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.

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82850431734?pwd=azZvK0dOSTlzcStHSHpxaEtRVVZTZz09 

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.

Acadia National Park does not monitor air pollution from cruise ships

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 9, 2021 – Acadia National Park’s air quality monitoring data does not correlate cruise ship activities outside of the park to air quality in the park, a spokesperson for the park confirmed.

This was a validation of a previous QSJ post citing park biologist William Gawley as verifying that the park’s air pollution monitors are incapable of detecting pollution emitted by cruise ships in Bar Harbor.

“It is my understanding that Kevin Schneider, Superintendent of Acadia National Park addressed this issue at a Bar Harbor Town Council meeting. He referenced the fact that this park is a Class 1 airshed under the Clean Air Act which requires us to have the best air in the nation and that we do monitoring in conjunction with Maine DEP,” Christie Anastasia of the Park Service, wrote in an email. “What really drives our air quality metrics is pollution generated from outside the state – cars and power plants in Northeast and Midwest. We do not have a direct correlation between cruise ships and air quality monitoring in the park.

Some members of the town council and the industry-dominated Bar Harbor cruise ships committee have used Schneider’s comments as giving the cruise ships a clean bill of health when it comes to air pollution.

In fact, several readers of QSJ wrote that air pollution from the cruise ships are much worse that was reported in an earlier QSJ post.

A reader, Jim O’Connell, scolded QSJ, writing:

“This article fails in its assessment when it states 700 trucks worth of So2 are emitted when a typical 10-hour visit with the ‘Anthem of the Seas’ 1100 feet long will put out 40,000 idling semi trucks worth of carcinogenic SO2. A code violation on our downtown by 4,500,000 times.”

Subsequent emails to Mr. O’Connell were not returned.


As kids fall behind, is there opportunity for a middle school?

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 2, 2021 – Curriculum Czar Julie Meltzer had just ended her presentation of how behind the K-8 students were because of Covid-19 when John Bench, chair of the Southwest Harbor school board, asked if the schools could continue its outdoor activity wrought by Covid-19 which have reduced behavioral problems.

Meltzer chose her words carefully but answered that it would be easier to accomplish that if MDI had a centralized middle school. Teachers and adult staff at each school is so tightly scheduled, Meltzer said, leaving little flexibility for any extra activity.

The fact is, despite centralizing administrative functions, the system known as alternative organizational structure (AOS) is a frankensteinish body with too many tentacles and bosses.

Each of the eight schools must run the same required curriculum with a limited staff. Teachers often double up on curricula with math teachers also teaching science, etc.

“Every year we get four or five kids at each school ready for geometry,” Meltzer said in an interview. By pooling all those in a single middle school, a class in geometry might be possible. That would be the same for art and music.

The backdrop was a sobering report she presented showing the younger students falling behind faster than the upper grades, especially in math. She ended her presentation on a positive note saying kids are resilient and can make up the year lost. Her presentation may be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZVLnErjpy4&t=2496

It’s anyone’s guess how long it would take for the students to rebound. Would the students falling behind during the pandemic year benefit from a truly efficient use of teaching resources and not just from sharing administrative costs?

One of the schools falling behind is Trenton but you wouldn’t know it from a citizens committee which is recommended Dec. 29 that town’s elementary school withdraw from AOS 91. The committee was formed by the selectmen after years of complaints from some taxpayers about the cost. The committee is separate from the school board which was not in agreement. Trenton will need to sort out its own internecine blood-letting before anyone takes the threat seriously. Here is an article on the Trenton threat .. https://www.ellsworthamerican.com/maine-news/group-urges-trenton-to-leave-aos/

Fish farming in Down East: Pay the fine, take the cannolis …

Map shows where salmon pens are proposed in Frenchman Bay (green boxes) just north of the Porcupine Islands

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 1, 2021 – Fire, ready, aim.

It’s the prevailing business model, some cynics say, for companies wishing to operate fish farms in Maine waters: Pollution? Whoops. I’ll just pay the fine.

