MDI Hospital battles health care giants to ensure its place in line for vaccines

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 15, 2021 – An informal group of stakeholders concerned that MDI may be marginalized in the helter skelter distribution of Covid-19 vaccines met Friday to strategize how to get leverage with the Mills Administration.

MDI Hospital CEO Chrissi Maguire said representatives from MDI towns, hospital officials and State Sen. Louis Luchini huddled to plot the best way to ensure MDI residents have their rightful place in line to receive the vaccine. Luchini supported the recent change by the state to cast the net wider than the previous 75 and over demographic to be included in the 1B tier.

Overnight the hospital redesigned its website to enable a public service campaign so MDI residents may pre-register. The task force hopes building such a data base will garner attention from the Mills Administration which seems to focus first on southern population centers such as Portland, Augusta and Lewiston.

Maguire was clearly concerned with the prospect that MDI and other parts of rural Maine would be marginalized without the power of influence expressed by big hospital chains in southern Maine. “They forgot an entire major hospital,” she said of the state’s rollout as an example of the sloppy execution.

The Portland Press Herald reported Friday that big health care chains in southern Maine are gaining traction to win the lion’s share of vaccinations:

“Maine’s COVID-19 mass vaccination program for those 70 and older is getting closer to launching, with a major health network sending out notices to patients Thursday that immunizations would begin within two weeks.”

The PR machines of the big hospital chains are at full speed.

“We expect to have shots in arms of people 70 and older by the end of the month,” said John Porter, a spokesman for MaineHealth. MaineHealth is the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and operates an extensive network of primary care practices throughout much of the state, especially southern Maine. An email from Dr. Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer for MaineHealth, told patients that vaccine appointments were coming soon.

While not quite ready, MaineHealth soon will be setting up a call center for patients 70 and older to schedule appointments, and is working with the state on online scheduling, Porter said. Appointments will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis for those 70 and older whose doctors are part of the MaineHealth network.

Maguire said in addition to battling for share of the vaccines, there are logistical hurdles such as where to hold patients for 15-minute observations after each shot. MDI Hospital does not have the capacity for such a holding pen.

All this has to be worked out to convince the state that MDI is poised to administer the vaccine in abundance.

The challenge is for a small, independent hospital like MDI to demonstrate it can efficiently execute a vaccination plan with the same efficiency as MaineHealth. When it comes to health care, scale matters.

MDI residents may help themselves by pre-registering on the hospital web site published above.

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to email the governor’s office directly to voice your support for MDI Hospital’s efforts.

MDI still extremely safe despite recent surges

The hospital reported another five new cases this week but four were related to one of the two holiday gatherings which spiked the numbers after Christmas. One new case was of someone who traveled away and came back and tested positive, Maguire said. “MDI is still extremely safe,” she said. But no one knows how safe we will be when the new strain of more contagious virus arrives.

Here is the latest report on the hospital website

February hearings set for new rules regarding Right Whale entanglement

SOMESVILLE, Jan 16, 2021 – Four hearings have been scheduled in February to air public comments on a set of new rules issued by the federal government to reduce deaths of North Atlantic Right Whales caused by ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. A federal judge has given the government until May 31 to come into compliance with the Endangered Species Act. He ruled last April that the government failed to protect the whales with its current rules.

The new rules, which environmentalists have already said are not adequate, were issued on the last day of 2020 by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency which regulates fisheries. They include:

  • Introducing state-specific colors to mark gear so to trace origin of ropes by state
  • Increasing the number of and area of marked lines
  • Modifying gear configurations to reduce the number of vertical buoy lines by requiring more traps between buoy lines and by introducing weak insertions or weak rope into buoy lines to allow whales to break away
  • Increasing seasonal restricted fishing areas (but allow ropeless fishing)
  • Add up to two new seasonal buoy line closures

In the following map, fishermen in the red zone near the coast will be required to set three traps per line as opposed to the current two, according to the new rules. The number of traps increases the farther out.

