Bigelow Mountain was in its glory June 8 when a dozen people and two dogs gathered at a beaver pond to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the preserve's creation. It was a picture-perfect morning, and the small pond sharply reflected Avery Peak and Old Man's Head several thousand feet up. Lance Tapley, who initiated the protection effort, used the moment to call for a revival of the "populist spirit" to protect large tracts of the north woods that are still vulnerable to development.
The anniversary celebration included a news conference, guided hikes on Bigelow and other nearby peaks, a champagne bean supper and a campout on Flagstaff Lake. Eight of the original Friends of Bigelow were on hand for the event, happy for their part in leaving a legacy to the state.
Tapley was joined by Jonathan Carter, founder of the Forest Ecology Network, in discussing how the Bigelow Preserve is a model for forest protection that includes sustainable harvesting along with traditional recreation, such as hunting and snowmobiling. They also said it was an excellent example of the value of the referendum process. "We would not have this preserve if it were not for the citizen initiative," Tapley said. And it set a precedent for other grassroots initiatives, both successful and unsuccessful, that have energized debate about Maine's future.
Bigelow Mountain from Flagstaff Lake, left, and Lance Tapley in his days with Friends of Bigelow.
While Tapley's Friends of Bigelow saved the mountain from a proposed ski resort promoted as "the Aspen of the East," another kind of development may pose a new threat. Western Mountains Development Corp. wants to build huts just outside Bigelow's boundary to attract recreationists who would use the preserve's Appalachian Trail and side paths. Tapley said the plan could result in overuse. "There's much to be thoroughly discussed," he said.
The 40,000-acre Bigelow Preserve is the second area to be proposed for a hut system similar to that in New Hampshire's White Mountains. The Appalachian Mountain Club has talked to the state about building three huts in the Tumbledown Mountain Range, which is soon to be acquired by the state. While the prospect of huts raises the possibility of another confrontation over Bigelow, most of the focus on June 8 was on how the mountain was spared from the Flagstaff Corp.'s ski development.
The group of Boston developers headed by John Marden already owned 6,000 acres of the mountain and had built a small lodge when the fight began. Envisioned was a $250 million project, including a resort village, downhill ski trails, condominiums and an airport, just down the road from Sugarloaf. Flagstaff Corp. said it would take 20 years to fully build out the resort and promised hundreds of year-round construction and service jobs. But all went down in flames, thanks to the opposition organized by Friends of Bigelow.
The symbolic gauntlet was thrown down when Tapley and several others climbed Bigelow on a cold February day in 1974 to plant a flag on 4,129-foot West Peak. "We were claiming the mountain for the state," he said, showing old black-and-white photographs of the event at the news conference beside the beaver pond.
The photo was published in the New York Daily News and picked up for wide distribution by the Associated Press. "We got a lot of publicity out of that stunt," said Tapley, at the time a freelance writer and, later, publisher.
It was a two-year campaign by Friends, and they had to take on the late Gov. Jim Longley and the business community. "Longley hurt us severely when he came out against us and held a news conference virtually every day," Tapley recalled. He read a quote from Longley that attempted to align the "save Bigelow" cause with elitists. Longley also said preserving Bigelow would "deny money in the future for the elderly, our students and to an unknown extent to the opportunity to bring quality jobs to Maine." Even then, Tapley said, such an allegation was "hogwash," and a quarter of a century later it seems even more ludicrous.
The Land Use Regulation Commission had temporarily prevented development of Bigelow, and on June 8, 1974, Maine voters approved the Bigelow Preserve Act by a 4,000-vote margin, mandating purchase of the 12-mile range to keep it wild. The Bureau of Public Lands acquired the land with state and federal money and through land swaps with paper companies. And the rest is history.
Bigelow is known as Maine's "second mountain," behind revered Katahdin, and is the showpiece of the public lands system. Tapley believes the Friends' campaign was effective, especially with working-class Mainers, because they steered away from the negative. Their theme was "save Bigelow" because it's priceless, he said, and Friends promised it would be protected for all Mainers, not just hikers. "We wanted to keep the mountain as it was," Tapley said.
That promise has been kept, he said, noting the continued logging of the preserve, multi-recreational activities and the absence of gates or fees that might limit visitors. At the same time, there is a ban on new roads and large campgrounds and a limit on where snowmobiles can travel.
Tapley and Carter praised the selective harvesting carried out by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The preserve and the Scientific Forest Management Area in Baxter State Park are "good examples of the way logging should be done," with minimal ecological disturbance, said Carter. Preserve manager Steve Swatling said only small patches - one-quarter to four acres in size - are clearcut.
