Best Right Whale calf season in 5 years; 13th spotted near Georgia

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 22, 2021 – This is the most encouraging calving season in years. This week NOAA Fisheries announced that a newborn North Atlantic right whale had been spotted near Wassaw Island, Georgia, making it the 13th calf of the 2020-2021 calving season. The newborn was accompanied by its 14-year-old mother. This calf is the mother’s first.  (file photo).

The sighting comes just days after the 11th and 12th calves of the season were spotted near Amelia Island off Florida’s coast. All together, these births represent the best calving season the critically endangered species has had in years. Between 2017-2020, only 22 new calves were recorded. This year, with more than two months in the calving season remaining, officials are hopeful that more calves are on the horizon. 

“While these births are an encouraging sign, the continued threats underscore that we still have to redouble our efforts to protect these vulnerable babies and their mothers,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. 

Since 2017, the North Atlantic right whale has been experiencing an Unusual Mortality Event, with 32 confirmed mortalities and 14 serious (non-survivable) injuries in U.S. and Canadian waters. These deaths have stemmed from two human threats: entanglements in commercial fishing ropes and vessel strikes. Within the first few weeks of January, a severely entangled right whale was spotted off Georgia’s coast, dragging rope and fishing gear through the heart of the calving grounds.

“Right whales face a daily gauntlet of fishing ropes and speeding vessels, which together have caused the deaths of more than 200 right whales in the last decade alone,” said Davenport. “We’re killing right whales far faster than they can reproduce. Unless we move quickly to abate these threats, we’re running out of time to save the species from extinction.”

In 2020, two of the season’s 10 right whale calves were killed by vessel strikes. On January 13, 2021, Defenders and its conservation allies filed suit to challenge NOAA to take immediate action to reduce ship strikes and entanglement by fishing gear.

Opposition gains steam against Frenchman Bay salmon farm


SOMESVILLE, Jan. 23, 2021 – Two influential citizen groups have formally voiced their opposition to a proposed salmon farm in the middle of Frenchman Bay.

“This is simply a matter of the wrong place, the wrong technology and the wrong people,” said
James Paterson of Hancock, one of the leaders of the effort. “This project represents the
industrialization of a pristine bay in the shadow of Acadia National Park. It is a totally
inappropriate place for this kind of development – it’s like putting a large factory at the foot of
Cadillac Mountain.”
Paterson noted that Frenchman’s Bay has long been home to a robust lobster fishery, smallscale aquaculture, commercial and recreational boating, and other compatible uses. He said the waters of the bay are cherished by generations of residents in communities around the bay and visitors from all over the world.

Portland-based Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation (PMFHF) also said
it will not support the project proposed by American Aquafarms.

“PMFHF has heard from multiple lobstermen who say that they are concerned
about losing the bottom in the area as well as the potential environmental damage
from industrialized aquaculture,” the organization said in a press release.

Executive Director Crystal Canney said, “PMFHF has spoken to both
supporters of the project and state regulators and it’s clear American Aquafarms
intends to file an application. We have heard over and over again that the
identified area in Gouldsboro is heavily fished by lobstermen. The two leases total
more than 100 acres but under our current state regulations those leases have the
potential to grow to 1,000 acres. PMFHF supports legislation sponsored by Rep.
Robert Alley (D-Jonesport) that will work to reduce acreage, looks at how easy it is
to transfer a lease to an individual, business or corporation and the increasing
conflict between proposed in-water aquaculture projects and all those who live,
work and recreate along Maine’s coast. PMFHF is calling for a plan to look at
Maine’s coast.”
Canney added, “Our overarching concern is that the Department of Marine
Resources doesn’t have the staff, the resources, or the will to address what is
becoming a serious public policy issue – the future of the Maine coast. It’s inherent
that if and when these conversations happen all stakeholders are at the table not
just those in the aquaculture industry who have a vested interest in growing lease
sizes. Small aquaculturists in Maine have expressed similar concerns about large
leases along the coast. Maine’s waters are a public trust and it’s time to take a
breather and create a plan for the future.”

Hancock’s Paterson also expressed concern that American Aquafarms is led by someone who in 2008 was convicted on multiple counts of fraud, forgery and gross financial infidelity.
“We are putting Mikael Roenes on notice that he and his sea pens are not welcome in
Frenchman’s Bay and that he should be prepared for a long and costly fight if he persists with
his plans,” said Ted O’Meara, a veteran public affairs consultant working with the group who
also owns a home in Hancock.
Roenes was found guilty of defrauding investors and funneling money to himself and a
company that he owned. According to news accounts, at the end of 2005 he misspent NOK
52M ($6.1 million USD) in a six-week period, including funneling more than NOK 11m ($1.3
million USD) to himself and purchasing three luxury cars.
Roenes was sentenced to four years in prison and forced to pay restitution of NOK 15M ($1.8
million USD) for his actions which violated a number of Norwegian laws.
“These were not petty crimes,” O’Meara said. “They involved large-scale fraud and go right to
the heart of the character and credibility of someone seeking to do business in our state,
particularly when his project has such serious implications for the environment and the
Frenchman’s Bay eco-system.”

How oligarchies control capital projects on MDI; will SWH ever get new garage? Whither home for NEH police?

NORTHEAST HARBOR, Jan. 21, 2021 – The Town of Mount Desert could use a couple like Curtis and Patricia Blake right about now – publicly minded philanthropists who can write a check for $10 million.

Plaque in foyer of Mount Desert town offices

This being Northeast Harbor, such a thought is not outlandish, and not without precedence.

The same sense of largesse enabled the town to have fire stations in Seal Harbor and Somesville. Both were donated by wealthy summer residents who collectively make up 72 percent of the town’s staggering $2.3 billion tax base, larger than the entire county of Piscataquis.

Blake was the founder of Friendly Ice Cream who died in 2019 at the age of 102. He and his wife donated the necessary funds in 1980 to build the current town office building which houses police, EMS, fire, town manager, town clerk, assessor, code enforcement officer and other town officials.

Windowless EMS office with cot, desk, files crammed into former bathroom

Now unless the town finds a new-century Curtis Blake, it’s about to make a terrible economic mistake. This week the five-member select board unanimously directed town managers to come back in two weeks with a scaled-down proposal for a new public safety facility not to exceed a $5 or $6 million pricetag. They would do this by excluding the police department from the new addition.

But the town of Mount Desert is nothing if not a jumble of contradictions. Three select members, including Chairman John McCauley, also believe there will be a single, island-wide police force in the future. So instead of building toward that eventually, they plan to gut the proposal and its $10 million pricetag.

McCauley called the $10 million figure “sticker shock.” No doubt, he and other members were spooked by the rejection last year of a $1.9 million town garage in neighboring Southwest Harbor. Asking for a large capital expense in the middle of the pandemic seems politically counter-intuitive.

The current town offices and rendering of proposed addition (below)

There is ample reason for this caution. The entire coastline of Maine consists of towns bathed in irony – year-round residents who benefit from tax bases heavily subsidized by summer people but balk at having to pony up money themselves.

Add to this the fact that the towns are the least democratic institutions in the country where often less than 5 percent of the citizenry decides how and what to tax. Of the 2,038 registered voters in the Town of Mount Desert, fewer than 100 showed up at the annual meeting last year to vote on spending issues. The pandemic exacerbated the problem, because the meeting was delayed from its customary May date to Aug. 11 when it was held as a drive-in at the high school. At one time, the meeting came perilously close to the 50-vote quorum required by town charter.

Having fewer than 3 percent of the citizens make multi-million-dollar public spending decisions is the definition of oligarchy. Even in normal times the town gets only around 150 voters to show up.

The flip side of the pandemic’s effect was in Southwest Harbor which voted on July 14, 2020 to reject that town’s proposed $1.9 million garage by nine votes, 280-289. Southwest Harbor did not have a town meeting last year. Instead it piggy-backed on statewide primaries and received considerably more votes than the 65 people who attend a normal town meeting. Nonetheless the vote to reject the garage was decided by about 18 percent of the electorate. Asked where SWH stands in the aftermath of the vote, SWH Select Chair Kristin Hutchins said, “We’re not anywhere.”

