44 property transfers to a single buyer spark alarms in Mount Desert …

 

SOMESVILLE, Sept. 30, 2020 – “Somebody is buying up half of Mount Desert!”

The cri de couer went out among some in the building trade on MDI last week after 44 property transfers appeared in the Mount Desert Islander under the same buyer’s name.

She’s listed as Corina C. Guild, or Corina G. Gallagher, of Lancaster, Pa. The sellers were from various places in the United States – California, Alabama, Florida, Montana, Oregon and several towns in Maine, including Trenton and Orland.

Here is a page from the newspaper with only a third of the transfers:

This was a job for the awesome investigative reporting skills of the QSJ, which contacted the Hancock County Registry of Deeds in Ellsworth and was directed to https://hancockcountydeeds.com/ to search every deed by name. Indeed the name Guild returned all the deeds at issue.

The first one showed the transfer of two contiguous lots on Rt. 3 near the Giant Slide Trailhead. Together the two lots totaled three quarters of an acre and were assessed slightly more than $160,000.

One down, 43 to go.

The second one showed the transfer of the same two lots.

As well as the third one and the fourth one.

“This happens a lot on Mount Desert,” said town assessor Kyle Avila. The town is so old, many properties have been handed down to numerous descendants. The only way to clear the title is to track down all the known descendants.

I have had my bubble burst more often than not as a journalist. This story went from someone buying up half the town to a mundane title clearance of two lots which made up only .75 acres and was assessed at a little more than $160,000.

But it was still a good story, particularly the genealogy. William J. Kennedy of the Portland law firm of Drummond and Drummond represents the principal owner of the lots. The 44 transfers in the paper were just the first tranch. Kennedy said he still has other transfers coming.

The lots in this case is located on the easter side of Rt. 3 near the Giant Slide Trailhead. The first recorded owner was Giles H. Sargent, a sea captain who was born in 1829 and died in 1908, Kennedy said. One descendant, Walter Sargent, owned one of the lots at one time.

It made me wonder how much orphan land exists on MDI – properties that don’t warrant hiring a lawyer to clear the title.

We still have the Islander … and that’s a good thing for MDI

SOMESVILLE – Does your daily routine include consumption of news and information sources? If so, which ones?

I start with local news – the Greenwich Time and Mount Desert Islander online – and work myself up the ladder, PressHerald.com and BangorDailyNews.com – before the national papers, WSJ.com, NYT.com, WashingtonPost.com. I google sports scores, stock market futures and weather forecast. Before you know it, it’s 9 a.m. and I haven’t even taken out the garbage. On Friday I buy the print edition of the Islander. On Sundays I buy the print editions of the Times, Globe and Press Herald.

But by far the most important of these is the Mount Desert Islander. Since April, when I started this blog, I have received many compliments but some laced with indirect shots at the local paper.

“You’re a breath of fresh air compared to our local paper in Bar Harbor …”

“Why do I need the local paper when your reporting is so much better?”

I admit a certain tug at my vanity when I get these emails. But they are missplaced.

I enjoy the luxury of digging deep into a subject. I am a seasoned journalist who knows how to hone a subject matter and delve into multiple dimensions of a story.

But I am not a replacement for a newspaper. Not even close.

Newspapers, like many local institutions of reliability, suffer from the proximity syndrome: they are still here, so they can’t be any good. Banks, hospitals, hardware stores, grocers. They are all targets of our daily ire, every time they get an order wrong or misspell a name or are slow to process a deposit.

But they carry the oxygen which makes our community breathe. They are the reason MDI is not festooned with chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s and and extensions of a hospital group instead of our own independent MDI Hospital, and banks where I know the names of every teller.

Which brings me to our local paper.

Newspapers are seldom compared across the country, or even across counties. There are some terrible newspapers in Maine. You don’t have to drive far to find them. And for much of the state, there are no local papers at all.

Not too long ago there was an actual newspaper war on MDI. The Islander was the upstart. In 2001, the owner of the Ellsworth American launched a broadside on the Bar Harbor Times, which was founded in 1914. The Ellsworth paper was purchased in 1969 by James Russell Wiggins, a former editor of the Washington Post. Along with the Vineyard Gazette on Martha’s Vineyeard, the two papers set the standards among American weekly newspapers. The Vineyard Gazette was purchased by James “Scotty” Reston, legendary New York Times columnist who turned the paper over to his son Dick Reston. Dick Reston sold the paper in 2010.

Wiggins made profound changes to the Ellsworth paper and turned it into a cultural beacon by adding poetry, essays and deep coverage about the artists and musicians in the area.

By the time I started coming to MDI in 1984 the Ellsworth American was already a prize-winning weekly paper with excellent writing across its super wide format. It covered Maine’s waterfront like the Washington Post covered politics. Wiggins knew the major touch points of his audience. No other paper I know of covers regattas off the coast the way the American does.

