Editorials from around New England
Posted 3:33 p.m. Friday
Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers.
Kennebec Journal, May 18
The city of Portland gets its name and identity from its sheltered, deep-water harbor, where for hundreds of years people have loaded and unloaded ships, moving cargo up and down the coast and both ways across the Atlantic.
That port activity is the reason the rest of the city exists, and it is the root of all other branches of our economy, influencing growth patterns here and throughout the state. But for such an important part of the city, the actual "port" in Portland takes up very little space.
Right now, it's the narrow strip of waterfront that curls along the Fore River between the Casco Bay and Veterans Memorial bridges, encompassing the city's International Marine Terminal and several privately owned parcels. The Planning Board will resume work Thursday night on a zoning amendment that would permit the construction at the IMT of a 68-foot cold-storage warehouse, 23 feet taller than what would be allowed under current rules.
This is no ordinary zoning change. This is a historic opportunity to modernize the port with private investment that is projected to create hundreds of jobs and generate millions of dollars in economic activity, both directly and through new opportunities for business growth. But the size of the proposal is drawing neighborhood opposition.
Those concerns should not drive the decision-making process, however. This is not just a series of questions about a single building's height, sight lines and traffic patterns — it's also about what kind of city Portland has been and what it will be in the future. If Portland is to remain a port, it needs to make this change.
The port of Portland is in the middle of a period of rapid change that may look sudden, but has been planned for decades.
More than 20 years ago, the western waterfront was set aside for industrial uses. Ten years ago, the state Port Authority took over management of the marine terminal, and began directing improvements to the facility, including the extension of a rail line paid for with public money.
In 2014, the work paid off when Eimskip, the Icelandic steamship company, picked Portland as its North American headquarters. The last missing piece in Portland is a cold-storage warehouse, which would make it function as a logistics hub for food and beverage producers large and small.
Because of the volume of business Eimskip brings to Portland, Americold, the national leader in cold storage, has proposed building a $30 million facility on leased land at the site. To make the project cost-competitive, the company says it needs a 68-foot building (roughly the same height at the Pierce Atwood building further east on Commercial Street).
Residents of the adjacent neighborhoods have objected to the zone change, calling the building "out of scale" for the city, and arguing that it would generate too much truck traffic, moving freight that neither arrives or leaves by ship.
We find the neighbors' complaints to be well intentioned, but ultimately short-sighted and selfish.
Portland's port is already so small that any new structure is going to stick out. There is no way that this industrial zone is ever going to blend in with the residential neighborhoods that look down in it from the Western Promenade, nor should it. The port is unique in the city and can't be expected to fit in.
And there is no "Plan B." Even though cold storage has been an identified need since the 1990s, no company has proposed building a smaller facility at this site because it would not be economically viable. We have no reason to believe Americold or anyone else would build one now if the zoning change were turned down.
And a greater volume of cargo moving on and off the site by truck should be viewed as a problem to be solved — not avoided. There are much better ways to control Commercial Street traffic (which is mostly caused by commuters) than by preventing the only industrial waterfront zone in the city from generating jobs and economic opportunity.
The Planning Board and City Council should not look at this zoning amendment as a neighborhood issue, or even just a city issue.
This is about whether Portland will continue its historical role as a regional transportation hub, accepting all the benefits and challenges that come with it, or if it will let this opportunity pass it by, maybe forever.
Times Argus, May 18
The Public Service Board has approved new sound standards governing wind energy projects that have been cheered more enthusiastically by wind opponents than by environmentalists.
The odd thing is that wind opponents, too, count themselves as environmentalists, arguing that the sound generated by large wind turbines harms the nearby environment in a way that offsets the environmental gain from the clean energy produced by the turbines.
The injury created by continuous thrumming sound waves is hard to grasp for people who haven't been exposed. Aggrieved neighbors have sought to establish, through monitoring, that the sound at their homes is excessive.
The utilities and wind developers have been dismissive, characterizing complaining neighbors as cranks or hypochondriacs.
Further, the number of people who live near big wind projects is small relative to the larger world, which benefits from the development of renewable energy.
Vermont is unlike other places where wind has been developed on a large scale. The state does not have wide open spaces as Texas or Washington state do. In those places, huge wind farms can spread out over hills or rangeland without disturbing anyone. Here, wind turbines loom over some people's homes — maybe they are few in number, but the residents' concerns are real.
State Sen. Christopher Bray, a Democrat from Addison County, has been at the forefront of the effort to bring common sense to the siting of renewable energy projects. Bray, a strong supporter of renewable energy, is willing to give the new sound standards a try.
We don't know yet that they are too strict, he says.
Wind developers say the hurdles to renewable energy are becoming too onerous, slowing the growth of an essential industry. And yet, even an important industry such as renewable energy must not be allowed to ride roughshod over Vermonters.
The new standards include a distance standard that may help guide wind turbines to areas where they won't harm local residents. Or maybe such areas don't exist. If they don't, then maybe wind is best left to the rangeland of Texas or offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
Not everything is appropriate everywhere. The new sound standards may help us determine what is appropriate in Vermont.