In addition to the increased traps per rope, the new rules propose closing some areas but exempting “ropeless” traps. The rectangular area in yellow southwest of MDI would have those restrictions. All the rules may be viewed here:

Feds Sued to Force Them to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales From Vessel Strikes

In addition to the hearings, conservation groups are sumultaneously suing the federal government for failing to respond to two emergency requests to protect right whales from being killed by ships and boats in U.S. waters. The groups are calling for more speed limits to reduce the number of vessel strikes.  “Just over half of known or suspected right whale deaths since 2017 have been attributed to vessel strikes, closely followed by entanglements in fishing gear. In just the past year, two of only 10 baby right whales born to the species were killed by vessel strikes off the coasts of Florida and New Jersey,” the conservationist said.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, Conservation Law Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit in Washington, D.C. this week. The groups filed a request for emergency action in June 2012 and another in August 2020 after the second fatal right whale-vessel collision in six months. 

The federal marine fisheries agency has not responded to either petition. The petitions ask the Fisheries Service to expand the areas and times when its existing 10-knot speed-limit rule applies, to make all voluntary vessel-speed restrictions mandatory, and to apply the rule to small vessels (shorter than 65 feet) as well as large ones to avoid collisions that kill and injure right whales.
“We need to have slowdowns in right whale danger zones just like we have lower speed limits near schools,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Last year, boat strikes killed a newborn and a six-month-old. Each of these tragic deaths robs the mother of her baby and the species of its future. It’s past time for the Fisheries Service to act on these common-sense speed limits.” 
North Atlantic right whales are among the world’s most imperiled marine mammals, with only about 360 animals alive today. Thirty-two right whales have been found dead since 2017, and the Fisheries Service believes at least another 13 have died, or will die, from existing injuries. The agency estimates the actual number of deaths each year is likely much higher, since most dead whales sink. 

The groups filed the lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act. The agency has 60 days to respond.

Meanwhile, NOAA is proceeding to meet the May 31 deadline imposed by U.S District Court Judge James E. Boasberg. It’s a tall order. It must aggregate all public comments, conduct an environmental impact study, revise its proposed rules if needed and complete the process by the end of May. If it doesn’t impose stricter rules, it’s likely to face requests from the conservationists for the judge to impose them.

A fresh look at taxpayer-supported services in SWH during a pandemic

SOMESVILLE, Jan 15, 2021 – Poor Ruth Davis. The owner of Quilt N’ Fabric walked into a buzzsaw at the Southwest Harbor selectmen’s Zoom hearing this week.

She was there with her tin cup as president of the 122-member Southwest Harbor/Tremont Chamber of Commerce seeking a grant of $6,000 to pay the chamber’s rent for its visitor center rent the Harbor House. But two plain-speaking members of the select board minced no words.

“The visitors center is hugely valuable. I think it’s really important the service continues. I don’t think it should be at taxpayers’ expense,” said Kristin Hutchins, selectmen chair.

Selectman Chad Terry added that if the chamber just asked $5 a month from each of its members, “then you’d have your six thousand”.

“Sorry, I’m with Kristin. I don’t think the taxpayer ought to fund a private .. a member-based business that only supports its members. Yes it does do things for the town but I don’t feel all taxpayers benefit from it.”

Davis, who is also on the warrant committee, said, “All taxpayers do get something out of it … I talk to the real estate people – because I’m concerned about this. A lot of the new properties and old properties that have been bought are over a million dollars a piece one of which is a commercial property in the center. They’re going to pay big bucks to the town when they are assessed at their full value.”

Warrant Committee member Ellen Pope said, “If there’s ever a year to be flexible, especially as Ruth said this is probably not a recurring request, I would think this is the year. Anybody who walks through downtown can see that businesses are struggling.”

But Terry, owner of GT Outhouses and not a chamber member, added, “And it’s probably the year that our municipal sharing funds from the state are probably going to be slashed so therefore we’re going to have to require more from the taxpayer …”

Former Selectmen Lydia Goetze, who is on the warrant committee, and Selectman George Jellison favored the town rejoining the chamber as a paying member at $500 a year rather than giving it a grant under the “community service umbrella.” SWH is the only town on MDI that does not belong to its chamber.