I only have faint memories of the two papers on MDI from 2002 to 2012 when the Bar Harbor Times finally threw in the towel. The American won its war of attrition. It could do things with the scale of two papers that the single Bar Harbor Times could not. It could share content of common interest, like coverage of commercial fishing, and culture. It could offer significant geographic pull for regional advertisers like furniture stores, banks, retailers – from Blue Hill to Tremont – at extremely competitive rates. It also owned its own presses and could manage the printing and paper cost efficiently under two titles.

Today’s Mount Desert Islander is still a very good local newspaper that does it job with no fuss and little drama. It doesn’t over-reach and expects its highly educated audience to come to their own conclusions. The “just the facts, ma’am” journalism may strike some as quaint but I find it refreshing in an era of overwrought cable news.

Example: three years ago the Islander reported dutifully about a contretemp over a proposal to demolish an existing motel for a new inn in Bar Harbor. Nearby B&B owners lobbied against the proposal, claiming that planning ordinances forbade the construction of a hotel under the guise of a B&B. After a year’s debate, the proposal was approved and the Inn on Mount Desert opened in 2018.

But that’s not the end of the story. When the pandemic hit in April, complaints surfaced that the inn had violated Gov. Janet Mills’s edict and the town council’s own orders that lodging could only be occupied by essential workers. No less than both the Bar Harbor police department and state health inspectors were involved in an ensuing investigation.

In June the inn was cleared of the accusations. It told investigators there had been only one incident where a guest “lied” about his status, to try to get a room.

Now here is an important nugget: Stephen Coston is part owner of the inn. He is also on the town council and voted against the lodging suspension. As the Islander reported March 30, “Councilors Jeff Dobbs, (Gary) Friedmann, Joe Minutolo and Jill Goldthwait supported the action and Councilors Matt Hochman, Stephen Coston and Erin Cough dissented.”

Wait, there’s more. On July 14, in the municipal elections, Coston was ousted from the town council. The top three vote getters will serve until 2023. Coston lagged far behind the pack.

Goldthwait, Jill 28.8% 1452
Peacock, Valerie 20.7% 1043
Cough, Erin 17% 857
Coston, Stephen 11.5% 578
Strout, Christopher 11.3% 570
DesVeaux, Kevin 10.6% 534

As a citizen I was given all the information and facts by my local newspaper to draw a reasonable conclusion.

I suspect the Costons were victims of zealous competitors who did not want their new inn to chew into their market share.

I also suspect they were victims of a whisper campaign and were rightfully exonerated.

But I believe Stephen Coston should have recused himself from voting on a measure when he obviously was conflicted between his own interest and that of citizens. For which he paid a price.

If you are a thorough reader of the Islander as I am, you will come to the obvious conclusion that for 77 cents a week for a digital subscription, or $2 for the print weekly (I get both), this is a necessary civic action, like wearing face masks to protect each other.

New owner, new look for the Claremont Hotel …

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Sept. 26, 2020 – Well that didn’t take long.

Eager to put his mark on the Claremont Hotel, the new owner wasted little time since closing on the purchase 10 days ago.

The hotel, which has fielded a yellow exterior for most of the last a century, has taken on a new coat of white paint. I wondered whether it was a primer, but a friend suggested that since the scaffolding was down, the color was probably permanent.

This is one of the places you go to fall in love with Maine

Tim Harrington, partner and creative director of a collection of nine Kennebunkport resorts and hotels which was sold to EOS Investors of New York City in February just before the pandemic wreaked havoc, is now calling the shots at the Claremont and making quick changes. He has hired contractors and designers to make much needed updates.

But it will be interesting to see what he does to the dining room at the Claremont which offered serviceable but unspectacular fare. Will he replicate the epicurean sensibility of “Earth” at Hidden Pond resort in Kennebunkport? That would be exciting. But my guess is that he’ll settle for a safer, middle-of-the-road dining room like that at the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor where I recently had a great meal but only because I ordered the special: a pork belly cooked to perfection. My companions had fresh fish which was, well, like well-made fresh fish.

I’m sure Harrington signed a non-compete so he won’t be able to poach Joe Schafer, the chef at Earth. Another unlikely candidate is David Turin, the celebrated Portland chef whom Harrington fired with little notice in November 2017. The shuttling of David’s KPT caused a kerfuffle which got some unwanted press such as this article in the Bangor Daily News.

https://bangordailynews.com/2017/11/07/living/renowned-chef-locals-blindsided-by-closure-of-popular-maine-restaurant/

I’m looking forward to see what Mr. Harrington will create for us, sans the extracurricular friction which probably doesn’t wear well on the Quietside.

The Claremont, which opened in 1884 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places, had been on the market for $6 million. It did not open this year because of the pandemic.

The main building of the Claremont was built in 1883 by Jesse Pease, a retired sea captain, and was one of the first large hotels to be built on Mount Desert Island. It is a 3-1/2 story wood frame structure, finished in clapboards, with a cross-gabled hip roof and a stone foundation. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The building currently has 24 private rooms, as well as Xanthus, the hotel’s restaurant.

