Friday, May 27, 2005

New tanks coming to Mobil

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (May 27, 2005): The Oak Hill Mobil Mart is still open for business while new gas tanks are installed and the old ones are ripped out over the next several weeks.

There was a brief delay earlier this week when workers digging the holes for the new tanks hit ledge, and had to wait for a hydraulic jackhammer to be brought in. Owner Lisa Brady was concerned she might have to close the station if workers had to blast away the ledge.

The in-ground gas tanks must be replaced because they have served out their useful lives of 10 years, according to state and federal regulations. At the same time, Brady is replacing the pumping units and the canopy over the pumps, to comply with ExxonMobil Corp. regulations. The outside of the building is also getting a “facelift,” she said.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Winds take down trees, power

Published in the Current

(May 26, 2005): High winds downed trees and limbs and took out power to more than 13,000 homes in Southern Maine Monday night, leaving some without power into Tuesday afternoon.

Broad Cove in Cape Elizabeth had some outages Tuesday morning, according to Cape Police Chief Neil Williams. Some “very small pockets” in Scarborough were still out Tuesday afternoon, said Central Maine Power spokeswoman Gail Rice, who said the company hoped to have all power restored by midnight.

She said forecast high winds for Tuesday night might cause more damage and slow repair work.

Several areas in Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough and South Portland had outages ranging from around an hour to several hours Monday night.

The storm also kept local public work crews busy. Scarborough Public Works Director Mike Shaw said he had six workers out for a good portion of Monday night dealing with fallen trees.

The storms also have caused some minor beach erosion, damaged the stairs at Higgins Beach and caused some minor damage at the pier system at Pine Point Fisherman's Co-op.

Shaw said the department has been fortunate there has not been any major damage such as roads washing out. Looking at the bright side, he said things would be far worse if it were snow rather than rain.

Legion hall gets a refit

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (May 26, 2005): The bright blue landmark on Broadway is now a more gentle gray, though veterans are still hard at work fixing up the inside of the Stewart P. Morrill American Legion Post 35.

“We’re trying to really make this place viable for rentals,” said Post Commander Roger Sabourin, as he watched friends scrape and repaint kitchen cabinets and install a light fixture in the entryway.

The veterans group has spent nearly all of a $75,000 loan they got through a friendly loan officer – himself a Vietnam veteran – at Peoples Heritage Bank, insulating and residing the building, installing new windows, bringing in Internet access, fixing up ceilings and repainting walls in the building, which is also a South Portland polling place and a Red Cross emergency shelter.

Its bright blue color was created by accident, when an effort began to repaint the building blue rather than the previous olive-drab green, which had coated both the interior and exterior of the post.

The blue paint was not enough to cover the durable green hue, Sabourin said, and when the sun baked the colors together, it became the eye-catching (and eye-assaulting) almost-neon color familiar to many in the city.

The post’s meeting room, lined with the names and photos of veterans of wars past, was almost completely redone by the post’s oldest member, Clarence Howard, 85, including putting a new coat of paint on the extra-high ceiling.

Much of the money went to A-Best Window, which replaced all the building’s windows and re-sided it to improve energy efficiency.

“Before this thing, we were heating half of South Portland,” said Sabourin. Only half in jest, he said the post was responsible for local weather patterns. Looking out the windows at Mill Cove next to the Hannaford supermarket, Sabourin said, “you notice the bay froze over this year. We closed the windows.”

The post had owned the building outright, but now has to make monthly mortgage payments for the improvements, which will help keep maintenance costs down as well as make it more attractive as a rental space for groups to meet in.

There are three rooms that will be available for rent – two are complete now and work is about to begin on the third, mostly conducted by veterans themselves.

The building is also home to the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets program in South Portland, and the Portland Amateur Wireless Association.

It is now completely handicap-accessible, except for the small rooms on the third floor.

Sabourin had hoped the work would be done in time for Memorial Day, but now he is hoping it will be “July Fourth, or Veterans Day. We’ll get it done.”

He said the work is important to carry on the long history the city has of providing troops for the U.S. military, and helps to honor all who serve, including the four Medal of Honor winners he said are buried in the city’s cemeteries.

“South Portland has a great, great history of veterans,” Sabourin said.

Editorial: Where’s the relief?

Published in the Current

(May 26, 2005): Gov. John Baldacci is about to stick it to Maine taxpayers because he won't – or can't – make the hard choices we need our leader to make.

After proposing the state borrow nearly $450 million to cover day-to-day operating expenses, and getting it past legislators, who should have stood up to that kind of ploy, Baldacci has reversed himself.

He says his change of heart is because the federal Base Realignment and Closing Commission has proposed closing Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and downsizing Brunswick Naval Air Station. He should have said his change of heart was because running state programs on a credit card is bad government.

Either way, to get out of the borrowing hole, he and Democratic leaders in the Legislature have asked all state departments to submit revised budgets with 5 percent across-the-board cuts.