Another new request before the board was for $5,000 from the Common Good Soup Kitchen, located in the center of the town. The town already supports two food pantries, including the Bar Harbor Food Pantry.

SWH taxpayers pay about $250,000 a year for charities and community services that benefit residents. The biggest check – $60,000 – goes to the library. Maine is among the few states with an unusual model where private donations constitute the lion’s share of library budgets, owing to the fact that many libraries in Colonial times were started before the municipalities. Towns in Connecticut, where QSJ lived for 34 years, routinely get 75 percent of their budgets paid by taxpayers.

The following is a list of organizations supported by the town in the current fiscal year:

Bar Harbor Food Pantry $2,500
Downeast Health/WIC $1,035
Downeast Horizons/health $1,800
Eastern Area on Aging $1,500
Northern Light Home Care $1,870
Hospice of Hancock Count $1,000
Island Connections $2,500
Island Explorer Bus Service $10,000
MDI Community Campfire $3,000
Mt Height Cemetery $9,200
Westside Food Pantry $2,500
Downeast Community Partners $3,574
Harbor House $59,640
SWH Public Library $60,000
SWH/Tremont Nursing $ 11,000
Mt Desert Nursing Assoc $2,000
SW Harbor Historical Society – $2,500
Island Housing Trust $2,500

TOTAL $249,501

Climate change is an existential crisis in lifetime of MDI students

MOUNT DESERT, Maine – It is the year 2100. Bass Harbor is an island to itself, having been cut off from the rest of MDI by rising waters. The entire Fresh Meadow area in the northern part of the island is a cove the size of Echo Lake. Much of MDI’s marshes has disappeared.

Grace Munger, now Age 97, still remembers her first encounter with global warming when she was 14 (See photo). Folks on MDI were gobbling up room air conditioners. Never had there been such a need, But the summer heat of 2018 was not only scorching but prolonged.

“We tried to warn them,” she said.

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When she turned 16, she joined other spirited classmates to assist the Bar Harbor Climate Emergency Task Force. They were mentored by Ruth Poland, an environmental scientists who taught an AP course on the subject at the high school. Their work caught the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which funded a gap year for the team so they may advance their cause.

In short they were the modern day Champlain Society, the Harvard students who came to MDI during summers in the 19th century to study plant and animal species, ecology, marine life and climate. They were the precursor to the preservation movement.

Ruth Poland went on to become the head of the EPA in the second Kamala Harris administration. But despite her efforts, the country was still buffeted by those who would not accept that global warming was man-made.

But her class back in 2020 would have none of that denial. They first presented to the Bar Harbor Town Council. Their presentation was divided into six core themes: Sea Level Rise, Storm Intensity, Ocean Acidification, Heat & Warming Oceans, Species Movements and Agriculture. The local paper, Mount Desert Islander, reported:

“On behalf of the high school science class, (Sam) Mitchell suggested that Bar Harbor convert all energy uses to electricity by passing a solar ordinance, approve solar energy production in Salisbury Cove, modernize the electric grid and replace old town vehicles with electric vehicles.”

The town council was so inspired that it moved later that year to ban cruise ships, one of the worst polluters on the planet.

After the council presentation the students took their show on the road and presented to citizens in public forums.

In front of members and guests of A Climate To Thrive, senior Cate Pope told of an extreme case of earth’s average temperature of a 9-degree increase by 2100. In fact, it exceeded that by another 2 degrees.

Jane Pope explained the earth’s feedback loop which traps warm air inside its atmosphere. “If it reaches a point of no return … that would be very bad.”

Munger was only a junior then and when her turn came up, said that an estimated 3.3–8.2 feet of global sea level rise from ice melting and thermal expansion was expected to occur by 2100. She said that the sea level rise predictions are locally higher than the global scenario, where Bar Harbor would see 4-10 feet of rise. 

“With only a 3.3–foot sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $360,000 to repair roads alone and six addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services.”With 6 feet of sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $3,000,000 to repair roads and 750 addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services.”

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Sam Mitchell (photo) reported that the escalating temperatures have warmed the Gulf of Maine seven times faster than the rest of the ocean in the last 15 years. The high temperatures were demonstrated by the class to negatively affect Bar Harbor’s marine life. 

Isabella Michael, who was one of five summer climate change interns with A Climate To Thrive, stressed the importance of the world working to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming to avoid runaway climate change; a breaking point in the climate threshold that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes in the state of the system. 

Munger was able to find in her archives a link to the ancient technology used by humans back then called the internet:

Munger also managed to stay in touch with some of her classmates.

Isabella Michael joined the Air Force and became a pilot. She was among the crew of astronauts who landed on Mars in 2042. Their mission was to explore alternative living environments as earth became more inhospitable.

Elaina Cote graduated from Colby College, Yale Law School and became secretary of the Interior.

Cate Pope attended Bates College and University of Maine graduate school and became a marine biologist. She created the non-profit Deep Oceans which operated a 300-foot marine research vessel in the Arctic.

Grace Munger graduated from University of Maine and Stanford Business School. She patented a ropeless technology for fishing and went to found and run her own global company. Her foundation has given away $3.4 billion to marine research. She was credited with saving the North Atlantic Right Whale from extinction.

But it was her formative years as a high school activist that she remembers so well. And she still has the original presentation her class made in paper in her private library.

‘Zoombombing’ may be coming to a public meeting near you; how towns must protect against online vandalism

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 15, 2020 – The change of demeanor on Lawson Wulsin’s face was undeniable and drastic. The mood suddenly went from celebratory to panic. As he prepared to introduce the MDI high school students who would present their findings on climate change to an eager audience on Zoom, a racial slur appeared on the screen.

Wulsin told the group to hold fast while he attended to the problem. It lasted only minutes but it clearly disrupted the flow.

Nonetheless the culprit was removed and the session by the A Climate To Thrive was flawless from that point on.

ACTT had just been “Zoombombed” or as Wikipedia calls it “zoom raided.”

Several days later, Wulsin sent out this statement:

“Dear Attendee,

On January 8, at the beginning of our educational event, “The Gulf of Maine Climate Emergency,” an individual vandalized the presenter’s screen.  A single word of racist hate speech was visible to all attendees for ten seconds before we ended the screen share and removed the individual from the meeting. A few minutes earlier, when only a portion of attendees had arrived, a separate individual wrote a racist comment in the public chat.

I want to acknowledge the harm experienced by our community and validate the wide range of emotions and reactions that you may be feeling. We have reported the incident to the school district, the local police, and to Zoom and are exploring strategies for how to reduce the risk of future security breaches.

Let me be very clear: demonstrations of hate and racism are not welcome and will not be tolerated at any ACTT events.

Our work depends on trust, respect, and compassion. As we deepen our connections to each other and our planet, it is imperative that the spaces in which we gather are safe. On Friday, that safety was violated. I commend the students for the courage and strength they demonstrated by presenting a compelling program after the disruption; thank you.

I reaffirm our commitment to inclusivity and look forward to continued engagement with our community. Please reach out with any questions or concerns – I am always happy to talk.



Zoombombing is the internet scourge of vandals who interrupt meetings by sharing pornographic images and/or racist content. Public meetings which post advance notices are most susceptible.

Thus far, public town meetings have been spared of this, although other MDI meetings have succumbed to Zoombombing, according to sources.

Even at this late stage, many of the towns’ Zoom meetings have inadequate protocol. The hosts of these meetings must understand the top two vulnerabilities.

The vandals typically do not allow themselves to be visually apparent, hiding behind a black screen, until they pounce with pornography or the like until the host detects them and kicks them off. But that could take a while, especially when the room is full like the Mount Desert planning board session this week when, at one time, more than 100 persons dialed in. The second vulnerability is when there is “screen share” and a vandal may take advantage of the annotate function to upload an image or video to share with the group, like a presenter. Hosts should plan ahead to allow only certain presenters to have that access.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when such precautions are necessary.