Carter lives a few miles down the road from Bigelow and was in graduate school when the Bigelow campaign was going on. "I followed it closely and was inspired to follow in your footsteps," he said, spearheading his own referendum campaigns to regulate forest practices. Bigelow, as a healthy, intact forest, provides a "stark contrast" to the industrial forest, Carter said, and it can be "a symbol of restoration" of the rest of the north woods.
Twenty-five years ago, Maine Audubon Society and the Appalachian Mountain Club were against the Bigelow Preserve legislation, and Tapley is still critical of mainstream environmental groups for shying away from activist causes. He called Audubon, The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Council of Maine "elite" organizations. "Many are addicted to rich people on the coast" and consequently won't engage in controversial grassroots campaigns, Tapley said.
He also took a shot at George Smith of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine for misleading his wildlife-oriented membership to "oppose environmentalism." On the other hand, Tapley praised the Forest Ecology Network, the Maine Green Party and the Maine Global Action Network as examples of new grassroots groups that are not afraid to fight the good fight for special places like Bigelow.
"I don't think we're militant or radical," added Carter. He thinks the actions of grassroots groups reflect the "sentiments of all Mainers" who love the north woods. It's the "special interests," such as the paper companies, that want to make FEN and other similar organizations seem radical, he said.
The bottom line, said Carter, looking up at the summit of Bigelow, is "we need much more of this. We need larger and larger contiguous reserves to protect biological diversity and ecological integrity." He quoted one prominent conservation biologist, Reed Noss, who advocates setting aside 50 percent of the north woods from development, but allowing sustainable logging in order to maintain existing biological diversity.
Phyllis Austin can be reached
Planning boards face a conundrum as they confront growth in their communities: How can a group of concerned citizens who are intimately acquainted with a community's history, politics, culture and values render an impartial decision on proposals for change? And, as political activists heed the call to enter local government, will their history of activism work against them?
In the small town of Washington, Lane Construction wants to open a granite quarry and build an asphalt and cement plant. In May, at the first public hearing on the matter, Lane attorney Ed Bearor called for the disqualification of two members of the planning board for bias against the project.
Bearor charged that two newly appointed, nonvoting members of the seven-member board are also members of the Land Association of Washington. LAW, the recently formed nonprofit established in response to Lane's plans, has met several times to discuss strategies "to see that the land-use ordinance is fairly and fully enforced," according to treasurer David Martucci.
Martucci says Bearor's intent is not to promote fairness but to eliminate opposition. "In a small community, you'd be hard-pressed to find people who are neutral on every issue. If you make absence of thought a criterion, pretty soon you won't have anybody on the planning board at all."
Bearor claims the members' involvement with LAW is evidence of their personal opposition to the plan and prevents them from coming to an objective decision on the quarry. The role of the planning board is to determine an application's conformance with established land-use policies and other regulations, Bearor said, not to express personal opinion. "The decision needs to be based on what you see and hear at that [planning board] meeting and not on what you heard at a meeting the night before that was full of misinformation, misdirectives and intentional obfuscation. This is a quasi-judicial process," Bearor said, speaking of the approval process. "And I'm entitled to an impartial judge."
Bearor succeeded in a similar situation several years ago in Belfast, when Lane proposed a quarry there. Charging that members of the zoning board of appeals had publicly taken positions against the project, he insisted on their disqualification. With board membership reduced by three voting members, Lane won the appeal in a 2-1 vote.
Geoff Herman, director of state and federal relations for the Maine Municipal Association, says the issue of impartiality on a citizen board is not peculiar to small communities, but may be more evident when everyone knows everyone else. "It seems almost for certain that a certain level of bias will be present," he said. But bias, as an abstract, non-quantifiable presence, can theoretically be controlled through analysis and a commitment to fairness. It's rare, he said, for a board member to be disqualified for bias, or even for a request like Bearor's to be made. "It's really hard to look at someone from the outside and determine that they're unable to make a responsible decision."
In many communities, according to Herman, selectmen will appoint planning board members knowing their individual strengths and interests, trying to achieve balance rather than impartiality.
"If you're anti-big box as a matter of philosophy you might be inclined to focus on submission requirements or performance standards, while your neighbor on the board who's more interested in promoting development may be looking at ways to waive some requirements," Herman said. It's important to distinguish between bias, which is abstract, and conflict of interest, which is quantifiable and financially based, he said. "You can be required to recuse yourself from a vote if your potential gain is above a certain amount, but even if it's below that, you should avoid even the appearance of impropriety."
