Here's Something: Watery whirlpools of wickedness

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Welcome to another edition of Boos and Bravos, where we try (but failed this week) to criticize and praise in equal amounts:

Boo to the proposal in Cape Elizabeth that would allow oceanfront residents along Broad Cove to pay the town $500,000 to prevent a public path from being built between their properties and the ocean.

I know town residents like to say they live in a “Cape Bubble,” because the town is wealthy and free of many social challenges that plague other Maine towns, but this deal seems less like a mediated agreement and more like a payoff.

The path has existed in the form of a “paper street” for about 100 years and a recent effort to develop the pathway, to look at it from the abutters’ point of view, would have allowed the unclean public to tromp across an 800-foot strip of land on the ocean side of their little slices of heaven. Horrors. Woe to the man who violates the 1 percenters’ Atlantic views.

Paper streets can be found in many towns, and represent rights-of-way that the town fathers never turned into full-fledged roads. Often they are overgrown and unused. Because many abutters grow accustomed to their non-use, any effort to develop them causes friction. Broad Cove’s paper streets are no different.

Of course, big money and Cape Elizabeth go hand-in-hand and it looks like the public will be barred from this scenic spot now that the town is set to accept the half-million-dollar payoff. Sad. It reminds me of Cape’s attempts to charge visitors to Fort Williams. Money is influential in national politics, but also, apparently, in Cape politics.

I will give the oceanfront residents some credit, however. At least they have been required to pay for their de facto land acquisition. Many groups take property the backdoor way, by disguising their intentions under the veil of a local land trust that gobbles up property at less than market value, out of some vague desire to protect land from development or to avoid environmental impact. Other groups use eminent domain to get what they want, either by convincing voters to do their confiscatory work or having their friends in government do the dirty deed. At least Cape is making these rich oceanfront dwellers pay something for their land grab, though $500,000 still seems too little.

They say the money will go toward establishing another pathway along the coastline elsewhere in town, but I’ll believe that when I see it. Finding willing oceanfront property owners to share their views with the unclean masses will prove more difficult than pulling up a blue lobster in a lobster trap.

Speaking of watery quagmires, boo to the sensational reports regarding E. coli bacteria at several inland beaches. Wilkies Beach on Crystal Lake in Gray and Highland Lake Beach in Bridgton have been the focus in recent weeks from all sorts of news outlets, including a surprisingly lengthy report on Maine Public.

Having been the editor of the Lakes Region Weekly for about 15 years, I posted my fair share of area beach closings and see these notices as a rite of summer – and the result of goose poop and warm, stagnant water. I’m kind of sick of hearing the news media make a big deal of beach closings, when they happen every summer and Mainers are familiar with their causes.

However, one TV report on Wilkies Beach bucked the inflammatory reporting trend because the reporter interviewed folks who seemed to also think the news wasn’t as dire. The following is a transcript of beach attendant Michael Bahnson as he was interviewed by WGME. See if you agree with me that Bahnson was refreshingly frank and nonplussed about the matter:

“A few are wondering if their kids are going to be OK and I said yes, your kids will be fine (since) the levels aren’t too high,” Bahnson said. “And if they do experience any gastrointestinal issues just notify any doctors or anything. You should be fine. It just causes diarrhea mainly.”

I thought I was back in the 1980s for a moment listening to the young attendant, who probably was born after the ’80s. Back then, a little thing like bacteria in lake water wasn’t the big deal it is now, with tons of news agencies, apparently needing fodder during a slow news day, seeking to dial up the fear factor. Bahnson didn’t exaggerate the issue or treat kids like fragile objects needing constant protection, and the viewer wasn’t left thinking Wilkies Beach swimmers were going to die from exposure.

How refreshing Bahnson’s description was – kind of like a quick dip during these muggy August days.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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