Meanwhile, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert are deep in conversations about police consolidation which would require space and new technology (see next article). Police Chief Jim Willis is rightfully ambitious to point the towns toward better service, especially when the summer throngs descend, and more efficiency. Fire Chief Michael Bender is rightfully trying to give us 24/7 coverage which would not be possible without proper housing for his firefighters.

A state-of-the-art facility would also ease the pressures of recruiting which has been a primary source of concern on the island.

With the Fed practically giving money away, current stewards of the public trust would be wise to consider the alternative – five to 10 years from now when a new police station will cost much more than $10 million at higher interest rates. A rough “back of the envelope” calculation of a 30-year, $10 million bond at 3 percent interest rate results in a static annual principal payment of $333,333 and about $150,000 in interest per year – or total annual debt service about $483,500 per year. A good part of that could easily be made up by rising assessment of houses sold in the current real estate boom.

So unless a white knight shows up to rescue the proposal, it is likely a slimmed down version will go to the voters at the town meeting May 4, also scheduled to be a drive-in event.

A future select board will look back and ask, “What were they thinking back in 2021?”

Parochialism strikes down consolidation efforts

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Jan. 22, 2021 – “Consolidation” might as well be a four-letter word among some nearby town officials.

It represents some Calvinistic aversion to ideas and people not within our cohort of familiar folks and boundaries.

To wit, the recent decision by Southwest Harbor selectmen not to engage in further discussion to create an island-wide police force.

Ask yourself this question: does it matter which police car shows up at your doorstep the next time you call a cop? Or is response time a more important measure?

MDI has succeeded each time it ventured forth to collaborate – education, waste management and public safety. Mount Desert High School is a premier high school and regularly ranks among the Top 10 in Maine. It opened in 1968 after failed consolidation votes in 1949 and 1955, and finally being approved in 1965. The Acadia Disposal District combines the scale of Mount Desert, Tremont, Trenton, Cranberry Isles and Frenchboro to manage its waste more efficiently.

Bar Harbor and Mount Desert joined much of their police functions two years ago, proving skeptics wrong as services improved for both towns.

Mount Desert and Bar Harbor patrol cars i in Northeast Harbor

Short of a full merger, partnerships of various dimensions may be struck to benefit all parties. But the pull of parochial concern is strong in New England’s dominant township form of government. “Some towns just aren’t comfortable giving up control,” said Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt after Southwest Harbor selectmen voted 3-2 last week to halt consideration of an island-wide police force.

Seven years ago Bar Harbor needed a police chief after firing Nate Young for drunkenness. It reached out to Mount Desert, which agreed to share its chief, Jim Willis. That arrangement lasted five years.

Willis brought knowledge from his days at the Hancock County sheriff’s department where he learned to collaborate with the state police. “There were a lot of similarities” and opportunities which were “obvious” in the way both MDI towns operated. Two years ago, he instituted a single patrol schedule under which officers from either town could patrol the other. For instance it made sense to have one patrol for the villages west of Somes Sound, Pretty Marsh, Somesville and Town Hill. On any given day that patrol car could be Mount Desert police or Bar Harbor.

The new schedule gave the two towns a minimum of three officers on call 24/7 a day, 365 days a year. “It also gave us supervisory coverage from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Neither agency had that before,” Willis said. Most days the officers on call are more than the minimum.

The towns updated their mutual aid agreements to operate essentially as one entity. While there are other such agreements on the island, the hand-off is not as seamless. For instance, Southwest Harbor must first call Bar Harbor or Mount Desert for assistance which costs time. The mutual aid is not frictionless.

The towns also have consolidated their crime data base.

In all, BHPD has 13 Officers (one is on assignment to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency). Mount Desert PD has six, including the chief. 

The joining of the patrols “has worked out very well,” Willis said. “We have better service, better response time and access to services such as human resources and technology.”

“We also established a ‘shared’ administrative assistant, the position is funding the same as the shared Chief, 60/40.  She is technically a BH employee and her office is in NEH at MDPD.  She takes care of HR related things for both PD’s, responds to requests for reports from the public and a variety of other tasks.  Neither agency had a similar position prior to this effort.”