The lawyer for the town of Washington, Fred Newcomb, says as long as board members can be "fair and impartial in carrying out their public duties," it's not reasonable to expect them to be without opinions. "Everyone brings personal feelings to issues of small town politics," he said. "It's impossible that these people are neutral. They have to live in the community in order to hold the position. In a small town like Washington, it's inconceivable that someone would be ignorant of the implications of an issue like this."
Washington's planning board has voted not to disqualify the two members targeted by Bearor's complaint, but there's nothing to prevent him from raising the issue again further into the proceedings, as he did in Belfast. "These are important issues, issues of property rights and constitutional rights," Bearor said. "I'm not one to apologize for our system, but maybe we'd be better off with professional planning boards, people from outside the local community that roam the state making these kinds of decisions."
Meg Haskell can be reached
A battle over seaweed has driven partisans in the midcoast town of Bristol to dig holes in the beach, send certified letters and post video clips on the Web.
Right now, the seaweed is lying where it has for millennia - in wave-strewn clumps along the white sandy arc of Pemaquid Beach. That's a short-term victory for a small band of preservation-minded residents who say the seaweed should be left to rot and fertilize the dune grass on the beach. Pretty soon, though, the town will get its beach tractor fixed and make the sand presentable for tourists once again. That means good-bye to those smelly piles that come alive in the sun with hopping, bug-like crustaceans.
Some progress has been made recently, but deep differences remain over long-term management of the beach. Two of the adversaries - election opponents for a seat on the parks and recreation commission last March - can barely speak to each other.
"We've now reached a point where I've been subjected to unfair attacks," said Dana Dyer, winner of the election with a write-in campaign. Dyer's adversary, Bill Marshall, certainly has a flair for provocation, brandishing a shovel marked "Exhibit A" at a public meeting June 5 to mock Dyer's attempt to curtail Marshall's expeditionary field work on dune grass. But Marshall was the one who took the brunt of personal attack at the June 5 meeting. And Dyer is not shy about repeating criticism of Marshall as "very difficult" to work with and someone who "wants to restore the beach to the way it was 2,000 years ago."
Dyer, a former commercial aviation pilot, says he represents "businesslike management" of the beach and "a logical, reasoned approach" to environmental stewardship. One of his first initiatives upon election was to invite a staff member of the Department of Environmental Protection on a beach walk to educate himself. "I wanted to be a reasonable steward of our assets," he said.
"We've been raking the beach for I don't know how many years. It's not a new phenomenon. I don't think he [Marshall] wants to rake it at all. I don't know what his agenda is. I think he wants to shut the beach and turn it into a private educational facility. How we manage the beach should be by the wishes of the majority of the residents of Bristol, not just what Dana Dyer or Bill Marshall wants."
Marshall portrays himself as a serious scientist beset by parochial good-old-boys.
"Their vision of the beach is a commercial strip of sand to see how much money they can make," according to Bill Marshall, one combatant in a nasty fight over Pemaquid Beach.
"They do as they damned-well please," said Marshall, a retired geologist who worked in the arctic regions. "No knowledgeable person can offer [them] any information. They vilify you, particularly if you don't have a cemetery plot in this town." He said the beach has been mismanaged for years.
"They just don't recognize what a geologic treasure it is," he said. "Their vision of the beach is a commercial strip of sand to see how much money they can make. They rake the hell out of it. They've been doing it for years and years. They pat themselves on the back and say, 'Jesus, doesn't that look nice, clean.' But, they've removed all the fertilizer."
Relations took a turn for the worse last year when Marshall blew the whistle on brush-cutting in a boggy area that was done as part of a swing-set installation. Marshall's activism caused "many hard feelings," according to Dyer, particularly since it led to involvement by the DEP, which ordered the swing set removed and the area remediated. Marshall also criticized the recreation commission for perceived delays in replacing a contaminated water supply.
Disagreements intensified last winter following winter storms that exposed dune-grass root systems. Marshall believes root damage was made worse by a history of aggressive raking. The long tines may have caused unseen damage to root systems that extend beyond the visible dune grass, he said. Marshall conducted exploratory research on the extent of dune-grass root systems by digging 30 test pits about 3 to 4 feet deep.
Marshall might as well have planted land mines for the reaction he received. The holes were deemed a "serious safety problem," a "significant liability" and a flouting of the authority of the park and recreations commission. Dyer ordered Marshall to stop unless the work was coordinated by the commission, a directive that was relayed by certified letter.
Dyer insisted that digging holes in the beach requires a permit.
"You can't do anything in that area unless you have a permit," he said. "If we have to have a permit for a swing set then he jolly well has to have one for his 30 holes. He thinks he's above the law."