It was a little over a year ago Cooke Aguaculture was fined $156,213 for 11 violations of its state permit. Cooke is the only sea-based salmon aquaculture firm in Maine, with pen farms in Washington and Hancock counties, as well as a hatchery on Gardner Lake in East Machias and a fish processing facility in Machiasport. It’s also a multi-billion-dollar company. A $156,213 fine is like a large tip at one of its company events.

“Clearly these miniscule fines are having precious little effect on Cooke’s illegal behavior, which is precisely why I have so little faith in fines administered by the Maine DEP,” said Lawrence Reichard, a Belfast journalist and environmentalist.

“In that same year, 2018, Cooke Aquaculture posted revenues of $2.8 billion, meaning the $156,123 fine assessed against Cooke Aquaculture by DEP amounted to a mere .006 percent of Cooke Aquaculture’s revenue for that year,” Reichard said.

Such benefit analysis is a reprise of the famous “Pinto memo” of 1968 when Ford Motor Company concluded it was cheaper to settle lawsuits over deaths from its exploding Pintos than to recall all the cars and fix the problem. “For companies with environmental issues, fines are simply a cost of doing business,” Reichard said.

Donald Eley, president of the Friends of Blue Hill Bay, said the fish farming industry is banking on weak state and local governments, enticing bureaucrats with the promise of jobs and property tax revenue.

The state of Maine is addicted to the promises of aqua farms “whether they come true or not,” said Eley. “They all claim they can meet the state guidelines … but who’s monitoring it?”

“It becomes a self-monitoring, self-regulated industry,” Eley said.

Since the slap on the wrist against Cooke, two huge salmon farming proposals are being debated here in Down East – one a land-based operation in Belfast and another in Frenchman Bay. In Jonesport, Kingfish Maine, which is owned by a Dutch aquaculture firm, announced plans last fall for a $110 million land-based farm where it hopes to produce 13 million or more pounds of yellowtail each year on a 94-acre site overlooking Chandler Bay.

“In Belfast, Nordic Aquafarms (see rendering) will pump 1,600 pounds of nitrogen a day into Belfast Bay, where pollution has already closed 4,093 acres to shellfishing,” Reichard said. “That’s 16 times the amount currently discharged on average by Belfast, a city of about 7,000. And that effluent will create algae blooms, and attract and feed sea lice, to the detriment of wild fish populations.”

Nordic said it is almost impossible for fish to escape from land-based fish farms, but 20,000 fish escaped from a land-based fish farm in Vagan, Norway, as recently as July 28, 2018. Escaped fish compete with wild fish for spawning grounds, destroy wild-fish spawn, and breed with and weaken wild fish stock, Reichard wrote in a letter to the Bangor Daily News.

“Their entire premise is based on no mistakes happening,” Reichard said. “And that’s extremely unrealistic.”

In late December, two groups – Upstream Watch and Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area – began legal action to overturn decisions by the town of Belfast and the state granting Nordic the necessary permits. An excellent overview of that case appeared in the Penobscot Bay Pilot. https://www.penbaypilot.com/article/state-approval-belfast-salmon-farm-appealed-city-planning-board-oks-project/141976

Closer to MDI, the in-water fish farm proposed for the middle of Frenchman Bay by another Norwegian company has many locals alarmed. These are the modern-day Vikings, true to their tradition of seeking opportunities outside of resource-constrained Scandinavia. And what a prize Mount Desert Island must be! It even comes with its own fiord.

“I am terrified,” said Sarah Redmond (see photo), who runs an organic seaweed farm on Stave Island off Gouldsboro only about a mile northeast of the salmon farm proposed by American Aquaculture. She worried that her certification for organic products would be jeopardized if the water is polluted.

“It’s an absurd proposal,” Redmond said. “It’s a permit to pollute. It’s not possible to capture all the fish waste” as proposed by American Aquaculture. “Most of the waste is dissolved in the water.”

The Norwegian company proposed to deploy 30 pens, each 150 feet wide, in lease sites in the bay. The pens would support a projected annual production of 30,000 metric tons, or about 66 million pounds of the fish.