“Our combined schedule for patrol consists of 11 patrol positions and 4 supervisory positions.  The Captain and I are not a part of that schedule,” Willis said. Southwest Harbor has four current officers, including acting chief Mike Miller. By voting against consolidation selectmen chose to stay with the status quo. Selectman George Jellison cast the deciding vote reversing himself from a previous vote.

SWH Chief Alan Brown and Willis were friends from the time they worked together in the sheriff’s office. They had informal discussions about sharing staff and resources until Brown died of a heart attack last year.

There are 12 dispatchers on MDI and 19 officers providing 24/7 coverage of three towns – Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor. Tremont does not have its own police, opting instead to contract services with Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and State Police.

One obvious question is why MDI needs three dispatch centers. Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt pointed to that as an area worth exploring for possible savings which might be used to provide better services.

“If you’re looking for further consolidation, I would tell you that dispatch is the low-hanging fruit,” Willis said in a 2017 interview with the Mount Desert Islander.

Back then, Willis said Lunt and Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight had asked him to study the possibility of consolidating the police departments’ dispatch functions but it wasn’t feasible because they did not have common radio frequencies.

“I tried for years to get a frequency that will talk around MDI, with all the mountains we have here, and you can’t get one anymore,” Willis told the Islander. “All of these iPhones and everything people have has basically eaten up the frequency ranges. We exhausted finding some municipal frequencies that would work.”

Then, last year, the National Park Service (NPS) offered the police departments the use of some federal frequencies. Since then the police and fire departments have been using federal frequencies.

“So, we’re now operating on a frequency range that’s unattainable for most agencies like ours,” Willis said. “Bar Harbor and Mount Desert each bought some radio equipment to make that work … and it’s working really, really well.”

Willis and the town managers are also studying the feasibility of consolidating facilities. “We’ve consolidated nearly everything we’re able to at this time with our existing facilities,” he told the selectmen.

“We have consolidated our evidence storage. That took months because some if it has been in there for 30 years. All of our primary evidence storage is now at the Bar Harbor PD because they have a more secure facility. The evidence room here [in Northeast Harbor] is used more for long-term storage,” Willis told the local paper.

Despite the momentum in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor is tacking in the opposite direction. Lunt said he is open to discussing any and all ideas for consolidation resources, but SWH Selecmen Chair Kristin Hutchins, who voted in favor of exploring consolidation, said she is “finished” with the idea. “I’ve moved on. We might have a hard time recruiting people on our own, but the board made its decision.” Selectman Chad Terry, who vehemently opposes consolidation, did not return calls from QSJ. George Jellison also did not return calls from QSJ.

BONUS PHOTOS

COVID-19 UPDATE FOR MDI

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 23, 2021 – While the rest of Maine rages, MDI remains pretty safe.

The post holiday surge has subsided. Bar Harbor Hospital has not had a positive test for a week. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the hospital reported 59 local residents with positive tests and seven from away.

The hospital has administered 720 first doses of vaccine and 303 second doses to date. Nonetheless the hospital does not have a guaranteed allocation each week. “Since we do not have a fixed weekly allocation of vaccine doses, we do not yet have expected numbers as supply continues to be limited and we often only know a day or two in advance of each shipment,” hospital spokes person Oka Hutchins stated in an email.

You may pre-register to receive a vaccine here: https://www.mdihospital.org/covid-19-vaccine/

QSJ 2020 Annual Report

“How defeated and restless the child that is not doing something in which it sees a purpose, a meaning! It is by its self-directed activity that the child, as years pass, finds its work, the thing it wants to do and for which it finally is willing to deny itself pleasure, ease, even sleep and comfort.” – Ida Tarbell

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 20, 2021 – I haven’t exactly deprived myself of pleasure and comfort, but one of my journalism heroes, the great Ida Tarbell, got it right and punched my number smack in the center of the bulls-eye. I write The Quietside Journal with purpose and meaning. It is self-directed, and by writing it, I feel less restless in retirement.

