2022 was probably the best year since 2019, though still challenging. A quick look back at the past year shows that here in Waldo County we took time to enjoy our favorite events and traditions in a way we were not able to during most of the pandemic. It also shows that we need to set and act on some priorities in 2023 and beyond. At the top of our priorities list: housing.

According to the Portland Press Herald, in 2023 we may see a record number of evictions in Maine as the housing crisis puts Mainers on the streets. The moratoriums on evictions during the pandemic have expired and the money from the government for relief has dried up.

Waldo County has a serious crisis in homelessness with a general lack of rental housing at almost any price — but those suffering the most are people in lower income brackets who cannot find or afford any housing in Belfast or in our other municipalities. Some people are driving 40, 50 or more miles each way from outside Waldo County to work jobs in Belfast and elsewhere — and generating even more expenses for gasoline and wear and tear on their vehicles.

In a Dec. 14 Planning Board discussion of zoning changes, city Project Planner Wayne Marshall said some of the changes introduced the concept of flex housing in residential areas. Based on the size of their lot, some property owners could place duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes on their land, which could increase available, affordable housing.

Planning Board member Lewis Baker noted that he hasn’t seen a mobile home park approved by the city since the 1970s. He felt approving more mobile home parks would be a better way to address the affordable housing need. We’re with Lewis on this one. More trailer parks — or perhaps similar developments with manufactured homes on smaller lots — might help address the housing crisis more quickly.

Speaking of workers, we need to focus in 2023 on listening to the needs and concerns of employees who live here now and who might come here. Increased access to broadband throughout the state will bolster our potential to attract workers from around the nation — or it would if we had housing for those newcomers.

Several Waldo County communities have made considerable progress on broadband expansion — but there is much more to do. Something we learned during the pandemic is that many jobs can be worked remotely, and remote workers can live here, if they have access to high-speed internet. To entice them to live here, though, Maine employers will have to pay living wages.

Another Waldo County issue that cries out for a solution is the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, which stands as a tempting invitation to those disturbed enough to want to end their lives. This year saw one apparent and one confirmed suicide from the bridge. The solution is protective fencing.

Right now, many people across Waldo County and throughout the state are struggling with the high costs of heating their homes, and the Legislature is addressing that with a bill that includes relief checks. While helpful in the near term, this is not a permanent fix.

Some farmers in Waldo County and beyond in 2022 had to shut down their operations because of toxic PFAS contamination. Sludge containing these per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances was spread on farmland as fertilizer for many years. The poisons are in soil, groundwater, crops, farm animals and wildlife. We made progress in 2022 in funding studies, remediation and aid to farmers, but this is a problem that will be demand our attention for a very long time.

At the national level, our lobster fishery has garnered a lot of interest, and its preservation is high on our list of priorities going forward. No one wants to lose the last of the world’s right whales, but knee-jerk responses to their endangered population that focus solely on the needs of that single species are shortsighted — particularly when we don’t even have proof that right whales are frequenting the Gulf of Maine or becoming entangled in Maine lobster fishing gear. Here our lawmakers have been united in fighting to help our lobster fishing industry and fend off draconian regulations, and they have won a “pause” until Dec. 31, 2028.

In a particularly ringing soundbite delivered Dec. 21 on the Senate floor, Sen. Angus King said the six-year regulatory delay secured by Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Mills in the annual omnibus spending bill will avert an “economic death sentence” for the state.

The economic situation in Maine is already dire with a shortage of workers and affordable housing for them. We can hardly afford to lose a billion-dollar industry.

With electricity rates rising again in 2023, Mainers want relief. Voters are likely to decide in the November election whether to push forward with the effort to replace CMP Corp. and Versant Power with a new consumer-owned utility. This would mean taking the companies by eminent domain. We urge readers to educate themselves on this issue this year. There are pitfalls to both choices being presented and, with electricity costs soaring, we may not be able to afford making the wrong call here.

All of this is a tall order for 2023, and we will not achieve all our goals in any one year. However, setting the right priorities and goals goes a long way toward achieving them.

For the time being, we have a holiday to look forward to, the celebration of a New Year. The practice dates back to 45 B.C., when New Year’s Day was celebrated Jan. 1 for the first time in history with the introduction of the Julian calendar, according to History.com. Thank you, Julius Caesar.

From all of us at The Republican Journal and Waldo VillageSoup, happy New Year!