“Those 66 million fish would be raised in a plastic polymer bag sitting in the ocean just north of Bar Harbor,” wrote Kathleen Rybarz, president of Friends of Frenchman Bay, in a letter to the Portland Press Herald. “Raising may be too generous a word, rather, the fish will be swimming in circles in containers in the water. The cold clean waters of Maine get pumped in and water gets pumped out as the fish swim in circles. And that methodology leads to so many questions about the potential damage to the environment.

“What will the water pumped back into the bay be like? Will it affect our local marine animals and plants?,” wrote Rybarz, who also is chair of the selectmen in Lamoine. “Will the state have effective regulations in place to do no harm to the environment? How will the container be kept clean? How many jobs for locals will it really create?”

One of the problems cited by scientists on dumping any disruptive matter in Frenchman and Blue Hill bays, which are conjoined by the Union River, is that the two bodies of water flush very poorly. The Friends of Blue Hill Bay have been working for the past 20 years to understand the ecology of Blue Hill Bay, and its twin on the eastern side of MDI.

“The effluents from net-pen aquaculture would have little negative impact on the marine environment if the aquaculture sites were located in the open, well flushed, and vigorously mixing waters of the Gulf of Maine,” wrote Neal R. Pettigrew, oceanographer at the University of Maine. “However, the bays and estuaries of the Gulf of Maine are generally much more sensitive to aquaculture activities and caution needs to be exercised when instituting these activities in our sheltered waters.

“The addition of any fish pens would pose a great threat that dissolved oxygen in the lower water level would be overly depleted and algal blooms would occur in the upper water level, potentially introducing Red Tide to the Bay for the first time,” Pettigrew wrote.

“The extremely slow currents in Upper Blue Hill Bay would result in significant waste build up and the development of anaerobic bacterial mats under the fish pens and damage to the bottom dwelling community. The existing conditions and attendant risks appear to be so high that they should not be ignored.”

“Why is it in this area of Maine – an area that attracts millions of visitors a year? Whose interests are really being served?” Rybarz asked.

Threats to existing fisheries and water-based businesses may be a better launching pad to fight the fish farms because the state is sensitive to grievances from incumbent constituents. It’s folks like Sarah Redmond and Zach Piper of Hancock, a young lobsterman who now makes a living in Frenchman Bay.

“The areas this Norwegian-backed company is proposing to turn into industrial aquaculture with two 50-plus acre leases for large fish pens, is heavily fished by lobstermen and has been for years,” he wrote in a letter to Bangor Daily News. “I am not a fan of foreign corporations making their money at the expense of Maine people.”

American Aquaculture’s audacious proposal to site an industrial farm in the middle of one of Maine’s most prized bodies of water is like asking for trouble. But trouble is not foreign to its CEO, Mikael Roenes, who volunteered during an interview with Bill Trotter of the Bangor Daily News that he has a white-collar criminal past in Norway, and that he has spent time incarcerated because of it.

Roenes told Trotter he got into legal trouble more than a decade ago in Norway when he was working as a stockbroker and “made some promises I could not keep” to investors he had lined up in an attempt to acquire a Norwegian company.

He lost all his money, repaid his investors in full and eventually was convicted on charges he did not specify and spent two and a half years at a minimum-security prison, he said.

“I am very open about my past,” he said. “I accept full responsibility for my actions and have paid my debt to society.”

But did he take the cannolis?

Recycling coming back to a town near you soon – maybe

SOMESVILLE, Jan 1, 2021 – It will be a full year for the 115 towns which share waste disposal operations to be without recycling – from May 2020, when the “single-stream” Fiberight plant in Hampden closed, to May 2021.

Stakeholders are hopeful a contract will be executed in the first quarter with a new buyer whose name has been kept secret by the 115-town consortium managing agency, Municipal Review Committee, the same folks who were accomplices in the massive and embarrassing collapse of the $90 million plant in May.