What an irony that I chose to reference Ida Tarbell, whose most famous work was her muckraking takedown of the Standard Oil Company. Her work led to its breakup as a monopoly. She was the bete noir of John D. Rockefeller whose scions would become legendary philanthropists and major influencers of the American Conservation movement. John D. Rockefeller Jr., only child of the patriarch, purchased and donated land for many American National Parks, including Grand TetonMesa Verde National ParkGreat Smoky MountainsYosemiteShenandoah, and, of course, Acadia National Park.

But Tarbell was a contemporary of the senior Rockefeller and did not live to see the glorious work of the Rockefellers in conservation. Her interest was solely in the unbridled pursuit of wealth by any means of American companies like Standard Oil.

“Rockefeller and his associates did not build the Standard Oil Co. in the board rooms of Wall Street banks. They fought their way to control by rebate and drawback, bribe and blackmail, espionage and price cutting, by ruthless … efficiency of organization,” she wrote.

QSJ has a tendency to veer toward the investigative side of the spectrum and must constantly remind itself to respect the comity of Maine’s neighborly sensibility. It is a place like no other. It certainly is not New York City, where QSJ spent 20 years and where Tarbell and Rockefeller did all their jousting.

The Quietside Journal was launched in April 2020 when like many folks, I found myself staying in Maine longer than expected. Those early days of the pandemic were fraught with fright and uncertainty – and learning. Businesses didn’t know whether to open. Hand-washing was said to be the best way to deter infection. Hand sanitizers, toilet paper and paper towels were being hoarded like American dollars in a Third World country.

Stores began to experiment with delivery. Maine imposed a quarantine for out-of-staters. Folks were canceling their summer reservations in large numbers which shook the hospitality industry on MDI.

The reporter in me began to chronicle some of this, especially on the Quietside. I taught myself the rudiments of the WordPress blogging platform, enough to launch theqsjournal.com. Some of this was simply muscle memory, much like when I covered the City of Middletown for The Hartford Courant in the Seventies. But I was also curious about my new year-round home (I’ve been summering on MDI since 1984) which led to articles about eel fishing, alewife runs, rising sea levels, special island people – Tim Garrity, Betsey Holtzmann, and my series on Quietside cemeteries.

By the end of the year, 20,237 individuals had read at least one article on the site, with 36,433 total views, according to WordPress stats. QSJ is now regularly read by more than 1,000 readers a week. It had 823 readers for all of April.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-10-1024x287.png

The data is informing QSJ, directing its coverage. For instance the single biggest day for QSJ readership was when it reported a huge spike of positive Covid tests at Bar Harbor Hospital after the holidays. QSJ is also finding widening audiences for its pointed articles about environmental issues such as cruise ship pollution and salmon farm exploitation in our waters. QSJ took some heat when it disclosed a Bar Harbor health care worker went to work immediately after posing maskless at a Trump rally. But in all, QSJ has had fewer than 10 readers requesting that their emails be removed.

In early December, Poynter Institute pointed out correctly that QSJ’s business model is not having one. https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2020/how-a-retired-senior-executive-went-from-hearsts-manhattan-c-suite-to-hyperlocal-blogging-in-maine/

Therefore in 2021, QSJ is asking its readers to support a new initiative to sustain its restless soul. QSJ is selling branded t-shirts and stuff to promote and attract new readers. In exchange it will donate all profits to charity. We are starting this month with the Common Good Soup Kitchen. Each t-shirt sold will benefit the charity by $10. https://www.customink.com/fundraising/common-good-soup-kitchen-qsj-campaign?utm_campaign=desktop-post-launch-v3&utm_content=common-good-soup-kitchen-qsj-campaign&utm_medium=social&utm_source=copy-link

One downside of writing a news blog is its inevitability at alienating some folks – the lobster fisherman who refused to talk to me because of my articles on Right Whales, the restaurateur peeved because I got her hours wrong, the lower island residents who oppose an island-wide middle school, the wealthy Northeast Harbor maven who didn’t care for my article about her zoning dispute with her neighbor. I long ago accepted the role of a journalist and the attendant fallout. The concomitant isolation is the lot I chose in life. The conceit is that we provide relevant news and information which are good for the common good.

As theqsjournal.com enters its second year, I hope it’s achieving this purpose.

CROSSWORD

Leave a Reply