(psst, I plan to hawk my 1968 Mickey Mantle Topps card at the next Zoom session of the planning board.)

New SWH harbormaster has strong pedigree on Quietside

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SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Jan. 16, 2021 – There are Gilleys buried in virtually every cemetery on the Quietside, so the chances of one becoming the town’s newest harbormaster is better than, say, a Millstein becoming one.

Town Manager Justin VanDongen announced this week he has hired Jesse Gilley, a lifetime town resident, to replace Adam Thurston, who left after 10 years to become deputy harbormaster in Mount Desert.

The 29-year-old Gilley has a rich portfolio of abilities which seem perfect for a harbormaster, including work for the Charles Bradley Marine Construction Co. in Southwest Harbor. The harbormaster must have a strong background for maintenance of docks and floats owned by the town.

“I’ve spent my whole life working on the waters around here as a private boat captain to commercial fishing,” said Gilley. He did take three years off to work as a scallop fishermen off New Bedford. He is a young father of a son and is expecting a daughter soon.

Major disruption to carriage road around Eagle Lake in 2021

BAR HARBOR, Jan. 16, 2021 – Work has begun in earnest to rehabilitate and upgrade the carriage road around Eagle Lake which will affect hikers and bikers for much of the 2021 season.

Map of carriage road system and trails around Eagle Lake

Construction began recently on a short access route between the carriage road and a staging area at the south end of Liscomb Pit Road in Bar Harbor. Once work begins this spring on the carriage road itself, the entire loop is expected to close, and individual segments around the lake will then reopen as they become available. A short connector between Intersections #6 and #9, located along state Route 233, will remain open as much as possible (See map). 

“Recreationists should anticipate closures generally from one intersection to another from April 15-November 15, 2021 weather and schedule permitting,” The Park Service said. “Those planning to recreate on the Eagle Lake Carriage Road for any activity during this time should consult Current Conditions to determine the exact closures for any specific timeframe.

“This work, originally scheduled for 2020, experienced delays in scheduling.”

Harold MacQuinn Inc. of Hancock is performing the work. The photo above shows an access road down to the lake connecting with a staging area on Liscomb Pit Road.

The work to be performed on the Eagle Lake Carriage Road includes:

  • Rehabilitation of the existing carriage road surface and subgrade, 6+ miles. 
  • Rehabilitation of existing drainage features including roadside ditches, stone-lined drainage channels, and select culverts. 
  • Reconstruction of several sections of dry-laid stone masonry retaining walls. 
  • Stabilization of stone slope protection walls between the carriage road and areas with steeper slopes. 

“Upon completion of this project, all 45 miles of historic carriage roads in Acadia National Park will have undergone this type of improvement to ensure the preservation of the resource and the experience for future generations. Acadia National Park contains nationally significant cultural resources including the best and most extensive example of a historic carriage road system in the United States.”

The work is currently planned for completion by mid-September.  The Island Explorer bus system and Bike Express will not provide service to Eagle Lake in 2021. 

“Upon completion, this project will cure $1.3 million in deferred maintenance, and all 45 miles of historic carriage roads in the park will have undergone this type of improvement. Friends of Acadia has been raising money and providing support for the initiative since 1991,” The Park Service said.

This time there’s nowhere Jared Golden can hide

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 9, 2021 – He voted against Nancy Pelosi as speaker twice. He was the only House Democrat to take an oblique position in Donald Trump’s impeachment in 2019 by splitting his vote. In the 116th Congress, he voted against his party’s position 102 times, including a major bill. He was one of two Democrats to vote against the party’s signature gun control legislation.

Is Jared Golden a Democrat or Republican, or as the oft-used moniker a DINO (Democrats in name only)?

All one needs to do is to go to Golden’s Facebook page and read the partisan comments after he offered his condolences to the dead Capitol Hill policeman’s family. It clearly demonstrated the Second District’s split personality and the weight on Golden each time a highly public political action is required.

Les Gibson: Really Mr. Golden?While Officer Sicknick’s death is an absolute tragedy, and one that should not have happened, where are your words of sympathy for the shooting death of the female Air Force veteran from San Diego?Do you have no regard for your fellow veterans?The manner in which you cherry pick things is reprehensible.