The hotel was run by Jesse Pease and his wife until his death in 1900. She continued to operate the hotel until her death in 1917, but sold the property in 1908 to Joseph Phillips, a local doctor. Phillips and later his son ran the property until 1971.

The hotel was known to have hosted the Claremont Croquet Classic, the oldest continuous croquet tournament in the country.

I’m old enough to remember when they required men to wear jackets in the dining room. But the hotel was kind enough to provide them if you came up short sartorially as was the case once with my brother-in-law and me. We rummaged through its collection to find the ugliest ones we could don as a quiet protest.

Then there was the time I couldn’t get out of the 19th century elevator and had to call for help from the desk which luckily was on the same floor.

The Claremont was always slightly behind the times but that was its appeal: You came here to seek that rare sentient experience as your parents might have, to hear the tires crunch on the gravel driveway, to view the uniformed white-clothed croquet players knock an opponent’s ball out of bounds with alacrity and be genteel about it, to smell the ocean at the dock while you await your lobster roll and chips, to sleep in a room with the window slightly ajar, and to taste that morning coffee made from a percolator and not from an espresso machine. I actually saw a couple spend an entire morning on a jigsaw puzzle, while I read the Times on a rocker on the porch.

The dining room offered workman-like New England fare commensurate with its slightly musty sensibility. But the view was why you came. To have a window seat at the Claremont was the prize.

What’s in a name of a place on MDI? Inside Hank Raup’s 38-year journey to find out ..

SOMESVILLE, Sept. 23, 2020 – Ever wonder why a place has its present-day name?

Some may be obvious. Eagle Lake. Beech Hill. Echo Lake.

But what about Acadia? The Bubbles? (hint: origin has an anatomical bent)

For 38 years, Henry A. Raup has been researching the origin of the names of places on MDI, where he spent his first summer vacation in 1959. Since then he’s been coming about “every other year.” The other years were spent mostly in Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. Three years ago he moved to Somesville permanently.

He was a professor of geography at Western Michigan University. As an academic, he was free to roam and study during the summer. He found Mount Desert, an 18-hour drive from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Henry Raup’s shingle as professor of geography hung.

Henry’s father had an interest in the origin of the names of places in Ohio and built an enormous archive of research. The son inherited that penchant. In 1982, Hank Raup began a similar project to categorize names of places on MDI. He conducted his first interview which would become a labor of love that would last almost 40 years.

HENRY RAUP

His manuscript, which he calls gazetteer, is nearly complete and he has asked the Mount Desert Island Historical Society to help him get it published. This week a band of preservationists hailed by Tim Garrity, Mount Desert historian, gathered at Raup’s home in Somesville to help him push his tome through the last mile to publication.
“It is relevant to mention that Hank has developed a visual impairment that will make it difficult for him to review the manuscript at the level of detail that it deserves, thus our request for extra help,” Tim Garrity wrote in his call to arms.

Raup gave enormous credit to Tim Garrity for galvanizing his team to help bring this project to the goal line.

And what a project. The section of places starting with the letter “B” is 54 pages by itself.

I was reminded of Thomas F. Vining, author of Cemeteries of Cranberry Isles and the towns of Mount Desert Island, who recorded every grave in Bar Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont.

Both men are extremely private. Vining declined to be interviewed when I called him.

Raup calls himself a “hermit,” although he did agree to this interview. He has given himself a deadline of January to complete the manuscript. The project then will be in the hands of the editing team at Mount Desert Historical Society.

Raup is a serious scholar and took pains to ensure the true historic dimension of each name. When I brought up the surprising genesis of “The Bubbles,” he was quick to point out that the fishermen who gave the name to the twin peaks were practical people who needed effective ways to identify landmarks and that it did not necessary have a “salacious” origin.

This work is about to join the pantheon of books about the island we treasure. In addition to Vining, I recommend “Roots in the Rocks,” by Charles Child, “A Maine Hamlet” by Lura Beam, “A History of Little Cranberry Island” by Hugh L. Dwelley, “Traditions and Records of Southwest Harbor and Somesville” by Mrs. Seth S. Thorton, “Crossing Lines” by Judith S. Goldstein and “Maine Ways” by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Each has its special place but none with the scope and reach of Henry Raup’s opus.

Bar Harbor Airport’s year-to-date traffic reports; pandemic’s impact felt …

TRENTON – The private jets parked at BHB are easily visible from Rt. 3. In August at the height of the season, one would have thought we were Nantucket.

The truth is a lot more sobering.

The airport has suffered from the pandemic just like all businesses on MDI. The private jet planes parked on the tarmac in Trenton is a deceptive picture.

Bar Harbor Airport is logging its worst year for private aviation since the Great Recession. The number of landings from April through June were epic in their decline. July and August improved a bit but were still underwater compared to a year ago. Airport manager Leroy Muise said most of the planes recorded here were for private planes and that airline traffic has trickled to only 16 a week.

Commuting to MDI from Boston and other tales of erstwhile adventures, tragedies …

Thomas Caruso killed May 16, 1978 -

SEAWALL, Sept. 22, 2020 – I turned to Charles Gill and asked, “Peter Monighetti .. you know who he was?”

Gill and I were waxing nostalgic about the days when we commuted by plane from Boston to the island. I did it only a few years, and only on the weekends of a two- or three-week vacation. Friday afternoons made for familiar faces. One was Ned Johnson, CEO of Fidelity. He was making his way to his “cottage” on Long Pond, while I was headed toward my camp on the same lake. Gill has been coming to Maine for summers since the Sixties. His daughter Charlotte owns Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound here. He and I were chewing the fat while I waited for my lunch and the subject of commuting from Boston came up because we both served sentences there – I as one of only five Yankee fans in a newsroom of 500 Red Sox fanatics.

I learned to pick politically safe subjects to discuss.

By the time I started flying to Bar harbor, the airline of choice was Colgan. Gill was of a previous era, when Bar Harbor Airline owned the route.

He told me of the terrible crash which killed four people – including the founder and his son – all of whom he knew. I googled the accident, which occurred in 1978.

Peter Monighetti was one of two pilots on that flight. Two years earlier he walked away from another crash in Lamoine as he was the solo pilot guiding the Beechcraft 99 to land at BHB when the plane clipped a ridge on the approach. Monighetti suffered only cuts and bruises.

Two years later, as chief pilot for the airline, he wasn’t so lucky. That second crash on May 16, 1978, in extreme rain and fog near the airport in Trenton, would also take the lives of Thomas Caruso of Trenton, the owner of Bar Harbor Airlines, Caruso’s son Gary, and the assistant pilot, Malcolm Conner of Bar Harbor.

But the most famous crash in Bar Harbor Airline history occurred in August 1985. I was city editor of the Boston Globe at the time. Samantha Smith, a girl from Manchester, Maine, gained international fame when she wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov who then invited her to come to Russia and she accepted. She became known as America’s youngest ambassador. She became a huge media phenomenon. Readers under 50 probably have little recollection.

Samantha Smith Holding A Letter
SAMANTHA SMITH SHOWING HER LETTER TO USSR PREMIER

Here’s Wikipedia account of the crash which took her life at Age 13.

“On August 25, 1985, Smith and her father were returning home aboard Bar Harbor Airlines Flight 1808 after filming a segment for Lime Street. While attempting to land at Lewiston-Auburn Regional Airport, the commuter plane struck some trees 4,007 feet (1,221 m) short of the runway and crashed, killing all six passengers and two crew. … it was a rainy night, the pilots operating the aircraft were inexperienced, and an accidental, but not uncommon and not usually critical, ground radar failure occurred.”

I had forgotten about the crash. It didn’t seem so long ago but if she were alive, Samantha Smith would be 55 years old. Many readers of this blog would have no memory of that. Here is a video of her appearance on the Tonight Show:

https://allthatsinteresting.com/samantha-smith

MDI school rankings … how do we stack up?

SOMESVILLE, Sept. 17, 2020 – It’s anyone’s guess what this year will hold as the pandemic wreaks havoc with standardized testing in schools.

The Covid-19 risk, coupled with ongoing uncertainties about what schools will look like next year, is prompting states to consider another year without testing and may lead the federal government to delay the main National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math for the first time ever, Education Week reported.

Which leaves us with only historical data to assess the performance of our schools. On MDI, That’s a blessing, as the island’s schools continue their extraordinary above-average report cards.

Based on test results for 2019 – the last year results were universally accepted – MDI high school and its K-8 schools ranked among the top schools in Maine, with one glaring exception, Tremont Consolidated School, which received some warning signs.

The school ranking site Niche.com has Mount Desert Elementary School as the No. 8 school in Maine, following by Connors-Emerson (Bar Harbor) at No. 11 and Pemetic in Southwest Harbor at No. 13. That went against prevailing belief that Connors-Emerson is the best elementary school on MDI.

https://www.niche.com/k12/search/best-public-elementary-schools/s/maine/?gradeMax=-1,8

Tremont Consolidated School was ranked No. 36.

But another site has very different rankings. Schooldigger.com ranks Connor-Emerson in Bar Harbor as No. 19 in the state, and Mount Desert Elementary School as No. 37. Pemetic School in Southwest Harbor was ranked 41. You may search for your school here https://www.schooldigger.com/go/ME/schoolrank.aspx

“I wouldn’t want to be blind for four years from 2019 to 2023, in one of the most critical and volatile periods in American educational history,” said Andrew Ho, Harvard University education economist.

Year Avg Standard Score Statewide Rank Total # Ranked Elementary Schools ME State Percentile SchoolDigger Rating
2006 54.74 75th 192 60.9%  
2007 63.98 54th 198 72.7%  
2008 69.37 42nd 195 78.5%  
2009 73.80 16th 209 92.3%  
2010 43.07 119th 193 38.3%  
2011 57.49 71st 186 61.8%  
2012 43.88 159th 258 38.4%  
2013 53.29 119th 261 54.4%  
2015 78.41 68th 284 76.1%  
2016 61.14 86th 255 66.3%  
2017 51.90 113th 256 55.9%  
2018 37.82 175th 254 31.1%  

What is happening in Tremont where schooldigger.com is reporting that “Tremont Consolidated School is not ranked due to insufficient test score?” According to schooldigger.com, Tremont was ranked 175th in the state in 2018, the last year data was available, the lowest it’s ever been ranked.

But there is plenty of good news. Mount Desert High School ranks No. 10 among the 114 high schools in Maine, according to schooldigger.com. The following chart shows how MDI HS compares with other Maine high schools. MDI boasts a student/teacher ratio of 10.5 among its 545 students. In 2019 the calculated Average Standard Score was at 93.18 percentile compared to the rest of the state.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-6.png

Garbage in, garbage out, MDI recycling efforts go up in smoke …

SOMESVILLE, Sept. 10, 2020 – If you’re still dutifully sorting your garbage – paper, plastics, cardboard, glass, trash – and taking it to the dump at Southwest Harbor where the bins look their taxonomical selves, you’re wasting your time. The towns on MDI have not had recycling since May.

All our garbage have been hauled to an incinerator in Orrington and indiscriminately burned.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” said Carey Donovan, who represents Tremont in the Acadia Disposal District, a consortium of Cranberry Island, Tremont, Mount Desert, Frenchboro and Trenton which concerns itself with ecologically beneficial ways to dispose trash.

In late May, the $90 million Taj Mahal waste plant of the future, aka Coastal Resource of Maine, closed after only a few months of operations. The network of 115 towns known as Municipal Review Committee (MRC) had supported the charismatic Craig Stuart-Paul, the founder and CEO of its parent company, Fiberight, which built the plant for $90 million. It now lies dormant.

In a nutshell, the promises exceeded reality. “It was unproven technology,” said one businessman headquartered next to the plant in Hampden. On top of that, the biggest market for our recycled refuse – China – said it would not take any more of our garbage.

It was quite a different story a year ago when the plant was coming on line – one year behind schedule. There were prodigious photo ops. Politicians lusted after the propinquity of a winner – to show the rest of the country that Maine’s was leading the way on developing futuristic waste disposing technology.

Sen. Susan Collins jumped on the bandwagon before the plant was fully operational. With news cameras in tow, she toured the plant last September and told reporters she was extremely impressed and expected more states to follow Maine’s lead and open similar operations. Stuart-Paul couldn’t have asked for better free marketing.

https://www.wabi.tv/content/news/Senator-Collins-tours-Fiberight-in-Hampden-559267341.html

Six months later the plant would be in receivership, with bondholders facing the specter of getting pennies on the dollar.

As recently as January, Stuart-Jones was telling the 115-town consortium that the plant was hiring more workers to handle new customers.

In June the Bangor Daily News ran a comprehensive history of the plant’s troubles. https://bangordailynews.com/2020/06/22/news/bangor/heres-what-went-wrong-at-the-shuttered-90m-trash-processing-plant-in-hampden/

When the plant closed, the consortium of 115 towns returned to the incineration plant in Orrington which it used for 30 years. Some towns hauled their garbage to a landfill in Norridgewock, a town half way between Bangor and Augusta. The consortium pays $60 a ton for the 400 tons of garbage it produces a day. The incineration plant was happy to take that windfall.

Where does it leave us?

About a half dozen companies have expressed interest in taking over management of the plant. Presumably that would involve some kind of financial restructuring, with original investors taking a bath. Then there are operational issues. The plant never achieved 100 percent of its goals. Even if it re-opens, it may operate in parts. Lastly, there are questions about whether markets for paper pulp and other recycled products are sustainable.

Meanwhile, our garbage is being burned, and while incineration facilities like to claim they produce renewable energy, “this is quite a stretch,” said Tremont’s Carey Donovan.  “The amount of energy produced is way less than the amount of energy it took to produce, manufacture, and transport all the goods they are burning.”

“It is only ‘renewable’ in the sense that our country produces a vast amount of waste, and this waste stream keeps coming their way.”

 

‘Bicyle Betsey’ – volunteer, philanthropist, gardener, astrologist, humanist

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Sept. 9, 2020 – Every hamlet has its special people who make it what it is – a community of individuals who, when taken as a whole, give it a highly differentiated and distinctive feel.

