Letters to the editor — The Camden Herald

May 11, 2017

An investment in community

I am an alum of the Camden-Rockport School system, a business owner, and a parent, and I support the new middle school bond issue. I hope any undecided voters and those planning to vote against the new middle school will seriously consider the dollar difference between these two options. It isn't $0 versus $26 million. It’s around $16 million versus $26 million. Sixteen million dollars is the minimum amount based on the engineering report to continue patching the elderly, failing building and keep it going. Spending $16 million on patchwork is a waste. I believe it’s time to stop throwing money into a sinking ship.

I’m currently involved in organizing our 20th high school reunion; I cannot believe that much time has passed, but it has — and, in fact, I recall our school was already patched and outdated when I was there. I entered middle school in 1990, 27 years ago, when the building was both the middle school and the high school. There were three major additions before I entered the schools and one since I’ve left. That’s four additions to a school initially built almost 100 years ago. Patchwork upon patchwork, never a complete and efficient design or vision. I recall being a teen in the ‘90s and going to other schools for extracurricular activities — frankly, our own schools seemed shabby and from a bygone era even then.

I know we all pay a lot in property taxes and between 60 and 66 percent of our tax dollars already go to schools; however, the investment in the schools is an important investment in our community. I feel so fortunate that the elementary and high schools are now such gorgeous, bright, state-of-the art buildings. Honestly, I felt something akin to envy when I first saw these buildings in comparison to the schools I matriculated through! I truly don’t know how they’ve managed to keep the middle school going…

Actually I do: they’ve managed to do it because the teachers, administrators and staff care about providing a welcoming, cheerful and positive place for the students to come learn. Again, at a certain point though, you stop throwing money into a sinking ship. I used that analogy a few months ago; little did I know that one of the back wings, built on top of old wood shavings from the wood shop, is quite literally sinking!

As a parent, business owner and homeowner, I feel tremendous pride in being part of a community with a great, enviable school system. I don’t want to see that slip (or sink!) even a little. And I’m also someone who does not want to spend $16 million on the bare minimum and more patching. That’s too much money. It’s time for a new school.

Elizabeth Valente Senders


Preserve the beauty

Maine Department of Transportation is coming to Camden’s next regularly scheduled Select Board meeting Tuesday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room to discuss their plans to to expand Camden’s scenic Route 1 northern gateway. The town says this is not a formal public hearing but a chance for the Board to talk with DOT.

A decade ago, the High Street project proved DOT can repair Route 1 in keeping with Camden’s comprehensive plan and achieve a beautiful result. But the current plans negatively impact the homes and businesses of Mainers and jeopardize the scenic beauty of the area that attracts visitors and transplants from all over the world. The plans fail to include utility pole placement, so true encroachment on individual lots, tree canopy and the landscape may actually be more severe than shown.

This stretch of Route 1 is of vital economic importance to our community and our state. It connects two classic harbors, a viable residential neighborhood and a profitable state park. Half the visitors traveling our state come up this road. Its unique Maine character resonates a lasting impression and keeps people coming back to contribute to the well-being of our great state.

In December 2016, after months of research and expert planning, the town sent design solutions to DOT that are in alignment with DOT’s own stated design goals to make lasting, cost-effective improvements that are safe and maintainable. Let’s work together to make a beautiful plan that doesn’t harm our neighborhood.

Jenny Simon


Thanks for generosity

The Friends of the Rockport Public Library want to publicly thank Rockport Steel owners Jill and Bill Glover and Vision Builders President Gregg Haining for their tremendous generosity and support of our annual book sale.

The Friends are an all-volunteer group whose mission is to support the library. We work all year collecting, sorting, pricing and organizing thousands of donated books for our July book sale. This requires considerable space, as well as energy, and allows us to raise more than $15,000 for the library each year.

Three years ago the Glovers came to our rescue when we had to vacate the space we had been using at the West Rockport Fire Station. They invited us to use their building on Route 1 for sorting and organizing. It was a perfect solution, and we didn’t dare expect such luck again. But when we needed to find a new home this spring, Gregg Haining volunteered the use of a space at his headquarters on Route 90.

The Friends are extremely grateful to these Rockport business owners who literally make it possible for us to hold our book sale. Their public-spirited generosity is a gift to the entire town. If you see the Glovers or Gregg Haining be sure to tell them how much we all appreciate their support. And plan to come to our book sale July 13-16.

The Board of the Friends

Jo Desmond, Betsy Elwin,

Ann Filley, Carole Gartley,

Nelda McClellan, Kathleen Meil,

Pat Messler

Protect all people

I grew up in Appleton, went to college here, and then left the state for many years. I came back to be near my family, enjoy Maine's beauty, and contribute to the community that I come from. I brought my husband and kids, from Mexico, to live here as well. Despite a grueling immigration process, I was sure that the U.S. was worth it. And many, many things about the U.S. are worth it. But we will not evolve as a country if we do not ensure safety and protection for all people. The violence towards people of color in this country is intolerable and must end. This country must protect all of our people, all of our children, by ending state sponsored violence such as brutal immigration tactics, militarized police, ongoing wars, and over-incarceration. We must instead invest our money in amazing schools, efficient and shining transportation systems, healthcare for all, arts and music, and those things that make our lives wonderful. This is the America I wish I could introduce my husband and kids to with pride.

Elizabeth Sommo


Route 1 plan affects us all

Many years ago my wife and I returned to this area where she was born and raised. While on vacation here in Camden, we were totally taken in by its scenic views and small town charm. It was at that time that we made it our goal to one day purchase a home in the town for our retirement. Almost two years ago, after viewing far too many properties, we settled into a home on Springbrook Hill Road on Route 1 because it combined the scenic beauty, style and location that we had desired for so long. Ironically, the only pause for concern was our limited frontage which placed us closer to Route 1 from our front door than we would have desired. But with everything else considered, we thought that perhaps some creative landscaping could overcome the issue.

The proposal set forth by the Maine Department of Transportation for the Route 1 expansion will take more of our already limited frontage. Other home and business owners along its route will suffer the same effects. I am not one who automatically advocates fighting changes or progress, however DOT has given no indication that it intends to consult with individual property owners with respect to changes and the impact upon each of us. The widening of the road will affect all of us to a certain degree. Arguments can be made on both sides of the table with respect for the need and scope of repairs, but it would be foolish and very costly to many if the project is begun with the same concern one would give to the clearing of a vacant lot.

The Town of Camden has invited DOT to its next regularly scheduled Select Board meeting on May 16, at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room to discuss recommendations to preserve property and our scenic quality. We are hearing this is an informational session and not an official public meeting and that the DOT plans remain substantially unchanged.

The plan as it currently exists will hurt and devalue many of our properties from a point of aesthetics. More importantly, some of us will significantly suffer functionally if proper safeguards are not made with individual homeowners. The fact is that we live on a mountain side. I'm sure that most of us would agree that it is somewhat of an engineering marvel that we can maintain dry basements and properly functioning septic systems while massive volumes of water rush by our homes 10 months out of the year. It is not difficult to disrupt this finely tuned system which seems to work well for most of us. Concern for the healthy continuation of this system and the significant cost of its failure to the homeowners long after the bulldozers are gone is not evident.

Joe and Lorraine Coakley


Why do I continue to write these letters?

One of my readers wrote this week asking if the standard I am setting as described in last week's piece on the “Gate Keepers: Ryan and McConnell” might be so high/restrictive as to keep businesspeople from running for public office. I thought it might be useful to review his letter (from his Vermont perspective), along with my answer:

“Say Brian, there must be tens of thousands of elected office holders throughout the country that are also in some sort of business and would be accountable for many of the same things [you speak of about Trump]. I wouldn't want to discourage business men and women from seeking elected office. Could any of them pass your test? Don't get me wrong I am not a fan of Trump. Vermont's governor sold out his share of his family construction business. If his cousin wasn't in a position to cough up, or borrow the 2.5 million, what then?”

My response:

It's not my standard. It's the standard our presidents have been held to from the beginning of our democracy.

Of course Obama set a very high bar, not only for himself, but for his entire administration. There wasn't even a whiff of scandal for eight years, which is pretty remarkable.

Trump has ushered in an other extreme — to the point of the unimaginable.

If Ryan and McConnell are not going to do their Constitutional jobs to hold Trump accountable, I think our way of life will be changed by Trump & Co before it's all over.

However, no one in this country would like to be proven wrong more than I would. As you have gathered, however, if you've read my recent letters, I think our country's future is very dark if we continue on our current path.

Surprise, surprise: we had no idea how fragile our democracy is. Just look at what transpired overnight on Jan 20: Obama morphed into Trump! The quality of the temperaments of these two men, and what they did to our government is almost beyond belief: Dept of State; Justice Dept; Health and Human Services; Environment; Defense; National Security — the works — all are in grave peril under Trump!

It's definitely not going to end well, according to my reckoning. Just look at what the House of Representatives set out to accomplish in healthcare last week. Surely the Senate will not go along with this travesty of justice — or will they?

We all must do our part to take back the House and Senate in 2018 for progressive democracy; then the presidency in 2020. If we don't, I fear our Democratic Experiment-so called-may well be over.

That's why I write these letters — that's the part I have chosen to play. We all must do our part for our country, but only if we want to continuing living in our democracy as we have known it for over 200 years! My writing is simply the work of just an ordinary retired old guy who feels the responsibility of supporting his country from the dark forces of plutocracy, and authoritarianism trying to destroy our way of life under Trump & Co!. A way of life we had come to believe was inviolable. It sure seems now, that it's definitely gravely at risk!

What do you plan on doing today for our National cause?

J Brian Smith, PhD


Here we go again

This is an urgent call to Camden residents to attend the upcoming Select Board meeting on Tuesday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room, when Maine DOT's project manager Ernie Martin, will present DOT's vision for a reconstruction of Route 1 North from the Camden Hills State Park to the Lincolnville town line. Come and speak up for Camden's trees and in support of Route 1 North residents.

Those who have lived here for 15 years or more will recall that the town of Camden went through a similar experience (dare I say, trauma) back in the early 2000s, when DOT came to town with its plan for reconstructing Route 1 between the Camden library and Camden Hills State Park.

The only thing that prevented the DOT from engaging in its planned pavement-widening, clear-cut, tree-cutting operation, with the resulting deleterious impact on our historic homes and bed and breakfast inns, was that residents and others who loved Camden organized, wrote letters, lobbied the town, protested, and staged marches to push back against DOT, as well as (in some cases) our very own (not necessarily supportive at the time) town government.

We even insisted, at the time, that the DOT include a budget and scheme for planting street trees, as well as (key to the success of the project) detailed specifications for "Preserving Trees During Route 1 Construction" which the town required be included in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by DOT and the town before the project could commence. Most would say that the result — Camden's charming northerly gateway — was well worth the effort.

You would be mistaken if you made the assumption that, appreciating the special nature of our community and our reverence for our trees, DOT is now "listening" and interested in doing a "context-sensitive" project. Far from it! DOT's current plans for the rest of Route 1 include cutting trees and creating huge clearcuts, taking residents' property and front yards by eminent domain as needed, and not including a budget for replanting trees — even in instances where they clear-cut residents front yards.

Your town-appointed Route 1 North Committee has worked long and thoughtfully to suggest alternatives and to bring the project down to a scale that is appropriate (while still providing sound pavement and safe passage) for our community, Camden property owners who abut Route 1, and our northern gateway.

At this point, there is no certainty about what difference this hard working committee has been able to make. Their thoughtful recommendations for the project, included in a letter and made in good faith, were approved by the Select Board in November and forwarded by the town to DOT on Dec. 20, 2016. After which, there was no response for months until a letter arrived from project manager Ernie Martin (dated April 7, and received by the town on April 18), in which he stated that DOT agreed with committee recommendations in one respect — to not use rumble strips, but that otherwise the project was substantially unchanged.

Meanwhile, the Route 1 Committee met on May 1 to discuss the letter, and then learned the next day — on May 2 — that interim town manager Roberta Smith had arranged some days previous for Martin to come to Camden on May 16 to present the plans! This arrangement was made without discussing this with (or notifying) the town-appointed committee until after finalizing the date! (Which seems a little odd.) Further, Select Board members on May 2, stated they had no problem with this maneuver — i.e. what seemed like an end run around the committee — and that it would behoove us to attend on May 16 if we had comments!

Which raises some questions. Does the Route 1 Committee have an authentic role in this process, or were they appointed as "window dressing." Are the interim town manager and Select Board interested in working with the Route 1 Committee? Will the Select Board advocate for the people of Camden and the Route 1 North abutters? Or is their agenda to facilitate a side agreement with DOT, while encouraging Route 1 committee members to believe they actually have a role to play here.

If you care about the quality of life in our community, supporting our town volunteers, and maintaining the uniqueness of beautiful Camden, rather that allowing our gateway roads to be turned into anonymous strips, courtesy of the DOT, please attend the May 16 meeting and let your Select Board know. We have a choice — will it be our way or their highway? Let's make it "Our Way" — and let's stand behind and be supportive of our Route 1 North Committee.

Nancy Caudle-Johnson, Arborist

Coordinator, Camden's Arbor Day and Tree City USA


Been down this health care road before

Back in 1983, at the age of barely 4, my stepdaughter faced the struggle of her life when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Her parents had to cope with the emotional challenges of this crisis as well as struggle with how to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. In those days, insurance companies did not have to cover someone with pre-existing conditions. Friends held fundraisers, they went deep into debt and they were forced to live in poverty in order to qualify for Medicaid. Thankfully, she survived her illness and has remained healthy. Yet for many years no insurance company would sell coverage, even for other, non-related injuries or illnesses she might encounter.

In 1997, when she was 18, Maine passed a law that prevented insurance policies from containing pre-existing condition exclusions, so we were finally able to buy insurance that covered her. But insurance companies left the state one by one, until Anthem BC/BS was the sole provider. With a monopoly in place, premiums and deductibles skyrocketed every single year, which made meaningful health care coverage virtually nonexistent.

In 2010, when we had nearly reached our breaking point, the ACA was passed. For the first time in this family’s history, we could afford premiums with reasonable deductibles! And my adult stepdaughter could afford her own policy without worrying about being rejected or priced out for a pre-existing condition. A heavy cloud was lifted.

In 2017, under the House bill, we are facing going back to the pre-1983 horror show – in fact, even worse, because we won’t even have Medicaid and MaineCare as a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. My stepdaughter will probably lose her insurance once again, even though she has been cancer-free for 34 years. As older adults, our insurance cost will increase tenfold, becoming virtually unaffordable once again.

The House Republicans shrug and say that’s not necessarily true. “No one really knows how this will play out — it will be up to the states. They can opt to waive the minimum benefits requirement — or not.” “We’re giving people choices” “We’re letting the free market decide.” But indeed we do know how this will "play out," because we’ve played this game before.

Any state that does not opt out of the minimum benefits requirements will watch insurance companies pack up and leave. There will be a race to the bottom. The sick and elderly will be charged 10 times more than healthy people — which they won’t be able to afford, so their only “choice” will be to go without preventive care, treatment, or prescription drugs. People will die.

But profits will soar. Wall Street will rejoice as securities markets form new debt-risk products to bundle and sell on the global market, like they did with our mortgages. We know how it plays out when only profits matter. The only thing we don’t know is where they are planning to put the all the dead bodies.

Sarah Holland


Redevelopment Foundation thanks

Chris Morong did a great service to the town in pursuing the irregularities in the payments for the Ragged Mountain Redevelopment at the Snow Bowl. The Snow Bowl Redevelopment project’s budget was overly optimistic, but good project and financial management would have avoided the current financial mess. It probably would not have enabled building the new lodge along with all the other improvements for the amount budgeted, but it would have avoided a lot of the cost growth, and also avoided any misuse of town reserve of funds.

The Redevelopment Foundation did a great job in enabling a major upgrading of one of Camden’s unique assets – the Snow Bowl. Even though they had nothing to do with the poor execution and financial management of the project, they have agreed, never-the-less to reimburse the town for the $700K taken from the town’s reserve fund as a result of the mismanagement. By doing so, the Foundation has put itself in the position of needing to raise additional funds to build the lodge for which their donors gave this money. They have certainly taken the high road here and they should be complimented for doing so.

It is unfortunate that his redevelopment financial mess follows on the heels of the operating revenue shortfall that voters agreed to cover at the last election. This operating revenue shortfall problem, however, is distinct from the redevelopment project mismanagement. A number of letters to the editor, and even some Budget Committee members, have confused these two problems. They are very different problems — they have different causes, impacts and remedies. About $80K of the operating shortfall that taxpayers agreed to cover this past election can be also attributed to the mismanagement of the redevelopment project, since it caused the Snow Bowl to miss and entire month of the 2014-15 season. Without this delayed opening, the season would likely have finished with a $20K to $40K surplus. However, most of the net $280K deficit resulted from the 2015-16 season’s exceptionally low natural snowfall (22 inches vs. the typical 60 inches), the large amount of rain, and the need for more cost effective management. However, even with this $280K shortfall, the Snow Bowl’s average annual cost to the town over the past 10 years is only $5.2K/year. Without the redevelopment delay of the 2014-15 season, this 10-year average would have been an annual contribution of $3K/year to the town.

While having the huge deficit to make up all at once last year was painful to us all, operating the Snow Bowl has not been a significant long-term burden to the town. It is also feasible to avoid the need for large bailouts in the future when bad snow years occur. Management of the snow bowl operations has been much more cost conscious this past season, so that costs were brought down significantly (nearly 14 percent below budget). Facility improvements made by the redevelopment droject are responsible for improving revenue by at least 15 percent. These management and facility improvements, when combined with several fortuitously timed snowfalls and the improved snow making capabilities, resulted in a $90K operational surplus this season. This surplus was achieved even with fewer than average open days (60 vs. 66) and lower than average snowfall.

If we use this season’s surplus to create a “rainy day fund," it will significantly reduce the need for bail outs in the future when we have additional exceptionally bad snow years. Just as the management of the Snow Bowl’s operations have been improved in response to the recent financial shortfall, so too can we expect the next phase of the redevelopment project to be better managed in response to experience. As a result, it will allow this unique town asset (which brings over $3 million per year into town businesses) to be even better, as well as financially sustainable — thanks in large part to the Redevelopment Foundation.

Dennis McQuirk


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