See what you missed out on

I’ve known my good friend Alan Wood for decades and have always been suitably impressed with his mental acuity. His letter of last week indicated to me that he’d slipped a notch.

Alan claimed I somehow abused my deep and renowned powers as a Belfast city councilor by purchasing from Waldo County the former sheriff’s house and barn. It appeared to me that Alan did not know Waldo County and the city of Belfast are two different entities and the two don’t interact much at all except to dutifully send and collect county taxes.

A few facts…

1. Waldo County owned this building, not the city.

2. The county determined to sell it by owner. Something every Realtor, even a gifted one such as Alan, despises.

3. The county had an open house for neighbors and anyone they thought might be interested in buying the house months before I drove by and noticed the large “for sale by owner” sign on the front lawn.

4. The house had publicly been for sale for about four months.

5. The house is attached to the county’s old jail and inside the house is a functioning entry door into the old jail, which the county uses for access.

6. On the quiet side of the house and barn the county has the right of emergency access across the property.

7. The house is an emptied shell needing everything. No insulation, little plumbing, not a finished or habitable space in the place. Funky does not begin to describe it.

8. A wall full of Taser darts. That’s all I’m saying about that.

Here’s how this suspicious and nefarious deal went down. Pay attention: This part goes by very fast. I drove by in January and saw the For Sale sign. I really needed a barn to store stuff in. I saw there was a barn attached to the building. I called the number on the sign. They told me the sale price of 75K. I looked at the property. I offered them the full price. They accepted. If you missed anything you should reread this paragraph.

Now 75K may sound really cheap. To me, needing that barn, it sounded reasonable. I did not ask “why so reasonable?” I did not try to talk them up. I offered full asking price and they accepted. We closed a few weeks ago and the barn is now stuffed with things my beloved wife believes I should make a large bonfire with.

I understood later, upon further review, the house is a total wreck and will need north of a couple or three hundred thousand to make it livable. Between that and the non-existent Realtor's commission, the lack of interest or offers by others, and my exalted insider all powerful position of city councilor, I’m now the second owner in history of the Waldo County Sheriff’s home and office last occupied by Sheriff Stan Knox and his wife and chief cook Mary Knox. Or as Mrs. Knox laughingly says, “He kept me in jail for 20 years.”

I understand people are suspicious of government. They should be. Especially these days. But my close friend Alan Wood in his letter was wrong on just about everything he stated, suspected, or implied. Except the part on how people will sell a house. Normally they’d call Alan Wood or Sack of Hammers Real Estate and get brilliant service of the quality money can never buy.

In a few weeks there will be an open house again at 43 Congress St. We are clearing out the rubble to make it safe to walk around. You’re all invited to see what you missed out on. Until then, don’t forget: there’s a new sheriff in town.

Mike Hurley

Belfast

Bay observations

Please let Ethan Andrews know how much I appreciate his regular Shipping News column.

We overlook the bay off Searsport and enjoy watching the comings and goings of ships from all over. Although I do occasionally check the AIS identification data available online, Ethan’s research into the details of the cargos, the ports of call of the vessels, and the anticipated arrivals adds extra spice to our daily observations of the bay out front.

Although a far cry from the international activity of more than a century ago, it’s great that our coming-of-age generation can get some sense of the global activity that is ongoing in their front yard.

Thank you!

Dan Nichols

Searsport

Vacuous hyperbole

Here’s a tip for opinion columnist Tom Seymour (using his words): “If you want to seem at all credible, stop using condescending rhetoric.” I’m interested in hearing conservative opinions if they contain substance rather than vacuous hyperbole. I might not agree with all that conservative writer David Brooks has to say, but I find his opinion pieces informative and there is at least a basis for a conversation. Tom Seymour has gone so far back into his mental man cave that the echoes must be deafening.

Sally Brophy

Belfast

Thanks to election workers

I want to thank the election clerks and poll workers for their outstanding work on the June 12 Primary Day. Voter turnout for a June primary broke records at many polls, plus, ranked-choice voting was used for the first time. Thank you for your long hours, patience, and commitment to the voters in this election.

Also, the 2018 town meeting season ended this past Saturday with the last regularly scheduled meeting held in Stockton Springs. Waldo County has 26 municipalities and, except for the city of Belfast, which is a different form of governance, all hold an annual town meeting. I would like to thank the Waldo County town officials, clerks and residents for allowing me to attend or participate as a candidate in their meetings. Whenever possible, I stayed for the full meeting so I could learn more about the needs and concerns of each town. I was warmly welcomed everywhere, for which I am extremely grateful.

Thank you all for your hard work. We are very fortunate to live in Waldo County where responsible, local government means so much to so many.

Jayne Crosby Giles

Candidate for Maine Senate and former state representative to the Maine Legislature

Belfast

Dirty politics

The primary election is over and the people of Belfast, Northport and Waldo have chosen their winners to represent the Democratic Party in the fall. Congratulations to Erin Herbig and Jan Dodge.

With the HD 97 race, I wish I could say this win was “fair and square.” However, I do not believe this is true. Directed attacks on the other candidate in this race, Caitlin Hills, including slander, twisting facts, outright lies, drama — and complicity — were deployed in service of that win.

Namely, this took the form of a public, well-timed, one-sided account concerning a personal conflict that occurred between Caitlin and another person almost a year and a half ago, on a Facebook group chat. Published as a letter to the editor in The Republican Journal three weeks before the election, under the header, “No Hills for House,” this was then disseminated by Jan’s supporters and some members of her campaign team.

Another example involved questioning Caitlin’s right to claim being a “lawyer,” presumably because she uses “JD" (Juris Doctorate) after her name.

Though Caitlin has never claimed to be an attorney, having earned a law degree, she does have the right to use the JD credential. These sorts of attacks were cycled relentlessly on the personal Facebook pages of several of Jan’s supporters, as well as the Waldo County Dems' Facebook page.

As one of Caitlin’s campaign team members, her friend and a citizen of this community, it is incredibly disheartening to me that these tactics were used by Jan’s supporters and team members, in an attempt to sway this election. It’s not just, “Well, that’s politics for you.” That’s dirty politics for you, which we seem to be drowning in these days. Caitlin, who was the target of these attacks, is a human being.

I wish I could say the most qualified candidate won, yet, I do not believe this. With her short history with the Democratic Party and positions on various issues, I question how well Jan will represent “the party of the people” in service of our district.

As one example, one only need watch Jan’s last campaign video to get a sense of her understanding of issues related to diversity and inclusion, namely, concerning the LGBTQ community. It takes more than a late submission to Equality Maine seeking endorsement (after Caitlin had already received it), posting a picture of herself in a rainbow shirt or “directing musicals for 30 years” to claim allyship with the LGBTQ community. For a former music teacher, this is remarkably tone-deaf.

In this regard, as well as concerning many other issues, Caitlin was the most qualified candidate. In these times, we need lawmakers that have the knowledge, the fluency and the commitment to stand up and show up around critical issues like this.

So, when someone with limited experience with public service has a yen to go to the next level and “decides” it would be “best” to run as a Democrat…yes, that raises some questions for me. It’s going to take some convincing for me to have confidence in the “Democratic principles” Jan Dodge has “stood for” all these years, as a registered Republican.

To those who persisted in their belief in and support of Caitlin throughout this adventure-filled morass, thank you. In addition to the negativity, there was also a great deal of positive support directed at Caitlin’s candidacy. I’m personally grateful for the faith, loyalty and reasoned discernment of her supporters.

To those who used unethical methods to elevate their candidate, to speak quite frankly, shame on you. To supporters of that candidate who attacked, upbraided or outright bullied Caitlin’s supporters and team members, shame on you. To those who stood by and condoned this kind of behavior, you are complicit. Shame on you, too.

In our campaign, Team Hills for House placed a great precedence on taking the “high road” when contending with the methods deployed by Jan’s supporters. Responding to one-sided claims, highlighting contrasts between the two candidates — or insisting that candidates represent themselves accurately — does not qualify as an “attack” on that candidate. I think that’s called integrity.

As a team, we worked in service of just that — as well as truth, respect and dignity. In that regard, I see Caitlin Hills as the true winner.

Nicolle Littrell

Belfast

Impressed with Herbig's work

Since moving to Belfast nearly five years ago I have become increasingly aware of Erin Herbig, currently the majority leader in the state House of Representatives. Her name kept turning up everywhere. It seemed as though she was somehow magically able to be in several places at once.

I was sure she had to be the busiest legislator in Augusta. I became very impressed with her obvious work ethic and her relentless support of her constituents.

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Erin and hearing her talk about what she considers the most important issues for the future of Waldo County and its citizens. Erin is now running for the state Senate, representing District 11. I cannot think of anyone better qualified.

Erin grew up here, and after college decided to return to serve this community which had nurtured her in her formative years. She works tirelessly to promote the growth of business in Waldo County and to create opportunities for young people to stay in Maine and expand our workforce.

As the House chairman of the Aging Caucus, she has also been a forceful advocate for seniors. Erin understands the importance of education, affordable childcare and health care, paid family leave, and creative approaches to the treatment and prevention of Maine’s drug crisis.

Waldo County couldn’t ask for a more intelligent, capable, and energetic senator than Erin Herbig. I fully support her and hope that voters will do the same this November.

Jay Holland

Belfast

Restore debate civility

I arrived late to the June 12 Nordic Aqua Farms public presentation due to another meeting, but left early out of disappointment at the reduced level of fact-based questions and heightened level of incivility from the attendees.

Early informational sessions held by NAF for the people of Belfast were more civil and inquisitive. The attendees June 12 were fewer by two-thirds, and seemed to want to make up for that by being very aggressive in their questions to the company. Bear in mind that no company is required to hold informational meetings to buttress a proposal to open a business.

One person asked the CEO why he wants to destroy our way of life in Belfast (is there any fact basis for this question?) and then went on to ask for the amount that the company would donate to her favorite environmental nonprofit, suggesting perhaps that if the amount was sufficient, the destruction of our way of life would be considered.

Another attendee, citing several scientific studies, was asked to actually ask a question. He lost all composure and shouted his outrage at not being told the exact ingredients for the project’s fish food. Does this person believe that the company is secretly planning to include a dastardly substance that would seriously harm the air, water and soil of Belfast? Otherwise, he could simply not buy their products, and protect himself from this deadly ingredient.

A panelist expounded on the comparison of desirable wild salmon harvesting versus the fish farm, which she suggested was tainted by a profit motive. I was unaware that the current fishing industry was sustaining their stocks, creating near-zero environmental impact, and doing so for no net income at all! Again, facts seemed to be an afterthought.

I hope that the people concerned about this proposal for Belfast return to behaving in a civil manner at any future sessions, and stop the personal attacks and factless conjecture in evaluating this project. A certain POTUS in Washington is derided for behaving in an emotional, fact-free and insulting manner. Let’s not emulate his style as we debate this important proposal.

Steve Ryan

Belfast

Let's see how environmental issues are evaluated

The environmental issues associated with the proposed Nordic Aquafarms project are very important. The council has spent a lot of time evaluating them and they look forward to the environmental reviews that will be done by the various state and federal agencies who have the expertise and resources to manage these environmental concerns every day.

Clearly the city is also taking a look at the financial implications of this project. The potential new tax revenue is significant. Every day complaints come in about the taxes we impose, to provide the services the city demands. Some folks can’t cover their property tax burden as well as others can.

For some of the opponents to this project, the revenue issue does not mean anything because they do not live here. Their taxes won’t be affected either way. Local businesses ask about the availability of affordable housing to attract the workforce we need. Our high property taxes impede the ability of working families to live in Belfast. The ability to live where you can walk to services also has environmental and health benefits.

Some forget that taxes were lowered in FY 2008, FY 2009, 2010 and 2011 below FY 2007 levels.

How much new tax revenue might the city receive from this project? Without building plans, equipment inventories or infrastructure amenities, all we can do is estimate at this time.

Not every dollar of construction development equals a dollar of new valuation.

If Phase 1 involves $150 million, then a very very conservative estimate might result in a valuation of $80 million. We could then also very conservatively assume that 62.5 percent of this number ($50 million) would be eligible for the state’s Business Equipment Tax Exemption Program.

Under this Maine program, the new equipment is not taxed, but the state will reimburse the city 56 percent of what the tax would have been. So when we apply our current mil rate times $50 million of new equipment valuation, and then take 56 percent of this, we get $613,200 in new tax revenue for the city.

The taxes we receive from the remaining new value of $30 million will be offset by a partial loss of state school subsidy. When the city valuation goes up, the amount of money we receive in school subsidy goes down. The result would net us 42.87 percent of the new revenue on the buildings and land. This would get us an additional $281,655 in new tax revenue.

Under these low estimates, the city gains a total of $894,000 per year in extra tax revenue. That could cut the mil rate by $1.37 per thousand or $137 on a $100,000 property. On a final build-out, with $450 million invested, the number could easily reach $3 million to $4 million a year. Belfast currently spends $16.6 million per year for school, county and city property taxes.

“All you care about is the money,” I heard one critic say. That’s about half true. We are supposed to care about everything — including the money. This year's proposed budget includes requests for over $1 million for new capital projects that would replace or rebuild some of our equipment, buildings and infrastructure. Frankly, we can’t afford to do all of this and we also have significant new expense in building a new Public Works facility and a major solar farm.

Let’s all take a deep breath and see how the environmental issues are evaluated by the boards and agencies that have the responsibility to review this proposed project. If it meets environmental standards, then we should consider how the extra tax revenue might help everyone.

Joe Slocum

Belfast City Manager

Doesn't represent our values, lifestyle, desires

Last fall, the city of Belfast and the Belfast Water District engaged in a closed-door negotiation with Nordic Aquafarms to sell them a piece of mature growth green space bordering the Little River and reservoirs, in a residential zone on the south side of our town.

On April 17, following weeks of concerned letters and interviews in local media, testimony to the council and city staff, and a four-hour meeting in which more than 125 people stood in the hallway to attend, the zoning was changed unanimously from residential to industrial. The concerns and objections were loud and clear, and seemed to fall on deaf ears, and my councilors certainly did not represent me.

This zoning change first required a change to Belfast’s Comprehensive Future Land Use Plan, which was drafted in 2009 through an exhaustive state-prescribed process which included a diverse group of citizens, business, industry, and city planning representatives and which represented a cross section of interests and opinions.

All of this democratic process seems to have been set aside in the interest of securing the desires of a large international corporation whose first priorities are its investors, to construct a massive industrial salmon farm of a scale never before attempted, in a previously residential and recreational area, with little consideration of the desires or concerns of the city’s citizens and taxpayers.

The industrial fish farm itself represents the antithesis of everything I have come to know and value about Belfast and Waldo County.

– Rather than being small, local, biodiverse, and sustainable, it will be a massive, international, mono-culture concentrated animal feed operation with all of the associated issues and challenges

– Despite Nordic Aquafarms’ marketing rhetoric using words such as sustainable and organic, they cannot prove that our wells won’t go dry as they extract 1,200 gallons of water every minute from wells at the bottom of the Little River Watershed.

– They cannot guarantee that they will source their fish food in Maine, or that the protein requirements to grow 30,000 tons of carnivorous salmon annually will not completely deplete our small fish populations in the process.

– They cannot prove that the discharge of 1,600 pounds of nitrogen-rich effluent every day into Penobscot Bay will not alter the ecosystem and fisheries, which are just now beginning to recover from the chicken economy.

– They cannot promise that there are yet-to-be identified markets for all of their tons of waste, much of it salty and unsuitable for many purposes.

– They cannot use the word sustainable for a facility that will cover about 25 acres of rooftop with solar panels, but only be producing 6 percent to 10 percent of the energy needed to operate.

Like so many communities today, we are all struggling to make smart and sustainable decisions under heavy pressures. These decisions must include the voices of the people who will live with the outcomes, the people who reside, do business, recreate, and raise families here. We are eager and up to the task.

Nordic Aquafarms does not represent the values, the lifestyle, or the desires of Belfast. This issue does not just concern Belfast, but every town downstream, every pure aquifer in Maine, every person concerned about energy use and climate change, every conscious consumer making choices about what they eat, every person on the planet who knows that biodiversity, protection of water and resources, local control, and a fully empowered citizenry are essential for a truly sustainable future.

Ellie Daniels

Belfast

Belfast can do better

As I prepare to move to Belfast from a nearby town, I am dismayed to find the City Council has recently given the go-ahead to construction of a massive fish farm. Their decision was reached independent of public input.

I understand the allure of the project: the pledges to employ local workers, the prospect of residents paying, at least temporarily, lower taxes. I respectfully disagree.

Also the sheer mega-scope (the largest in the world?) of the plant is unacceptable — 33,000 tons of salmon annually as well as the strong-arm tactics used by the city (if it’s a good idea, why force it through in a hushed manner?).