MRC was never a conduit for transparency. Nor many of the towns in the consortium. I went to recycle my waste at the Northeast Harbor dump in the spring until suddenly I couldn’t. I was told to dump my waste in Southwest Harbor and it didn’t matter whether I sorted the waste. That’s when I found out that recycling was inoperative on MDI. So I posted it on QSJ.

On Dec. 29, the MRC board voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding with a buyer of the defunct plant, but refused to disclose its name, nor investors.

This is same agency which essentially allowed Fiberight to control the public spin for years. As recently as April the plant was operating as if all were normal, even announcing that it was taking on waste from more municipalities. At its April 20, 2020 board meeting – one month before the plant closed – board members appeared to have no clue as to the dire situation of the plant owners. One board member, Bob Butler of Waldoboro, was effusive in his praise of Fiberight executives. “I am very encouraged, very relieved and impressed,” he said after a Fiberight vice president signaled that a $14.5 million bridge loan from bondholders could close that week. Clearly, the bondholders had deep concerns about the enterprise. It sent shock waves when it turned down the bridge loan, forcing the plant closing.

MRC voiced no such skepticism. It had loaned the plant operator $1.5 million as a bridge in February. What was the due diligence performed? What did the bondholders know that MRC didn’t?

Since then questions abound. But answers are few.

Binary partnerships are complicated enough beasts. But the level of complexity goes up in a multi-player deal.

There is the 115-town agency, MRC, which owns the land the plant sits on and holds the contract for the towns that have signed on to do business with the plant. So MRC is both landowner and customer. There is the Fiberight Corp., parent of Coastal Resources of Maine, the plant operator which closed in May. In the summer a court-appointed receiver acting on behalf of the bondholders was appointed to oversee the plant. Then there are the bondholders, a trustee of the bondholders and a private equity firm.

In watching the replay of the board’s April board meeting (see attached) it will be apparent that this board does not have the management wherewithal to handle such difficult negotiations and ongoing challenges. After the Fiberight VP presented, not a single board member had any questions.

They were put on the board with the best of intentions. Many had hard public works experience which was invaluable when the plant was coming online.

But this is now a different set of challenges. What if this single-stream recycling plant is simply not economically viable? What contingencies must be negotiated if that is the case? What losses are the investors willing to take? What losses are we willing to insist upon? Does the state possess any power to help the towns seize the plant for the great good of the public?

What is the status of the various encumbrances, including a $1.2 million lawsuit from the company CRM hired to operate and staff the plant, NAES Corp., over unpaid expenses?

Mount Desert Islander reported that CRM has been in violation of its contract with the MRC since June 26.

“Even though the facility’s shuttering constituted an unacceptable breach under the terms of the supply agreement, committee legal counsel Jon Pottle said last month, the contracts in place make reopening the facility a worthwhile endeavor,” the Islander reported.

“We don’t believe [terminating the agreement] makes sense while we’re undertaking these efforts and while there’s a reasonable prospect to reopen the facility,” Pottle said. “We’re going to continuously monitor those and evaluate and re-evaluate that, but that is the current posture.” 

How much overhead cost is there in paying for the incinerator and keeping the CRM plant in mothball? How much legal and consulting fees has the MRC wracked up?

Calls Thursday morning to Michael Carroll, executive director of MRC, and to Tony Smith, Mount Desert representative to the MRC, were not returned. Carroll in an earlier conversation blamed the travails at CRM on “poor management.”

It’s reasonable that MRC would not want negotiations with the new buyer to be conducted publicly. But why not disclose the buyer and investors? No doubt the acquiring party of a failed plant is going to seek multiple concessions from MRC to take over a failed enterprise.

A future QSJ article may explore how a charismatic founder and CEO of Fiberight Craig Stuart-Paul managed to sweet talk local Maine folks into building the $90 million plant.

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?

The Hampden plant never reached 100 percent of its capacity nor capability. A question remains on whether it ever will.

The decision of the MRC board to conduct business in secret is a mistake. The public’s business ought to be conducted in public, reasonably of course. This board has been given multiple chances. It’s time to invite public scrutiny and help. The MRC is simply over its head.

Bangor Daily News asked MRC Executive Director Michael Carroll whether there was an exemption in Maine’s Freedom of Access Act that prevented the memorandum of Understanding from becoming public. He did not answer.

QSJ has requested guidance on FOI disclosure of imminent buyers. QSJ figures it can’t do worse than the status quo.

Cruise ship schedule for 2021 not under local control

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 1, 2021 – Canada will have more to say about whether Bar Harbor gets cruise ship visits in 2021 than local authorities.

That is because of a little known law which requires ships with foreign flags to leave the U.S. for at least one night before returning. Ships may not spend consecutive nights in two domestic ports.

The Jones Act, which specifies that ships carrying cargo between two American ports must: 1) be built in the United States, 2) be 75 percent owned by U.S. citizens, 3) be 75 percent manned by a U.S. citizen crew, and 4) fly the U.S. flag. Since virtually all cruise ships are foreign flagged, the issue of Bar Harbor’s 2021 schedule may be decided by Canada, which has a cruise ship ban until March 1. It is likely to extend that until covid comes under control.

The big season is September and October when both Quebec City and Bar Harbor enjoy an extra economic burst as Acadia National Park visits wane. The Jones Act was enacted in 1886 to protect U.S. ship builders and shipping industry.

Meanwhile, Jeff Dobbs, chair of the Bar Harbor Town Council, wrote in an email that he favors moderating the cruise ship activity, although he would not have voted for the June 2021 town meeting to place a proposed limit on the number of cruise ships. Dobbs had an ailment and could not attend the town council meeting in December when the motion carried 4-2. “This is not the way to do it,” he wrote. The motion called for a survey of residents, followed by a public hearing, before the June vote.

Like all the council members, Dobbs said he received a “barrage of emails that preceded the last meeting … it is fairly obvious that we as a town need to ameliorate the cruise ship situation. The emails ranged from one extreme to another, with some that were in the middle too. The bottom line is to come up with a plan that has something in it for all.

“Maybe moving tour operations to the Ferry Terminal to alleviate congestion on the pier. Only passengers taking local tours and shopping being taken directly to Harborside Marina and 1 West Street . Returning passengers from tours being dropped off in town to shop or return to their ships. Requiring large cruise ships to anchor in anchorage B & C on the far side of Bar Island and Sheep Porcupine Island to reduce the visual and noise pollution, some call it, of Frenchman Bay from Agamont Park, the Shore Path etc. Also having cruise ship free days is another idea.”

Pandemic fuels talk of cruise ship cap to ease crowding; but air quality also a major concern …

“NICE TO HAVE THE TOWN BACK …”

Bar Harbor explores bans on cruise ship visits for 2021

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 18, 2020 – Before the pandemic shut the industry down, Bar Harbor hosted some of the worst polluting cruise ships in the world. Yet as the town re-considers its cruise ship policy going forward, environmental concerns have been given scant attention.

The ships are often anchored less than a mile from one of the most environmentally sensitive places in the country, Acadia National Park, which runs propane-fired buses to protect air quality in the park.

Yet, last year 158 ships and hundreds of tender boats bellowed an incalculable amount of noxious and toxic pollution into the entire area around Frenchmen’s Bay.

Many of the 11 towns in the Frenchman Bay Partners, a regional environmental group, have voiced concern about the impact of cruise ships in Bar Harbor, said the group’s president Jane Disney, who is the lone scientist on the Bar Harbor Cruise Ship committee. “Many towns are affected but only one benefits,” she said.

They worry about potential spills and air pollution, she said.

The carbon footprint of a cruise ship passenger is three times that of someone on land. One cruise ship can emit as much pollution as 700 trucks and as much particulate matter as a million cars, according to Forbes Magazine. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/04/26/cruise-ship-pollution-is-causing-serious-health-and-environmental-problems/?sh=398521fb37db

“A single engine on a cruise or cargo ship is large enough that, if it were based
on land, would be considered a major source and require mandatory emission controls,” the Maine Department of Environmental Protection stated in its study on air emissions from Maine vessels in January 2020. “Even marine engines built to today’s standards could potentially emit as much pollution (on an annual basis) as Maine’s largest utility.

