Down East 2013 ©
Doesn’t hold water: On Feb. 3, the Portland Press Herald ran an interesting story  by staff writer Tom Bell on how the Shipyard Brewery in Portland had somehow been undercharged for sewer usage for years, an errors that had cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nobody seemed to know how this mistake, which occurred in 1996 when a second water line was installed, had happened. The municipal worker responsible for setting up the system was dead, but, according to the Portland Water District, had repeatedly said over the years that no meter was necessary because all the water was going into bottles and none into sewers. Portland City Hall promised an investigation.
The next day, Bell had a follow-up piece  that began with this line:
“The city worker who has been accused of mistakenly allowing Shipyard Brewing Co. to avoid paying for a large part of its sewer use since 1996 may have been unfamiliar with how breweries worked because Shipyard was Portland's first brewery in modern times, the city's spokeswoman said Friday.”
Bell apparently bought this excuse, because he repeats part of it later in the article, writing, “There are five breweries in Portland today. Shipyard was the first, opening a plant on Newbury Street in 1994.”
Here’s the reality, which Bell or his editors should have known.
There are actually at least seven breweries in Portland today. But Shipyard was hardly the first. In 1994, before its first water line had been installed, both the D.L. Geary Brewing Co.  and Gritty McDuff’s  brew pub had been fermenting fine ales for several years. By the time Shipyard’s second line was installed in ’96, the city’s brewery roster had grown to include Casco Bay Brewing, Allagash Brewing and Stone Coast Brewing.
This sequence is of importance to more than those of us with an interest in the history of local craft beer. That’s because it shows that by 1996, Portland and its regulatory officials had to have been quite familiar with how breweries operated, since they’d issued permits for a lot of them. They had to have known that most of the water that went into the brewing process came back out into the sewer system, because they were charging Shipyard’s competitors accordingly. So City Hall’s explanation that ignorance of the process is responsible for such an expensive freebie can’t possibly be true.
It would be interesting to know who told the city official in 1996 that the new line wouldn’t produce any outflow to the sewer system. It would be useful to understand what safeguards, if any, were in place back then to make sure sewer fees were assessed correctly. It also might be important to find out if the system has been improved to prevent a reoccurrence of this situation.
The Shipyard snafu could be the result of an honest mistake. Or it could be something more sinister. But considering the amount of money involved, the matter deserves more thorough – and more skeptical – reporting than the Press Herald has thus far provided.
And it wouldn’t hurt if somebody at the paper checked the clips in its library.
Monks watch: While I’m on the subject of incomplete reporting in the Press Herald, it’s worth mentioning this sad subject once again (if only to make the record as complete as possible). On Feb. 2, the Portland paper ran a big front-page story  by staff writer Dennis Hoey on the decision by the Sprague Corp. and Black Point Resource Management  to drop its controversial plans for a large parking lot and other amenities next to Scarborough Beach State Park. As usual, no mention that Robert C.S. Monks , a major figure in both companies, is a board member and minority owner of MaineToday Media, the Press Herald’s parent company.
Looking for comment on comments: The Lewiston Sun Journal goes further than any online forum I’m aware of to keep comments posted on its website respectful. For the past year, the Sun Journal has required anyone wishing to join the cyber-discussion to register (which lots of sites, including this one, do) and has then called each registrant to verify his or her identity (which goes well beyond what other sites bother to do).
The result, according to a column  in the Feb. 6 paper by web editor Pattie Reaves and new media director Anthony Ronzio, is a politer Internet, but one with far fewer active participants. “Although our total comments have halved in number,” Ronzio and Reaves write, “our regular readers report this system has resulted in better discussions.” They go on to say that “fewer comments does mean less debate about the issues facing our community. And our measurements of online comments over the past year also show that a minority of voices are doing the majority of the talking.”
The paper is seeking input as to how the system could be improved by conducting a survey  of its readers.
Covering the cop shop: Public station WGBH-TV in Boston took on the controversy over a report last week – since partially toned down – by a reporter at WCVB-TV, also in Boston, that Maine State Police now believe a missing Maine child from Waterville was dead. The discussion on the show “Beat The Press ” says a lot about the differences between Maine journalists, who generally treat everything from official police sources as gospel and rarely stray outside law-enforcement guidelines in what they report, and that of more aggressive – and sometimes resourceful – reporters elsewhere.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .