Editorial: No on pot, WPO; yes on streets, schools, public works, waterfront access
From pot in Portland, tar sands in South Portland, and waterfront access in Harpswell, to school renovations in Freeport and Bath, voters in several cities and towns we cover face important local ballot questions on Nov. 5.
Here is where the owners and publisher of The Forecaster stand on these community issues.
Voters in South Portland must make two significant decisions, one with national and international implications, the other with implications for the services provided by city government.
We support one proposal, but oppose the other.
In the short time since it was conceived, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance has divided the city, and indeed much of greater Portland, into two equally zealous camps: proponents, who hope to keep Canadian tar sands oil from being piped through South Portland on its way to overseas export markets, and opponents, who claim the ordinance heralds an ice age for waterfront businesses and workers whose livelihoods depend on the movement of petroleum products from ship to shore.
We believe the oil industry has overstated the potential negative impact of the WPO. But we also believe the proposed ordinance could have been written in a way that more tightly defines what it will do, without the need for after-the-fact interpretation by lawyers, judges or city officials.
We also believe tar sands oil is an unhealthy and dangerous product that requires more oversight and precaution than either the oil industry or its federal regulators have demonstrated they are capable of providing (just ask the folks in Mayflower, Ark., and along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan).
But we also do not believe tar sands are an imminent threat in South Portland, where Portland Pipe Line Corp. has now either lost or relinquished the permits required to reverse the flow of oil in the pipeline and to build vapor combustion units necessary to remove additives at the pipeline terminal on the waterfront.
It took WPO proponents a couple of weeks to gather enough signatures to put this measure on the ballot. It will probably take them less time the next time, if PPLC resurrects its permits. We hope that won't happen without a thorough, transparent community discussion of the sort that was missing this year.
At this time, under these circumstances, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance is a noble cause in search of a problem. We suggest voting no on the WPO.
On South Portland's other big question, we believe voters should approve borrowing $14 million to build a new, modern municipal services facility.
South Portland is a city that prides itself on many things, among them the services provided to its residents. There is no better proof of that than the condition of city streets after a major snowstorm. Fact is, unlike many surrounding communities, you can actually see the blacktop in South Portland during and soon after a major snowstorm.
That's due to the hard work of the city's Public Works Department, whose employees have had to cope with an aging, undersized and ill-equipped headquarters for far too long.
The proposal to consolidate the Public Works, Transportation and Recreation departments in new space on Highland Avenue makes sense financially and logistically. It will allow the departments to operate more efficiently, without disrupting a nearby neighborhood, and deserves the support of every South Portland resident who hopes to continue to receive top-notch municipal services.
There has been little or no public opposition to the Portland ballot measure that would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
We're not sure if that's because, despite federal law to the contrary, legalization of pot has been making slow, steady progress around the country, or if it's because people in Portland are just too mellow to get excited about something many of them already take for granted, legal or not.
According to Huffington Post, no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose – ever – and cannabis has a low risk for abuse. It provides sleep and medicinal benefits, and is not a gateway drug. Proponents of legalization like to argue that marijuana should be analogous to alcohol.
But is it really?
To prevent fraud and criminal use, the sale of alcohol is regulated, restricted and taxed. Not so with the proposal to legalize pot, which deals only with personal possession and fails to provide safeguards against sales and supply abuses.
Maine allows medicinal use of marijuana, but tightly regulates the medicinal supply and who may obtain cannabis. The state has a long way to go to mirror the experience in California, where, The New York Times reported Sunday, 17 years of legal medical marijuana sales have proved unfounded the warnings about civic disorder, increased crime and a rise in use of other drugs.
To be truly analogous to alcohol, we need the other side of the equation: a regulated, orderly supply of legal, quality-controlled pot. In addition, police say that regardless of the referendum outcome, they'll do business as usual, which means enforcing state and federal laws, while generally ignoring small amounts in personal possession.
Without a system of regulated sale and supply, we find no compelling reason to change the law in Portland.
Freeport, Durham, Pownal
Voters in Regional School Unit 5 are being asked to approve two school bonds: one for $14.6 million for an addition to Freeport High School, and another for $1.7 million to improve the school's athletic facilities.
We support both proposals.
Education, and that includes student athletics, is an investment in the future – one that has been delayed long enough at Freeport High School. Facilities make a difference in how teachers teach and how students learn.
Residents of Freeport, Durham and Pownal should not let a campaign advocating Freeport's withdrawal from the school district distract them from their responsibility to provide the best education possible for their children. They should let the secession chips fall where they may, and get behind the long-overdue expansion and improvement of Freeport High School by voting yes on both questions.
The residents of Bath and the rest of RSU 1 also have a school renovation bond to consider. Again, the question is about commitment to education, and whether existing facilities get the job done.
In the case of Morse High School, the answer is no, they do not. Morse students need the help that will be provided by more than half of the proposed $5.2 million bond, at least until the school is eligible for state construction funds.
But they're not alone; money will also be used to improve schools and facilities used by students throughout the RSU, including the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center.
Again, this is an investment in the community's future, and we encourage voters to say yes.
We also support the city's $2.5 million road improvement bond, which will pay for much-needed repairs that have been delayed because of budget cuts. If the lack of attention continues, officials believe those roads will require even more extensive and costly repairs in the near future.
It's a case of paying a lot now, or paying a lot more later.
Waterfront access is a front-burner issue these days in Harpswell, where the dispute over Cedar Beach has grabbed most attention. But the Board of Selectmen also wants to allocate $85,000 from the town's fund balance to secure access at Lookout Point.
We agree with selectmen that the price and terms, which allow the current owners to continue to use the land, are reasonable, and will not be too burdensome on taxpayers (the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would see their tax bill increase by $9).
The argument the money could be better spent on tax relief could make sense – if there were a guarantee that would be the case. But there isn't.
With the Cedar Beach conflict simmering in the background, we support this acquisition and what it will provide for recreational users and for those whose livelihoods depend on waterfront access.