Cruise ship operators are being urged to fit filters to reduce air pollution emissions | Credit: NABU
Cruise ship operators are being urged to fit filters to reduce air pollution emissions | Credit: NABU

“This combined with the potential growth in cargo and cruise ship traffic and the need to address regional haze prevents the Department from disregarding marine vessels as a potentially important air emissions source.”

Imagine the reaction from Friends of Acadia if a company wanted to build an incinerator in Seal Harbor, or a 1,000-room hotel on Schoodic Point, or a restaurant with 500 seats overlooking Eagle Lake? That is essentially what Bar Harbor has allowed for more than 30 years – huge mobile polluters parked about a Tiger Woods two-iron shot away from a national treasure.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth issued a report card earlier this year on major cruisers, including 10 companies which send ships to Bar Harbor. Eight of the 10 received failing grades for air pollution reduction, meaning they have not adopted industry recommended improvements.

Transport & Environment, a group which promotes sustainable travel, published an analysis of major European ports earlier this year and showed air pollutants generated by ships versus cars. https://www.transportenvironment.org/press/luxury-cruise-giant-emits-10-times-more-air-pollution-sox-all-europe%E2%80%99s-cars-%E2%80%93-study

It found that 47 of Carnival Corp.’s ships docked in Europe emitted 10 times more sulfur than all the passenger cars in Europe. While Carnival vigorously disputed the report, the company can’t deny it has been convicted of environmental crimes multiple times in recent years. No such study exists in the United States but the parallels remain the same.

Ships burn the lowest quality of fuel, and they burn a lot of it. Cruise operators have been urged to switch to cleaner fuel alternatives with a lower sulfur content, but few have heeded these calls, according to Forbes.

“Safer fuel, such as liquefied natural gas, is more expensive and operators have favored using scrubbers, which have been called “emission cheat” systems. These scrubbers wash cheap fuel in order to meet environmental standards, but then discharge the pollutants collected directly into the ocean.”

There are new technologies, such as onboard incineration plants, recycling programs, and less polluting fuel. “However, without homogenized standards and strictly enforced international rules, the cruise and shipping industry is likely to continue side-stepping many of the possible solutions,” Forbes said.

There are two air emission monitors on MDI but Acadia biologist William Gawley doubted that they adequately measure cruise ship emissions. “The issue is we get the whole mess” – all emissions – from trucks to cars to boats. There’s no ability to distinguish the source. Also, the monitoring station on McFarland Hill is probably too far from the ships in Bar Harbor.

Gawley said he’s read much about the pollution caused by cruise ships. “It’s pretty horrendous.” The best way to measure emissions is to perform tests on the ships themselves, using instruments such as the TSI P-Trak Ultrafine Particle Counter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXjtQu_Nco0

Then there is the issue of the hundreds of trips by tenders ferrying passengers from the ships. “You can see the smoke from the tenders,” said Jane Disney. “The pollution is terrible.”

Water quality is less of an issue because most ships do not discharge in harbors. Disney has been monitoring water quality in area harbors since 2005 and is grateful we have not had a significant spill. But only two weeks ago 5,000 pounds of shredded plastic trash from Northern Ireland headed for an incinerator in Orono spilled into Penobscot Bay and washed ashore on Sears Island.

Consider that L.L. Bean has been sponsoring the Island Explorer buses on MDI since 1999 to help reduce air pollution with clean, propane-fired buses only to have another industry compromise its good work by parking 158 floating cities over 106 days in Bar Harbor bellowing some of the worst air pollutants made by man.

This week Bar Harbor council members said they heard enough from residents and took matters into their own hands, steam-rolling the standing cruise ship committee, to deal directly with the complaints about the hoards of passengers.

There is a “jaded perception,” Councilman Joseph Minutolo said, that the cruise ship committee will only serve the interest of the industry. It’s not capable of “an unbiased view,” he said. Except for two at-large members, the police chief, harbormaster, Acadia representative and Jane Disney, the 14-member committee is dominated by people who have benefitted financially from the cruise ship industry. The chairman operates the tender business for Ocean Properties Inc., which is the largest hotel owner in Bar Harbor.