Marshall laughs off Dyer's claim and says if he needs a permit, so does anyone who builds a sand castle. He claims Dyer is angry because he was "out-flanked" by Marshall, who sent his research to Maine's Department of Conservation, which issued findings favorable to Marshall. In a written finding, state marine geologist Stephen Dickson recommends placing a low fence 5 to 15 feet seaward of the winter dune scarp, removing "excessive" seaweed from the fenced area by hand, and stockpiling the excess seaweed for later mulching of the dune area.
Kenneth Fink, a beach expert recently retired from the University of Maine's Darling Center for Marine Sciences, has done research at Pemaquid for 25-plus years and helped persuade the state's critical areas program to designate the beach one of the state's significant natural features back in 1978.
"Sure it's been abused," said Fink. "That's one of the things [that happens to] a beach used for recreational purposes." He said the town's recreation commission has "tried very hard year after year to use the best management but it's hard to say if it's improved or gotten worse."
Fink said he intends to educate the commission on the beach's natural system without prescribing any particular solution. "I don't intend to tell them what to do," he said. He said leaving seaweed behind may be more important in stabilizing the sand than nourishing the dune grass.
Lee Burnett can be reached
The debate over term limits is alive and well in Augusta, even as solutions are elusive.
"It will come up every year until the voters get a handle on it," said Rep. Robert Daigle [R-Arundel]. "It has to start with the Legislature asking for it."
Last week, the House approved Daigle's proposal to ask voters in a November referendum if they favor repealing term limits. Other proposals included extending the limit from four consecutive terms to six and exempting current fourth-term legislators from any change in the law. Most proposed changes also required a vote of the people. Term limits were approved by referendum in 1993 and took effect in 1996.
Initially, support was strong to send a safe compromise to voters, asking them to merely extend the limits, but Daigle warned that would increase public cynicism of politics.
"People want to change term limits. They know it's problematic, but they're afraid to do it directly. I'm afraid that approach puts the worst face on it. It's indecisive, apologetic and weak," he said. "I believe term limits are bad. I think an informed public will agree with me."
After two hours of debate, the House passed Daigle's proposal, but Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats swiftly put the kibosh on that plan by voting to kill any change in the current system.
"I'm vigorously opposed to changing term limits or tinkering with them in any way," said Senate President Pro Tempore Rick Bennett [R-Norway]. "We should stick our noses out of it. They put a limit on our power. Why should we seek to overturn it? My view is that we should leave well enough alone."
Growing concern about a sophomoric Legislature, loss of institutional memory and a shift in power from the Legislature to other branches of government have fueled efforts to change the law.
Rep. Joseph Clark [D-Millinocket] opposes term limits, but he jokes that he wouldn't be in Augusta if it weren't for the law, which forced his father, Herbert, out after eight terms in the House. "We already have term limits in place. If you like the guy, vote for him. If you don't, don't," Clark said.
House Speaker Mike Saxl [D-Portland] isn't afraid to admit that he's the biggest benefactor of term limits in the state, if not in the country. He and Bennett are the only veteran members of leadership this session.
In addition to institutional memory, Saxl said trust is lost when people don't work together over an extended period of time.
The speaker said he'd support putting the question to voters no matter how it's framed. "I'm confident voters would repeal it, but it would be a competitive race and a healthy debate. Term limits were a major change and we need to debate it again."
Leadership's not the only group that's had a learning curve; committees have also needed more time to get up to speed, said Anne Larrivee, a former legislator from Gorham, who now does government affairs work for the Finance Authority of Maine.
"They've needed more time to learn the process and the procedure," she said. "Legislative staff and people in state agencies are the repositories of bills and ideas."
Rep. David Bowles [R-Sanford] voted for term limits in '93. He said the danger of entrenched power was a legitimate concern at that time, referring to Sen. John Martin [D-Eagle Lake], who had been the Speaker for nearly 20 years when term limits forced him to take a two-year hiatus from the Legislature.
"Having new people with fresh ideas is attractive," Bowles said. "I don't think legislators should actively be lobbying the public in any way. We obviously have a vested interest."
Bowles said he supports the concept of term limits, but the issue's not black and white. "We wouldn't even have to have this conversation if the balance of power wasn't so heavily weighted in favor of the incumbent."
Bowles said he'd endorse bringing a straight up or down vote to the people, but only if it was done during an election year.
Gov. Angus King supports extending term limits to 12 years. By the time he leaves office, King will have served with four House speakers and four Senate presidents.
While legislators who favor changing the law disagree on what and when to ask the voters, they tend to agree on one thing: They may only get one chance to appeal to the people to reconsider.