Imagine Southwest Harbor without Brian, Scott and Jennifer Worcester. Well, we can. Witness the effects of Brian Worcester’s absence as Sawyer’s Market – the town’s retail cornerstone – remains shuttered, leaving a huge hole. Thankfully, Jen and Scott have powered through the pandemic and are operating Sawyer’s Specialties, Sips and Sips. 2.0 with relentless fervor. (Try the frozen meatballs at Sips 2.0 – and the sheep’s cheese at Sawyer’s Specialities).

Shelley Mitchell, who owns the local hardware store, once lent me a cable cutter after I lost the key to the lock securing my canoe, trusting I would return it. I did. And I made sure that I patronized McEachern and Hutchins at every opportunity even though it probably costs slightly more than the stuff I could get online.

There are side players in a community, like Brian Kupiec who organizes the open mics at Sips which was a welcoming hearth during winter to salve our cabin fever.

This is a long preamble to the actual subject of this post – ‘Bicycle Betsey” Holtzmann. Every day she rides her bike to Main Street to tend to her flowers – the sunpatiens in front of the Little Notch bakery and the library – hauling gallons of water and dead heading the fading blossoms. She is a one-person village improvement committee. I had seen her before but it didn’t occur to me to write about her until former Tremont librarian, Clara Baker, suggested it.

Bicycle Betsey isn’t hard to find. Just hang around the library any day and you’re bound to run into her. So I did.

I felt a slight unease as I approach her. What if she told me to get lost?

“Hi, are you Betsey?” I started … “I write a blog called the Quietside Journal. May I ask you a few questions?”

So it began, the first of several conversations.

I found her to be guileless and willing to share personal information readily – like how she started tending to the potted plants because she had a crush on a regular customer at Sawyer’s on Main Street. This was contrary to what I was told – that she guarded her privacy. The woman I talked to was a trusting and generous spirit who shared her thoughts with a stranger on the sidewalk as if we were old friends.

As we talked, she’d pick up litter around us – cigarette butts, paper. She’s a multi-tasker.

“I do this by default,” Bicycle Betsey said. She took over chores left behind by friends who died, preserving their legacy, like that of Julie Russell, who was the assistant librarian in Southwest Harbor. She died of brain cancer in 2017.

From Sawyer’s and the library, Betsey went on to help in the coffee shop which is now the First National Bank. She also helped tend flowers at the Lindenwood Inn on Clark Point Road. “I don’t like plants to die,” Betsey said. It was a simple statement, unadorned with fanciful declaration of purpose, to explain her mission.

“There’s a pull I feel to be equal with other people who work,” she said, attributing the strong feeling of community she gets from astrological beliefs. “I work but I don’t get paid.”

“But I did barter,” Betsey said of her negotiations to store organic food for her ailing friend Julie Russell. “I bartered and got shelf space in the cooler at Sawyer’s … it was hysterical.” Betsey laughs readily at the consequences of her own choices – like deciding to stop driving 27 years ago, around the time her son was born.

“I didn’t want to harm animals,” she said was her primary reason to stop getting behind a wheel. But her son became a cause celebre at his boarding school in New Hampshire when classmates learned they had a peer who grew up without a car in the family.

Betsey recalled her son’s classmate who came up to her during graduation weekend and said, “So, are you going to buy your son a car for graduation?”

“It was hysterical,” Betsey said.

This was our third meeting. We were on the side of Clark Point Road near Lindenwood Inn. Our conversation took all manner of unexpected turns. This was a person so comfortable in her skin she had no reason to embellish, to admonish, to revise. She enjoyed the comedic reaction to her own choices in life and in a society so attuned to regulation that iconoclasm was both celebrated and suspicious.

Betsey grew up in Mamaroneck, N.Y., before moving to Maine 40 years ago with her boyfriend. Her father, Howard M. Holtzmann was a preeminent international arbiter and an original member of the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, which was established as part of the settlement of the Iranian hostage crisis.

If this were all to this story, we may easily tag her as an eccentric lady in a small town in Maine doing her eccentric thing: pampering us with care and feeding to preserve the aesthetics of our quaint village.

The untold story behind Betsey Holtzmann is that she is one of the most generous donors on MDI. Her philanthropic footprints are everywhere – too numerous to list. The driving force powering her energy and spirit, she said, is her belief in astrology and her place in the universe, an Aquarius and Pisces rising. “Each planet has a purpose,” she said. I wrote down notes as fast as I could on the back of my UPS receipt as she talked and still could not comprehend her expansive exposition of astrology. She talked about the last six houses of astrological wheel, starting with libra, and how those houses make up the foundation “for who we are in relation with the rest of the world.”

Suddenly, her cell phone rang, someone reminding her she was late for an appointment. “I’m always late,” she said. We could have communed on the side of Clark Point Road for who knows how much longer.

She put her foot on the pedal. I’m waiting for more conversation but she said, “I have to go .. there’s so much more to talk about but I have to go.”

As she rode away, she shouted back, “The inequality in this country .. don’t get me started.”