Maureen Craig Harding Will you be supporting Impeachment this time around, DEMOCRATIC Representative Golden? Trump bears responsibility for Officer Sicknick’s murder. I ask you to support impeachment.

in late 2019 Golden became the only member of the House to split his decision on a historic matter with grave implications for the president and the nation’s political landscape. His unusual choice to charge Mr. Trump with abuse of power but not with obstruction of Congress left him open to criticism from both parties.

Stephen King famously tweeted, “If my congressman, Jared Golden, votes for only one article of impeachment, I will work with all my might to see him defeated next year.”

The flipside was when a conservative advocacy group began a $2.5 million ad buy against lawmakers who won Trump districts and voted for impeachment, Mr. Golden was at the top of its list.

As it turned out Golden managed to win re-election on Nov. 3, prompting some in the media to hail that he could be a candidate for the Senate seat in 2024 should Angus King choose not to run at Age 80.

But before that he’ll need to win re-election in 2022 in the notoriously volatile mid-terms. That will not be a slam dunk. Golden won re-election during the pandemic year against his opponent, a paraplegic who could not campaign with mobility around the huge Second District. Even then, he won with only 53 percent of the vote, as opposed to Chellie Pingree, who gathered 61 percent in the First District. In two years, with Trump gone, a less strident Republican candidate could retake the district, which was held by Republican Bruce Poliquin until 2018.

That may be why Golden has been stiff-arming his home state journalists on the question of the proposed resolution to impeach Trump a second time. He refused to address the question posed by Colin Woodard, perhaps the best journalist in Maine.

Woodard wrote in the Portland Press Herald today, “Golden said that the president was responsible for Wednesday’s “violence and lawlessness, and he should be held accountable,” but did not commit to a position on what form that accountability should take.

The New York Times wrote, shortly after Golden split his vote, “The political risks for Mr. Golden also underscore how difficult it has become for a lawmaker who is willing to cross party lines on some of the most fraught issues to survive and stake out a role for himself in Congress at a time when partisan loyalty is more expected than ever.”

To which Golden replied:

“It might be a lonely place for me to be in Washington … but it’s not a lonely place for me to be here in Maine, and in my district.”

The Times added:

“That dynamic, to some political observers, made Mr. Golden’s decision to back only one of two impeachment articles all the more perplexing. He argued that the obstruction of Congress charge against Mr. Trump was not warranted because House Democrats had not fought hard enough in the courts to try to force critical administration officials to testify in their impeachment inquiry. The decision, he said, was not a political calculation, but about establishing a solid precedent.

“People were automatically going to this cynical place of, ‘This young freshman thinks he can get away with pleasing both sides,’” said Mr. Golden, 38. “‘He doesn’t understand he’s about to get run over by a Mack truck that’s coming right down the middle of the road.’”

Sometimes his action can come perilously close to major implications. Pelosi won re-election as speaker by only seven votes, 216 as opposed to 209 for Republican Kevin McCarthy, minority leader who signed onto a lawsuit that sought to overturn results in four states that Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden. 

“I vote with the Democratic Party like 88 percent of the time,” Mr. Golden said. “That’s, I think, a perfect way to step back and compare it to past Congresses and see how truly divided and partisan Congress has become — that I’m now one of the standout members.”

No doubt about that. If Golden chooses against impeachment next week, he will surely stand out.

Nonconforming is not a dirty word; the Graces of NEH think otherwise

Photo of the Grace’s house at 10 Barnacles Way, Northeast Harbor, and visible new house under construction next door.

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 9, 2021 – Think twice before inviting Bill and Marjorie Grace and Heather Evans for drinks on the porch next summer at the same time.

It’s not because of their geographical distancing. They live next to each other. Or more precisely, they own summer homes next to each other.

It’s not because of social standing. They are Northeast Harbor semi-royalty.

It’s because the neighbors are engaged in a mano a mano zoning dispute that has lawyers, town boards and various arbiters thrust into an imbroglio which could well last into the rest of 2021 and beyond.