"You're going to get one bite of the apple," Daigle said. "When? Do we wait until the system's miserable? Look at the damage done and the ongoing damage."
At first Dawn Broy was shocked when she saw the sign outside the Biddeford apartment building where her 20-year-old son had died in a drug overdose last January.
"SOS HELP US GET RID OF THE DRUG DEALERS FROM THIS BUILDING!" read the block letters on the variable message board. The landlords had put up the sign in late May out of frustration that drug dealing at 9 Pine St. had apparently continued unabated since the death of Randy Parenteau.
"It broke my heart because I never viewed Randy as a drug dealer, he was just so nice," said Broy of Saco. But Broy said she has come to appreciate the sign, which had its intended effect of spooking certain tenants into moving elsewhere. "I think it's great," she said.
The sign - which came down within a few days - has drawn more critical responses from other quarters. The Maine Civil Liberties Union questions the wisdom of vigilante-type activism on the part of citizens but says the sign raises no constitutional issues because it was erected by a private individual and not a government.
And Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre said the sign has hampered, not helped, a crackdown on drug dealing by scaring off two tenants just as police were preparing to arrest them. One has been indicted on drug charges, another on related non-drug charges, Beaupre said. Their names won't be made public until the arrest warrants have been executed, he said.
"The fact the sign went up meant he [suspected dealer] moved on, making it hard for us to find him," Beaupre said. "Yes, we have [an arrest] warrant and we'll pick him up when we see him, but he [landlord] didn't do us any favors."
Beaupre said he understands citizens' frustration but said patience is needed for successful drug prosecutions.
"The results are not immediate," Beaupre said. "Investigations take six months, up to a year, sometimes longer. We try to make as many [undercover] buys as we can. In order to make the buys, you've got to establish trust and work your way to the upper echelon. The whole process evolves over time. It can't be done in a week. It's impossible. Something like this could ruin what we've worked for - the money, time and effort."
One of the two landlords who erected the sign says police are just making excuses for not doing their job.
"I'm not a political person, not in the least," said Ralph Toussaint of Biddeford, who owns dozens of apartment units in the city. "Now the shoe's on the other foot. The police screwed up."
"We've got a problem here. People were coming all the time to buy drugs. My tenants were fed up. They'd see kids puking out the windows. This is not marijuana. This shit's bad - heroin, Ecstasy."
He said he learned about drug dealing in his building last fall from a high-school football player he coaches. "That ticked me off," he said. Toussaint began videotaping the building and turning tapes over to police. "One night, there must have been 60 or 70 cars come and go. I walked right up and videotaped the driver and license plates. I stopped one kid and asked him, 'What the hell is up there, Shop 'n Save?' He looked at me with this glazed look. 'I don't think so.' That did it."
The Maine Civil Liberties Union, which has steadfastly opposed laws allowing police to alert neighbors about the proximity of convicted sex offenders, has different concerns when citizens take matters into their own hands. They may make things worse and may open themselves and others to danger, according to executive director Sally Sutton. "A lot of times, it's best to leave law enforcement to law enforcement.," she said.
"I don't know that there are any civil liberties issues. How different is it than a landlord standing in front of the building and telling people there are drug dealers in the building or talking over the back fence? It's private citizens we're talking about. If government was involved in it, that would be different," she said.
Randy Parenteau, a tall kid with a gentle sense of humor, was found face down in a pool of vomit in his apartment Jan. 13 and a medical examiner later ruled he died from an overdose of morphine and methadone, Broy said. Broy said she learned only after her son's death that he had alienated many of his former drug-using friends by getting into harder drugs. She faults police for focusing on kingpin dealers rather than seeking immediate intervention because the small-time dealers are the ones who create new addicts, she said.
"I'd love to see some of these kids go to jail, not because they're horrible kids. They're not. They're just a mess. They're addicts. But because the police are going after the big dealers, these kids are going to continue to die," she said.
Cigarettes ultimately sent Randy down a path that led to his death, she said, and Broy, a reformed anti-smoker, blames herself for contributing to her son's dissolution.
"If you smoke, you're immediately alienated from your parents and because they're so expensive, you become a thief and a liar. It puts you in a whole different group," she said.
Her son progressed through marijuana, Ecstasy, heroin and OxyContin, and had developed a "hard look" in his eyes, she said. Death at an early age might be preferable to a longer life as an addict, she said.
"My son's death is not the worst thing that can happen. Have you ever seen a 50-year-old addict? This was the life he was going to live. This is powerful stuff. It just takes once and you're going down," she said.
|C 2001 Maine Times Publishing Company|