That will be the opening subject the next time we meet – for sure – in my ongoing conversation with Bicycle Betsey. I’ll keep you posted.

Solar panels – one at a time- begin to re-map MDI’s energy profile …

BEECH HILL FARM INCORPORATES SOLAR PANELS AS PART OF THE AESTHETICS OF A NEW ENGLAND FARM

SOMESVILLE – Sept. 5, 2020 – Lily Crikelair, Ayano Ishimura and Matilda Allen, students at MDI High School, feel the impact of climate change on a daily basis. Fifty years from now, when they will be in their Sixties, what will the world be like?

When I was their age, I felt the all-consuming fear of the Vietnam War. I did not want to die young. Neither do they.

For them, climate change has the here-and-now urgency of an existential crisis.

They live in a place where lobstermen keep tabs on the fast rising temperatures in the Gulf of Maine and what that portends for their future livelihood. They could sense the disquieting concerns expressed by classmates about the intemperate patterns changing the ecology of MDI. They see residents installing air conditioning for the first time ever.

So they took matters into their own hands. As interns for “A Climate to Thrive,” the non-profit organization started in 2016 to make MDI energy independent by 2030, they took on the task to change Bar Harbor’s ordinance to allow free-standing solar.

Lily Crikelair was the project leader on drafting the proposed Bar Harbor ordinance

“Currently, the town of Bar Harbor does not allow free-standing solar as a principal use for any land within the town,” they wrote. “We would like the town to make addressing this problem a priority so that we can promote renewable energy and financial savings by developing regulations to allow for ground-mounted solar facilities with onsite battery systems.”

Ayano Ishimura: The solar ordinance project was one of my favorite projects I worked on during the internship. Not only did I learn almost everything you need to know about solar energy, I also learned a lot about local town government and how to prepare/write/present an ordinance proposal to put forth to a town council (especially as a youth member).

They took it to the Bar Harbor Town Council and on Aug. 4, in an unanimous vote, the council approved drafting an ordinance to put it to a town-wide vote in June 2021.

MDI High School has been stirring activism ever since A Climate to Thrive formed in 2016. What better segment of the local citizenry to articulate the mission than the most impacted generation?

Step by step, solar panel by panel, ACTT chipped away at the obstacles and skepticism. The year 2019 was a big leap forward when MDI Regional High School became the first in the state to become 100 percent reliant on self generation. Also, the Town of Tremont embraced a two-step strategy – build an array of solar panels to make town offices self-sustaining followed by more solar panels on the landfill. Southwest Harbor is following with 850 kilowatts of electricity to be generated by panels at its transfer station.

By the end of next year, the island of Mount Desert will have almost 22 percent of its electricity generated by solar panels.

That is a staggering amount of renewable energy for any municipality – not to mention four of them on the same island of 10,000 year-round folks.

Almost invisible to us as we tend to the checklist of daily human activity – shopping, cooking, recreating – is the progress made to transform MDI’s reliance on fossil fuels. A solar project here, another there – quietly but inexorably, the island is changing rapidly to a fossil fuel-free zone.

I drive by Beech Hill Farm every day and fail to notice the solar panels on the roof (see photo above) – until I started writing this article. When were they installed?

The island of Mount Desert consumed 16 megawatts of electricity in 2015, according to the executive director of ACTT.

By the end of 2021, said Lawson Wulsin, MDI will have 3.7 megawatts generated by solar panels. The addition of new solar arrays at the Tremont Community Solar Farm will add 400 kilowatts, and the solar farm project at the Southwest Harbor transfer station will add another 850.

“Essentially, what that means is that when the sun is shining, the island will be producing 21.7% of the energy it’s consuming on a typical summer day (when consumption and generation are at their highest),” said Wulsin.

The effort on MDI has drawn attention from the highest tier of the green movement but received very little attention from traditional media … But here is a good article https://expmag.com/2019/04/this-small-island-is-taking-on-a-big-problem-climate-change/

Occasionally, an influential pol takes notice – like Sara Gideon a few weeks ago when she did a photo op at the Tremont municipal solar site. That certainly caught my attention. I dug deeper and learned that a group of island activists concluded in 2016 that MDI could own its fate rather than wait for the bureaucracies in Washington and Augusta to give us their blessing on climate management.

They gave birth to ACCT with the goal of achieving fossil fuel independence.

Tremont will launch a second project this year – a community farm next to the transfer station which will be the first in Maine to test a “subscription model” much like how current utilities work, as opposed to the prevailing “ownership” model, which is more like a condo arrangement. If you live in the Versant (Emera) territory, you may apply to be one of the 100 or so member-owners of the Southwest Harbor project. Here is the link for more information https://www.revisionenergy.com/blogs/mount-desert-island-solar-farm-under-development/

The town of Mount Desert’s lack of engagement with ACTT is palpable. The three other towns are major stakeholders in the 2030 initiative. Bar Harbor Councilman Matthew Hochman pointed out that Bar Harbor was the first to convert a municipal building to solar about five years ago.  