And this show is coming live to a Zoom screen near you Wednesday Jan. 13 at 6 p.m., as it is the second item on the Mount Desert planning board’s agenda. 

Meeting ID: 828 5043 1734  Password: 016906

Cheek by jowl. Owner wants to demolish house at right which is ‘non-conforming

It’s not the longest ongoing zoning fight in the town of Mount Desert. That distinction would belong to Hall Quarry, where residents have held up an application to restart a quarry business for more than six years.

This case is a familiar tussle between people of means against the realities of a small town, which couldn’t even muster enough zoning appeals board members to hear the Graces’ case for three months. And what did the appeals board do when it finally got a quorum in late November? It kicked it back to the planning board which had already approved the application for the new building. The application is 7-month-old and counting.

The owners of 9 Barnacles Way in Northeast Harbor acquired the lot and then proceeded to build two houses designed by Matthew Baird, an architect of some renown with a minimalist sensibility and copious use of shingles and wood siding. They first built a house on the water and were in the process of building a second home, when they acquired the house next to the Graces – 11 Barnacles Way – to complete a “family compound” consisting of three stand-alone homes.

Only no one apparently told the Graces, who own the house at 10 Barnacles Way. In June they appeared on Zoom at the planning board to say legal notices of such application for construction did not reach them and that it was their opinion the proposed house next to theirs is out of scope for a “non-conforming” use. It would be too high and encroached on the setback abutting them,

Marjorie Grace then declared she did not care for construction next door during the summer. (Mount Desert does not have a noise ordinance and many summer residents do not understand that the loud screeching noise emanating from your neighbor’s construction of a new addition is not an infringement of local ordinance.) As a side note, the Grace family once owned a swimming camp on Long Pond and became the bete noir of all the residents when they introduced jet skis which were eventually banned.

The Grace’s challenge to 9 Barnacles Way is a test of what passes for acceptable land-use in a century-old warren of pretzel-shaped lots that predate zoning. The operative word is “nonconforming” – a widely misunderstood concept that has many believing that a home which does not conform to current zoning may not be altered, expanded, stirred or shaken.

The problem started at its inception when the Graces did not even acknowledge receipt of information sent to abutters about a significant project next door. After the vapor of that contretemps settled, the serious business of the day took shape. The new owners of the house at 11 Barnacles Way wanted to demolish a “nonconforming” house and replace it with another house but 30 percent larger. Trouble was the Graces at 10 Barnacles Way are about a long putt away, their back step practically serves as a landing for the house next door, which is less than the 75 feet from the water and less than 25 feet away from the Graces. In other words, not in conformance with the current land-use ordinance.

Architect Baird recently sent this to the code enforcement officer, “Attached please find a pdf of the clarified height calculations that we reviewed in the hearing on 6/10.  

The situation was made more complicated because the Graces apparently don’t even know the names of the new neighbors, who have been operating under the legal shingle of the Lapsley Family LLC, which was created by the three Lapsley children in 2013. But Robert Lapsley of Seattle told QSJ they sold the property two years ago to a Heather Evans of Northeast Harbor. In the latest filing, the owners are now identified as Otium LLC, with Mary Costigan of law firm Bernstein Shur in Portland as their representative. Costigan did not return multiple emails and calls from QSJ.

Photo of first of three Barnacles Way homes designed by architect Matthew Baird to create a family compound

QSJ had no luck tracking down Heather Evans. The new owner continued to use the name Lapsley Family LLC in its filings last summer seeking planning board approval.

Meanwhile, David Perkins, the Grace’s lawyer, has been more obliging.

He told QSJ that the planning board erred in June when it approved the Lapsley’s application for expansion without giving consideration that nonconforming changes should be subject to “strict” interpretation of Maine’s “settled case law” that “disfavored” any development which would make a non-conforming situation even more non-conforming. He said the planning board chose a “liberal” interpretation which makes it inconsistent with case law.

QSJ is not a lawyer but several observations are worth noting.

