives a bigger voice to the most motivated and hard-working party members. Obama's win in Maine, his ninth in eleven caucus states, is a testament to his smooth organization and his fired-up supporters.
But it's too bad that more people were not able to participate in this historic race. Maine Democrats might have done a better job anticipating this year's record turnout, but they could not have made a caucus as accessible as a state-run primary election.
A presidential nomination is rare and important enough to warrant a more inclusive process. Even the people who can't stand out in the snow deserve a chance to vote.
JOURNAL TRIBUNE, BIDDEFORD
Saco's Windy Skyline
In recent times, the skyline of Biddeford and Saco has been acknowledged more for what is missing than what has been added. Last year, the clock tower of the Lincoln Mill in the heart of Biddeford, the timepiece and bell that dictated the pulse of the communities, was unceremoniously removed with little fanfare or respect. After the event, people on both sides of the Saco River were forced to come to grips with a new view dominated by one less portion of our history.
More recently, however, in an effort to punctuate Saco's efforts to move forward into the new century while emphasizing the community's independence and spirit, a wind turbine slowly rose 125 feet into the sky. For the first time in decades something large enough to be deemed a landmark became apart of the vistas of the Twin Cities.
More appropriately, instead of yet another smokestack, the wind turbine is a white and graceful structure, ready to turn in the slightest breeze rolling through the river bends, and bring natural and green electricity to the city. From York Hill, Hill Street, Alex Pizza, Thornton Academy, and everywhere in between, the turbine hovers above the rooftops, something new and enjoyable to look at.
We believe that the recent construction on Saco Island and the erection of the wind turbine is a symbol of the economic recharging of our communities, something which will live in our minds for some time. The excitement that has come with the turbine is palpable. A crowd gathered at the Saco train station parking lot to watch the workers lift the turbine into the air. Biddeford Mayor JoAnne Twomey has told publisher Drew McMullin that she is now determined to bring similar and more turbines to Biddeford as well. Her enthusiasm for the change in the skyline, McMullin noted, was unbounded.
We agree with the mayor when it comes to having more turbines in the area. Perhaps becoming the "Wind Cities" instead of the Twin Cities is the fate of Biddeford and Saco. We can envision more and larger turbines on city land along Flag Pond Road in Saco, or Andrews Road in Biddeford. We can imagine creating enough power to supply downtown mills and City Hall, thus alleviating the need for dependence on others. We can imagine setting the precedent of becoming green cities, something all of Maine can look up to.
Rough Roads Ahead
Governor John Baldacci, after taking a ride around town, told more than a hundred residents of Lincolnville recently that their roads "are in terrible condition and the roads need work, there's no question about it." The governor could just as easily have been meeting with folks in Blue Hill, or Deer Isle, or scores of other communities where deteriorating roads are becoming more and more of a problem with every passing year.
Right here in Hancock County, examples abound of potholes, frost heaves, and ruts that can take the unsuspecting motorist by surprise, creating the potential for vehicular damage, crashes, and injury. The real problem is that, in too many instances, the periodic resurfacing projects are no longer enough. As Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Cole observes, Maine has about 8,300 miles of roads and at least 1,500 miles of them were never built to modern standards. At a cost of eight hundred thousand dollars per mile, rebuilding happens slowly if it happens at all. The state transportation system also includes 2,700 bridges, many of which already are overdue for replacement, and the money just isn't there.
It is a fact of life that, with every passing year, maintaining the public infrastructure that has grown over decades becomes more and more expensive. At the same time, citizens of Maine, and the nation, have looked to government for more and more services, all of which cost increasing amounts of money.
You may agree or disagree about some of Baldacci's proposals to balance the state budget, but he is absolutely right when he says, "It's not like there is a pot of money somewhere and we can just get at it." With great needs and limited resources, something has to give. Sooner, rather than later, Mainers - indeed, all Americans - must realize that government cannot be all things to all people.
MOUNT DESERT ISLANDER, BAR HARBOR
Common Ground in Acadia
The debate over cell phone towers in Bar Harbor raised some hackles at the town council meeting there recently when one councilor suggested the town should keep in mind the fact that towers would be visible from Acadia National Park. Another councilor countered that the town should not worry about the park and that the park should not worry about town matters.
While the discussion seemed to be tinged with some acrimony, it really doesn't need to be that way. The bottom line is that, on most matters, it is clear the town and the park share values when it comes to determining what is important from an aesthetic point of view.
From atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia at night, the only cell and radio towers now visible stand like a ring of sentinels on the opposite shores of Frenchman and Blue Hill bays. Ellsworth, with its exploding retail malls, glares ever brighter in the distance. The pools of light that are the villages on Mount Desert Island are compact and distinct, surrounded by obvious plains of darkness. Finding places blissfully free of light pollution is becoming an ever more difficult task. If tall, unsightly cell towers are erected, they will mar the view equally, both from the park and from private property in town.
Because of its unique configuration, and the way it was put together through gifts of private land, Acadia is inexorably intertwined with the villages on MDI, and vice versa. Seldom is there an issue that affects one but not the other. Although there may not be a legal responsibility to do so, the park and the communities need to show equal respect and deference to each other.