The rising price of petroleum seems to be having contrary effects on Mainers. When it comes to transportation, the arrival of $4-a-gallon gasoline
- it first showed up in Calais on May 21 and quickly spread to Rangeley, Vinalhaven and other locations - has sturdy, sensible types considering a return to the horse and buggy of the 19th century
. At least that's one explanation for the 3.6 percent decline in gas sales
in the state over the last 10 months. Meanwhile, the price of No. 2 heating oil topped $4.36 a gallon in many places, a full buck more than last year at this time. But nobody seems to be advocating old-time home-heating solutions (such as cuddling up in front of the fire next to a warm friend). Instead it's futuristic ideas that are all the rage, with self-feeding wood-pellet furnaces, geo-thermal systems, arrays of solar panels and little nuclear power plants that can be hidden behind a couple of shrubs in the back yard all selling like tickets to the latest Indiana Jones flick. Well, except for the mini-nukes, which I made up.
One bold, new idea that's hasn't caught on is Auburn's effort to allow residential customers to join with the city in a joint heating-oil purchase. Even though nearly 600 residential customers wanted to take part in that deal, most oil companies weren't interested in bidding for the business.
The one dealer willing to take on the challenge wanted top dollar - more than $4.70 per gallon - for household deliveries and $4.37 for municipal tanks, causing Auburn officials to concede the hastily concocted proposal was dead for this year.
Let's try to make this sound like good news: The average tuition increase for the University of Maine System this coming year won't be as much as last year.
In 2007, college costs at the seven-campuses jumped by 10.5 percent. In 2008, it'll only hurt another 10.1 percent. The tuition hike will raise $20 million, and, along with $15.7 million in cuts, will allow the university to balance its budget in spite of rising costs for health care and heating, as well as declining enrollments at some branches, most notably the University of Southern Maine.
It looked like it was going to be a good week for Roxanne Quimby.
On May 21, the Morning Sentinel published George Smith's weekly column, in which the "Native Conservative" and executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine wrote that he'd been able to find "common ground" with Quimby - the multi-millionaire, anti-hunting, anti-trapping, anti-snowmobile, anti-ATV eco-activist - on many issues. Smith joked that he was taking the "Ban Roxanne" bumper sticker off his Jeep. One day later, compromise was hard to find, as the Bangor Daily News published a front-page story on how Quimby, the former owner of Burt's Bees
and the current owner of more than 24,000 acres of former paper-company property near Baxter State Park, has begun evicting tenants with camps on leased land, some of whom had been there for decades.
Starting May 27, the state Land Use Regulation Board will begin deliberating the gigantic Plum Creek proposal to develop 975 house lots and two resorts on 20,000 acres near Moosehead Lake.
Besides the volumes of documents the company has produced in support of its plan, the commissioners will also be considering a 127-page report from its staff recommending major reductions in the size and scope of the development. Plum Creek has yet to comment on those proposed changes, but opponents of the project have made it clear that even these cuts don't go far enough.
Since everything else is going up, here are some stories in which the word count has gone way down: Fairpoint Communications, the new owner of Verizon's land lines in Maine, has admitted its software screwed up and caused gaps in 911 emergency phone service in Cumberland County.
By May 22, the company and the county's regional dispatch center agreed the technical problems were resolved.
No date yet announced for fixing the public-relations troubles.
Maine is one of only two states in the country to permit prison inmates to vote. On May 21, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
took advantage of that law by holding a voter registration drive at the Maine State Prison in Warren.
Some school districts in Maine have asked the state for permission to convert to four-day weeks this coming year to save money on energy. Capitol News Service reported on May 23 that Education Commissioner Susan Gendron turned down the requests,
saying state law does not permit a shorter school year. But Gendron said the Legislature should consider changing that law.Bath Iron Works may have a big gap in its work schedule in 2009,
because Congress can't agree on what ships - if any - the Navy should build. The Senate has passed legislation authorizing $2.6 billion that year for a state-of-the-art DDG 1000 destroyer, which could be built at BIW. The House has approved just $400 million, only enough to buy parts. A conference committee will have to settle matters.
This weeks recommendations for ways to pass the time in Maine:
Attend the Dixfield town meeting.
This year, it took eight hours, beginning at 6 p.m. on May 22 and ending at 2 a.m. on May 23, although that included two brief power outages and three hours of discussion of the police budget.
Chase the pig around the Colby College campus in Waterville.
A Vietnamese pot-bellied pig has been roaming free there for more than a week. Attempts to net and trap the wily swine have thus far failed.
Ride down Sunday River on your mountain bike.
Boyne USA, the new operator of the ski resort in Newry, is resuming running its lifts for bikers, starting June 27. Sunday River's previous owner discontinued the summertime practice four years ago.
Check out the Shangri-La Music and Arts Festival in Blue Hill
in August. Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Sam Bush, Southern Culture On The Skids and lots more. Earlier in the summer, the same producers are offering up concerts with Richard Thompson and Iris DeMent at the Camden Opera House.
Too high-brow for you? Check out the E! network's new reality show "Living Lohan." It features Waterville singer, songwriter and producer Jeremy Greene
in three of its eight episodes about the family of actress Lindsey Lohan.
That ought to take your mind off the high price of gasoline.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org