The planning board consists of members who are more schooled at the local land-use ordinance than members of the zoning appeals board. They meet regularly, whereas the appeals board only meets when there is an appeal. The planning board, and members of the selectmen board, are the only town boards which receive a stipend (a maximum of $3,000 a year for planning board members depending on the number of meetings they attend) as to demonstrate the special need and priority of these two important boards. They also have an expert – a code enforcement officer – to assist with their deliberations. Lastly, they conduct site visits for each application.

The zoning board of appeals on the other hand has had trouble fulfilling its duty for most of 2020 and now into 2021. Its chairman, William Ferm, has not returned any of the emails or phone messages left for him since November by QSJ. It does not have professional advice from a code enforcement officer and it does not conduct site visits.

At its last meeting on Nov. 24, members were obviously caught unaware of the complexities of “nonconforming.” It debated height restrictions and setbacks without resolving any of the issues. So it “remanded” the application back to the planning board.

This ping-pong game could go on for some time. The planning board could take its time. When and if it gets back to the appeal board, that could be well into late 2021 given that board’s difficulty getting a quorum. Whatever the decision, the Graces could tie it up with a lawsuit against the town which would soak taxpayers for legal fees.

This is not to say the planning board cannot err. Indeed, the appeals board’s overturning of the planning board’s controversial 2017 rejection of the Hall Quarry application was later supported by Maine’s Superior Court.

While the system may seem to be fair, it is not. The loss of time for the applicant is a real loss. What’s more valuable for the wealthy than time? The Graces may tie it up in the courts for years, thereby ensuring many quiet summers. The Hall Quarry residents have enjoyed seven years of quiet since they began their protest.

Perkins, lawyer for the Graces, contended that owners of the 9 and 11 Barnacles Way have not delivered their promises as represented by their architect, making it hard to settle the grievances privately. The promise of better natural buffers, for instance, have not materialized, he said.

Given the challenges of the zoning board of appeals which add cost, time and stress on citizens and homeowners who only wish to see a better quality of life, it seems an easy solution to fortify the ZBA with the same expertise and stipend as afforded the planning board. The town of Mount Desert can certainly afford it.

Quietside legislators weigh in on who should get vaccine priority

SOMESVILLE Jan. 10,2021 – State Sen. Louie Luchini, who represents Maine’s District 7 which includes all of MDI, said in response to a question from QSJ that he would support moving those older than 65 into the same 1B group as those over 75, as long as the current distribution problems are resolved.

“If we can get the vaccine supply to states, I’d support prioritizing those over 65,” Luchini said. “Those are the people most at risk, and the demand is certainly there to vaccinate a large population quickly. (Moving them into the same group 1b as those over 75, instead of 1c).”

This was in response to QSJ’s question of whether he supported the “Florida Model.”

“By ‘Florida Model’, do you mean prioritizing over 65 after healthcare workers (rather than over 75)? ” Luchini asked and then answered in the affirmative with a few caveats.

“Supply of vaccine is a huge issue for Maine, and all states. But the federal government’s inability to quickly send it to states is incredibly problematic,” he said.

“Dr. Scott Gotleib (former Trump FDA Commissioner and Pfizer board member) said yesterday that the US has 35M vaccines on a shelf, and the federal government is essentially stockpiling vaccines faster than they’re distributing them,” Luchini wrote in an email this week. “I haven’t verified those numbers, but if true, it shows a logistical incompetence that could cost lives.”

State Rep. Lynn Williams, A Democrat who replaced the popular Brian Hubbell, said she does not support moving the Age 65 group up. “The improved health of this age group (60 is the new 40) makes it reasonable to hold off on vaccinating them until all of the 75+ are vaccinated, as well as essential workers.” she wrote in an email. “We can all voluntarily stay home or otherwise away from public settings; essential workers cannot.”

State Rep. Genevieve McDonald, who represents Tremont, said, “I don’t know what the Florida model is … I’m looking forward to Jan 20th when someone competent who will prioritize public health is leading our nation. I am hopeful at that time we’ll see increased efficiency in the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine across the nation.”

Maine has the highest median age of any state.