Portsmouth Herald, May 18
At Town Meeting in 2016, voters rejected a $35,000 request to conduct a study of parking in downtown Exeter. Town officials at the time argued the study was warranted, in part because of the results of a prior study and in part because business prospects in downtown Exeter were on the upswing.
A study done in 2002 found some troubling statistics. At noontime, for example, drivers were consistently parking illegally in the downtown lots, with an average of 102.8 percent, greater than the lots' actual capacities. At other times, parking was already nearing capacity. Water Street had an average 85.4 percent utilization.
Town officials also pointed to interest in downtown properties, such as the former Loaf and Ladle building, by businesses and developers.
But in 2016 voters said no by a large margin, 878-1,121.
We understand that there were concerns when voters rejected the request. The prospect of paid parking loomed large, with some seeing it as simply another way for the town to exact more revenue on top of property taxes. There were also other pressing financial needs on the ballot.
The problem, however, has not gone away. In fact, it only stands to get worse, driving the need for a study.
Sea Dog Brewing Company has received approval for a 220-seat restaurant in the Loaf and Ladle building. Prospects look good for a restaurant on Kimball Island which will seat 140.
The News-Letter has also reported that George and Philips on Water Street is looking to downsize its use of space. This opens possibility of high traffic business taking advantage of three large floors of developable space, including a roof extension overlooking the water.
Among thriving businesses already added to the downtown since 2002 are Otis and Station 19.
This means more and more traffic and the need for parking. This was something noted just this week when the Zoning Board of Adjustment met.
The owner historic Gardner House on Front Street is looking to develop a back lot which abuts the town's municipal parking lot. During discussions some ZBA members noted the potential for a municipal parking garage being built on the town lot.
We believe the time is also right for a parking study for other reasons.
After detailed studies Dover has recently completed a downtown parking garage and Portsmouth is looking to begin construction. These nearby projects can provide Exeter officials with a bounty of information and resources.
Portsmouth, for example, hired Nelson/Nygaard to conduct an independent study of the supply and demand for parking in downtown Portsmouth, determine whether there is a need for the city to provide additional off-street parking to accommodate existing development and future growth, and to assess and identify alternative approaches to ensuring an adequate parking supply.
Exeter, like Dover and Portsmouth, has a thriving downtown with perhaps the best yet to come. That prosperity, however, can be threatened by lack of parking and downtown gridlock.
As a result, we urge the Board of Selectmen and other town officials to revisit the need for a parking study.
The Westerly Sun, May 13
The police captain talked about the two suicide attempts and drug overdose he had dealt with in the past few days. The emergency department doctor talked about the horrible position of prescribing meds that can lead to addiction just to satisfy federal mandates that require a complaint of pain — whatever the core reason for the pain — be addressed. And a mother asked how she might answer her 6-year-old's questions about the drug overdose death of a friend's older sibling.
All the stories came from Westerly. They were hard issues to discuss, but the ice was broken when they were shared during Thursday night's "Community Conversation on Mental Health and Addiction" held at Westerly High School.
Westerly Police Capt. Shawn Lacey attributes many of the calls to his department to residents suffering from mental illness, whether it presents as a violent outburst, a suicide attempt, or a drug overdose. Dr. Christopher Lehrach, a Westerly Hospital and Yale New Haven Healthcare administrator and emergency department physician, said patients suffering from depression can complain of physical pain, which triggers a mandate to treat. He said the government's addition of pain as a vital sign along with blood pressure and the others has forced physicians to prescribe drugs sometimes against their better judgment. With the health care industry judged on patient satisfaction scores reported to the government, a few pills can satisfy lots of needs, valid or not — and lead to or feed an addiction.
The conversations came after a one-act play, "Four Legs to Stand on," written by South Kingstown resident Ana Bess Moyer Bell. The play was riveting, and focused on a family coming to terms with a college-age son who they adored, but who was stealing his father's prescription drugs. He gave some to a friend who overdosed and died. The mother had her suspicions, but didn't act. In their conversation about their suspicions, the father said "boys will be boys."
Moyer Bell wrote the play after attending the funerals of three high school friends who died of overdoses within three months of one another. She was a grad student at the time, studying drama therapy, and the painful experiences and her studies merged. At 28, she's determined to get more conversations going about mental illness and addiction. She founded the organization Creating Outreach About Addiction Support Together, and with other local agencies put on Thursday's programs for students and the community. The students saw a presentation by the Chariho Youth Task Force about bullying, making judgments based on appearances, acknowledging the pressures they put on themselves, those inflicted by others, and the role of social media in their lives.
Fewer than 100 community members showed up for Thursday night's play and conversation. If you subtract those who there in official capacities, the total was far less than that.
"It was OK. It's always a challenge to get people who aren't already involved," Moyer Bell said Friday. "Usually people are scared about having the conversation. They're worried that people will think 'I have a problem in my family.' Especially in Washington County it's about keeping up with appearances."
Her play hits hard and it cracked some of that veneer Thursday night.