Belfast: rather than just shouting “Not in my backyard,” let’s push for small, thoughtfully considered, locally beneficial development.

Please make your voices heard. Join us Local Citizens for SMART Growth: Salmon Farm on Facebook or contact nomegafishfarm@gmail.com.

Lew McGregor

Monroe

Step up and run for City Council

The debate about the Nordic Aquafarms proposal is intense, which is what can happen in a democracy. The Belfast City Council rushed the approval on the industrial zoning for the project, and this has tainted the discussion ever since.

That rush job also undermines Nordic Aquafarms’ reputation. To make matters worse, some city councilors are engaging in petty, insulting, vindictive, name-calling, and childish responses to constituent feedback.

Two councilors in particular post insulting, untrue posts on Facebook, abuse citizens at council meetings who are exercising their First Amendment rights, and send personally insulting, nearly threatening emails to others. They’ve accused thoughtful citizens with evidence-based testimony of creating fake news and likened them to Trump supporters using the very tools of the president.

Equally as disturbing is to watch other councilors sit silently while this abuse occurs, abetting this behavior.

Yes, some dissenters have engaged in the same behavior and exaggeration. I believe they undermine their cause and alienate potential supporters.

Call me old-fashioned, but I expect better behavior from my elected officials. They’ve been chosen for their leadership potential, but pettiness and insult are not leadership. Instead, their credibility is destroyed and all their other actions are called into question so they lose their effectiveness.

All of this is on public record. Council meetings are recorded, Facebook is public, and personal emails leave a trail. If the councilors don’t care about their own reputations, they should think about the city’s. Not a good look for the city when public officials act like this and it leaves the city open to legal action. If they want to speak on behalf of the industrial salmon farm, they should just do that without resorting to that lowest of tactics —abusing others personally.

I ask that the council meet on this PR and civility problem, fix it, and make efforts to regain the trust of their constituents. Perhaps a code of conduct is required. I ask the mayor to use her position to exert leadership to set the tone for council interactions.

Fortunately three council seats will be up for election in November — Ward 1, Mary Mortier’s seat; Ward 2, Neal Harkness’; and Ward 5, where John Arrison has said he will not seek re-election.

Now is the time for good people who truly care about Belfast and its people and who value civility and transparent government to step up and run for these seats. According to the city clerk, filing papers will be available later in the summer and need to be turned in with 25 signatures 45 days before the November election.

Linda Buckmaster

Belfast

How about some listening sessions?

Despite being told the proposed fish factory was none of my business because I live in Waldo, I went to Nordic Aquafarms' informational meeting this week, listened to experts, and watched a movie where a video of real live fish disappear into a logo of three fish, chasing their tails. If the movie was shown in the 1950s, I’m sure my parents would have been impressed.

The company’s prime reason for coming to Maine, we were told, is the desire for our clean water. We were told not to worry, that the government is going to put this company through its paces and that nothing untoward will happen. Ah yes, the government: LePage’s employees or Trump’s. If only there was nothing to worry about there — unfortunately, rigorous scrutiny is being compromised as these fellows whittle back their executive branches.

If the salmon farm does meet governmental specifications and this factory becomes a reality, the broad thinkers among us are asking questions about our future. What is coming? What natural resources will our children be able to tap in a world of climate drama? Debilitating drought happened in Syria and it can happen here in the USA. It is happening.

USA Today reported in February of this year, “Drought has returned with a vengeance across much of the United States, with the worst conditions across southern and western parts of the nation.” The newspaper reported 38.4 percent of the continental U.S. is in a drought.

Facing the perils of climate change is challenging. The idea of bringing a giant fish farm to Belfast sounds good for business, but I question the scale of this project. Progress doesn’t always mean full steam ahead.

Rather than another explanation of this project at the Hutchinson Center and why it is a good idea, how about a series of listening sessions, where citizens can explain their feelings and thoughts about the project in a more intimate setting? Most particularly, a setting where the threat of belittling is low or non-existent, perhaps a Make Shift Coffee House led by Craig Freshey.

There are no quick and easy answers to this opportunity. I will try not to let myself be intimidated into submission, for I know that money isn’t everything — and our towns share water through underground aquifers. We are all in this together. Though we are not all elected officials, we each of us have a voice and our constitution assures us the right to use it.

Jennifer Hill

Waldo