By a vote of 4-2 the council voted to survey of residents on whether to impose a ban on ships, a cap on ships (or passengers) or continue to allow ship visits in its existing scope, to conduct a public hearing on the questions and to vote on the issue next June.

“In this situation I want unbiased, a fresh outlook going forward, not the normal channels like we’ve been doing it,” Minutolo said. The cruise ship committee members “are not policy generators,” he said. “They are about passenger movement. They are about making the system more efficient. They’re about being able to generate and process more people. We’re the policy makers.”

Councilman Gary Friedmann, who made the motion which passed, said he is not in favor of a total ban but that he’s heard from many residents who liked the shutdown of the cruise ships wrought by the pandemic. “It’s nice to have the town back,” he was told.

Thus far the discussion has centered around overcrowding and impact on the local economy.

The environmental impact of the cruise ships has not been discussed much in any of the meetings. That would first require a discovery of facts which does not exist. For instance, the TSI P-Trak Ultrafine Particle Counter is a $4,000 instrument. How many of those would be needed to measure air pollution caused by the ships and who would fund it? Once a baseline has been determined, ships may be required to prove that they are in compliance with new rules promulgated this year to cut sulfer emissions by 85 percent.

As of Jan. 1, 2020, as part of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (referred to as MARPOL), sulfur emissions must be reduced from 3.5 percent of total mass to 0.5 percent. Since the industry has been dormant because of the pandemic, it’s anyone’s guess how many ships will be in compliance when they return to operation.

Bar Harbor can be a gold standard port, requiring visiting ships to comply with those standards.

Banning cruise ships outright doesn’t seem a likely prospect. But capping the number of ships doesn’t address the air quality problem which is immense and affects more than just Bar Harbor.

A return to normalcy in 2021?

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 15, 2020 – If there is optimism about next year you wouldn’t know it by driving around the island. Stalwarts such Havana and McKay’s Public House, which provided a warm hearth for locals for many years, have closed early.

“Losing a little money would be okay (justified by keeping some folks employed, keeping some people fed, etc.) but losing a lot of money each week just doesn’t make sense,” Havana owner Michael Boland posted on Facebook. Havana will offer take-out boxes for New Year’s Eve but “we find that we’re just not a to-go kind of place,” Boland stated. Havana is planning to re-open April 1.

Businesses “with good roots will emerge and re-open,” said Tony McKim, president of First National Bank in Bar Harbor. He worried about new businesses with “moderately strong business plans” but without a cushion of working capital.

McKim said MDI business had a “decent August and a good September” but then reverted to a down draft as Covid cases rose in the fall. Alf Anderson, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said this is the time of the year when businesses need to build inventory for next year and make repairs if necessary to equipment and that he fears some just won’t have the resources.

The plight of small businesses on MDI mirrors that of the attendance numbers in Acadia National Park – a 20-25 percent decline. The late surge in visitors in November was welcoming but made up a small percentage of overall annual attendance.

Eben Salvatore, chair of the cruise ship committee in Bar Harbor, took an informal poll of local banks recently and was alarmed by his findings. One bank, he said, handled $13 million in federal Payroll Protection loans and $64 million in mortgage deferrals on MDI. “Those are Wall Street numbers in our little town of Bar Harbor, so things are not fine.”

Salvatore works for Ocean Properties Inc., which operates a tender service for the cruise ships, and has a vested interest in painting a dark economic scenario which can be only rescued by, drum roll, MORE CRUISE SHIPS!

“The vaccine drives everything,” said McKim, expressing the hope that the second half of 2021 will return to some normalcy and that the Covid-19 vaccine will do it job.

Meanwhile, Southwest Harbor is the liveliest place on MDI, with two new restaurants, Hearth and Harbor and Next Level Sports Bar, testing the winter market, and Sips holding its own, although it will close for 10 days starting Dec. 21. Peter Trout on Manset’s Shore Road is offering takeout Friday through Sundays.