The 16-megawatt baseline established from 2015 usage is a moving target. With all the summer residents staying much longer than expected because of Covid-19, who knows what this year’s consumption will be as they try to heat their insulation-free cottages with electricity? Every elementary school in MDI is reporting a spike in enrollment as traditional summer families stay.

The demand for electricity is a good thing. It shows the promise of a year-round community, but we need to align those needs with a special promise. MDI can be free of fossil fuel reliance by 2030. That would really be something.

Is David Geffen still self-isolating on his yacht? If so, could he do it elsewhere?

SOMESVILLE, Sept. 1, 2020 – The northern end of Somes Sound near the village turns into a mooring field every summer for the uber rich and their brontesaurian yachts, owing to its deep water, Maine’s spectacular coastline and perfect weather.

But even I, having become a little jaded by the presence of so many mega yachts, could not take my scope off of this one as it approached in steady but very slow speed of under 5 knots. I first spotted it just south of Seal Harbor as it lumbered toward Sutton Island. It looked longer than a football field.

Indeed, it was longer than a football field. As it passed my bow, I quickly googled the name on the transom, “Rising Sun.” Wikipedia pegged the length at 453 feet, or almost exactly a football field and a half. That’s about twice what John Elway at his prime could throw a football.

RISING SUN ENTERING SOMES SOUND FROM THE SOUTH

VIDEO OF RISING SUN CROSSING MY BOW https://www.facebook.com/lincoln.millstein/videos/10221428347832174

The yacht was built for Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle and multiple winner of the America’s Cup. In 2010 Hollywood mogul David Geffen bought it for $590 million.

Here is a detailed description of the yacht, one of the largest in the world, by the publication Club Yacht:

“The Rising Sun offers a living area of over 8,000 square metres over five levels and 3,300 square meters of deck space lavishly layered in teak. Jacuzzzi bathrooms and countertops fashioned out of onyx gives the yacht a particularly sumptuous atmosphere. Up to 16 guests can comfortably cruise on the Rising Sun, their every need taken care of by as many as 43 crew members, who can also be easily accommodated onboard the yacht. The Rising Sun has a steel hull and aluminium superstructure with hawseholes plated in chromium. A cruising speed of up to 26 knots can easily be achieved and a maximum speed of up to 28 knots makes longer journeys easier. To further ensure the absolute comfort and enjoyment of every guest onboard, the luxury yacht is also equipped with a full gymnasium, a wide-ranging wine cellar and a sauna and a spa. The basketball court on the main deck doubles up as a helicopter pad when required and the private cinema features an enormous plasma screen offering limitless entertainment to royalty and celebrities alike.”

Rising Sun is a favorite among gossip columnists as a floating playground for the famous and wealthy.

W Magazine once listed some of the previous guests: Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Springsteen, Gayle King, Julia Roberts, Maria Shriver, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Martin Short, Diane Sawyer, Diane von Furstenberg, Karlie Kloss, Alexis Rose, Jen Meyer, Josh Kushner, and Sir Paul McCartney.

I could not detect any guests through my binocs. I could only make out some of the crew on board.

But the yacht has a back story. Geffen, who has a net worth of $7.7 billion, faced swift backlash in March after he shared a photo on Instagram that showed him “self-isolating” on the Rising Sun in the Grenadines.

Here is The Guardian’s take, with florid English references.

“Geffen is not the only one doing this. He is a billionaire, so his version of glamorous social distancing is billionaire-sized, but a quick, faintly nauseating glance through Instagram will show that he is far from alone in attempting to create Instagrammable isolation. Social media cliches already include photogenic children skipping on an empty beach in front of their parents’ Cornish second home, or going for bucolic walks near their parents’ second home in Dorset …”

I hadn’t known it was a “thing” for the wealthy to flaunt their self-deprecating sacrifice for the rest of humanity.

But apparently the Rising Sun became a symbol of this narcissistic impulse. Ugh, how do we rid of it?

FIRE ONE! FIRE TWO!

There are not many harbors north of Portland where a yacht this big can dock. The biggest marina on MDI, Dysarts, can take a boat up to 250 feet but only if it is less than 14 feet deep. Somes Sound, which is 175 feet deep in some parts, is ideal for ocean-going crafts to anchor.

Rising Sun also caused a stir because at night the boat lights up the entire northern part of the sound. Blaring music as well, it’s like a floating casino.

The juxtapositon of mega yachts in the land of “Quiet Money” is itself ironic. Pity the Rockefeller klan and the like who work so hard not to flaunt their wealth. They must endure the clueless sensibility of the nouveau riche with their garish toys parading in front of their cottage windows. This class of genteel denizens who loathe driving anything more expensive than a Volvo can only grin and bear it while a tone-deaf David Geffen displays his wealth with a Trumpian vulgarity.