The Washington County Coalition for Children and The Westerly Hospital Foundation initiated the conversation by sponsoring the event. They, along with Superintendent of Schools Roy Seitsinger, deserve the gratitude of the community for helping to place the suffering of mental illness on a plane with physical illness.
The next step is to keep these conversations going, from the kitchen tables to the school auditoriums around the region, in an open and nonjudgmental way, just as we do about getting treatment for heart disease, bad knees and breast cancer.
Record-Journal, May 15
Young people have long had a way of wanting to express themselves through appearance: the clothing they wear, the way they style their hair, the jewelry they sport. For a long time, this desire for expression has also bumped up against the rules.
A couple of years ago, concerned that some dresses were too revealing, Shelton High School set up a prom dress review panel that rejected six gowns for the junior-senior prom. Just recently, an online petition started by a Maloney High School senior in Meriden supported allowing students to decorate their graduation caps for the big day. The petition exposed an uneven situation in the city, where Platt High students can and their Maloney counterparts cannot.
Though the tension between expression and what's considered appropriate is nothing new, it would be hard to find a more extreme example than the recent dress code crackdown that suspended 150 students at Wilby High School in Waterbury. The dress code forbids caps, hats and hoodies, and is specific about what boys and girls can wear. The idea, according to school officials, is to promote an environment where students can focus on learning. About half the schools in the country have dress codes.
Fair enough, but the means by which the students were reprimanded appears harsh.
The Wilby students, as the Associated Press reported, were "called out of class by loudspeakers and ordered to sit out the next school day for wearing hoodies, forbidden colors or other violations."
Though the suspensions were later removed from students' records, the situation invited a variety of criticism that extended beyond the issue of what students choose to wear to school.
Among them was that it was an "example of promoting discipline over academic performance," according to Robert Goodrich, a co-founder of Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education in Waterbury.
Another criticism focused on sensitivity about culture. At Wilby, 84 percent of students are Hispanic or black, and 83 percent of educators are white.
Rules are rules, of course, and have little meaning if they are not enforced, but the manner of enforcement also counts. The value of a lesson that entailed calling students out of class by loudspeaker and ordering them to sit out the next school day ought at least to be given a hard examination.
Eagle-Tribune, May 18
Bees — honeybees in particular — are serious business, and they are in trouble.
Pollination of flowers and crops by honeybees is responsible for one in every three bites of food we eat. Bees and other pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy, by enabling consistent, quality food production. And here in Massachusetts, bees support the agriculture industry, which produces almost half a billion dollars in products — mostly food — every year, according to the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association, known as Mass Bee.
But bees are in trouble. The finely tuned senses and spatial awareness they need to travel long distances collecting pollen and nectar from blossoms is often damaged by neonicotinoid pesticides. Bees also are threatened by pervasive Varroa destructor mites, which also cause brain development disorders, and entire hives are often killed by the mysterious colony collapse disorder.
The move to large-scale mono-crop farming in recent decades has also reduced, in some areas, the availability of the flowers honeybees rely on, forcing them to travel farther for food — and always relying on their highly tuned senses, if not damaged by neonicotinoids.
If we lose bees on a grand scale, much of our food supply will be at risk. It's that simple.
State Rep. Carolyn Dykema, a Democrat from Holliston, sponsored House Bill 2113, An Act to Protect Massachusetts Pollinators. The bill has support from at least 135 House members and senators, the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association, the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Environment Massachusetts, and the Toxic Action Center, among others.
The bill seeks to "limit the use of the neonicotinoid class of systemic pesticides to licensed pesticide applicators only," according to Mass Bee. Maryland and Connecticut have passed similar bills. Walmart and True Value recently said they would stop selling products that contain neonicotinoids, according to the Mass Bee newsletter.
"An increasing body of research raises concerns that neonicotinoid pesticides may play a role in declining bee health," Dykema said, noting that Europe has placed a two-year moratorium on their use.
In filing the bill, Dykema said it "takes a precautionary approach by limiting use to licensed applicators" and restricts non-agricultural pesticide use during the time when flowers and trees are blooming, which is when bees and other pollinators are most active.
The bill also requires licensed applicators of pesticides with neonicotinoids to provide property owners with information about the risks to bees and other pollinators, as well as a list of non-neonicotinoids that could be used. In addition, the bill would bar the sale of blooming or flowering plants, plant material or seeds that had been treated with neonicotinoids.
In general, H2113 aims to limit use of these pesticides to licensed applicators, and ensures consumers are made aware about use of neonicotinoids and their presence in seeds, plants or pesticide application services, so those consumers can opt out if they choose.
In a letter of support for Dykema's bill, the Mass. Beekeepers Association called it "a sensible legislative restraint on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which are harmful to honey bees."
Mass Bee also noted "67 percent of the Legislature is a co-sponsor of the bill and it has bipartisan support."
No one is arguing that severe limits in one state on use of pesticides that are harmful to bees will solve this problem of the declining bee population. But support for H2113 and the education effort that comes with it can persuade more people and companies — and maybe send that influence into other states — about the need to save the bees.