That’s not a bad start, but across-the-board isn’t the way to go. Specifically, cutting state aid to local schools – as proposed by the Department of Education Tuesday and described on Page 1 – is the opposite of what should happen.

Admittedly, those reductions are from amounts significantly higher than last year, and will still result in net increases in state aid for Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough and South Portland.

But by removing hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from local school budgets – $108,000 from Cape, $254,000 from Scarborough and $209,000 from South Portland – Baldacci’s plan goes directly against the efforts of citizens, legislators and even his own initiatives to increase state aid to education.

He set out this budget season to ramp up state school funding – in response to statewide referenda demanding tax relief. He even made some headway toward that goal – though not enough.
And, now he's already backing away from the little ground the state has gained because he can't seem to balance the budget.

The problem is not that the state is giving too much money to Maine's towns – just the opposite. Rather, the problem with state government is that it spends too much money just running itself.

Surely the Department of Education can handle deep cuts in its staff, without backpaddling on aid to local districts. Many of the department's workers seem to be constantly revising the Byzantine rules of the Maine Learning Results, sending teachers, administrators, students and parents into expensive annual conniptions trying to figure out what state regulators want, and how to give it to them.

Other Education staffers, perhaps trying to save their own jobs, came up with this ridiculous proposal, which would tear down the fragile beginnings of tax reform in Maine. Their usefulness in state government – and that of anyone who directed them to do that work – should come under close scrutiny.

There are also 500 vacant positions in state government that are included in the budget and could be eliminated without hurting anyone. Baldacci could consolidate government departments, too. He could also raise more revenue by raising the cigarette tax or the sales tax.

Perhaps Baldacci already expects to pay for his budget antics in next November’s gubernatorial election. But that should not prevent a man who has spent much of his adult life in public service from listening to what the people want and need.

He needs to make hard decisions now. One of those decisions should be to act on what the people are saying. And this, in case he doesn't know, is what they say: Raise – not lower – state aid to education. Lower significantly – not some small amount like 5 percent – state spending on administration and overhead.

The people of Maine need tax reform. School funding, as one of the major cost-drivers, is a good place to start injecting more state money, to reduce schools’ pressure on local property taxes.

But as state school funding climbs more slowly, the goal of real tax reform is farther away. And what matters to most of us is not that Baldacci pays later, but that we end up footing the bill now.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Family welcomes injured soldier home

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (May 19, 2005): Just a month after being injured in a roadside explosion in Iraq, Army Cpl. Jack Howland returned to Maine to spend two weeks recuperating at home.

Howland, whose family is almost entirely in Scarborough but whose parents live in Porter, was the guest of honor Saturday at a surprise party at the Clambake Restaurant on Pine Point Road in Scarborough.

More than 50 friends, neighbors and relatives attended the gathering, including Howland’s three living grandparents, Philip and Sue Bayley and Gladys Howland.

There were four generations of each side of the family to welcome Jack home, just 24 hours after his delayed flight had landed in Portland.

Traveling with him was his girlfriend, Teena Sphar of Midway, Ga., and Teena’s daughter, Taylor. They had expected to arrive far earlier in the day, but bad weather and airline schedules delayed them for hours.

When the trio finally came through the gate, family members were there with a banner, and a crowd of strangers waiting for other loved ones let out a huge cheer.

Howland, 23, had been in an Army Humvee, protecting a convoy near Baghdad, when a roadside bomb exploded, burning his eyes and lungs and injuring another soldier in his vehicle.

He had spent four and a half months in Iraq, and found himself airlifted to a U.S. military hospital in Germany and then back to the States for more treatment.

Howland’s eyes are now fine, and his lungs have healed to about 60 percent of their normal function. They are continuing to heal, and Howland will return to Georgia for more medical treatment in a couple weeks.

His family’s surprise party was a simple subterfuge, with Howland’s mother, Mary (Bayley) Howland, saying she was going shopping with her daughter-in-law, Heather Howland, and Sphar, who was on her first trip to Maine and her first meeting of her boyfriend’s family.

They suggested to Jack that they should all meet up for dinner at the Clambake later on.

But instead of going shopping, the three women and other friends and relatives went straight to the Clambake in the mid-afternoon, and began setting up. One appropriate decoration was already in the room – a mounted “jackalope” on the wall, like a hunting trophy.

Jack’s uncle Dana Howland is the manager at the Clambake, and Jack worked at the restaurant for seven years before entering the Army three years ago. He is a member of the 94th Maintenance Company, 87 Corps Support Battalion, stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., where he met Sphar.

The party grew as Jack’s arrival neared, and when he walked into the room he was totally surprised by the crowd.

“It’s a totally joyous celebration for us. It could have been totally different,” his mother said.

“I had no idea,” Jack said with a grin, amid shaking hands and hugging friends and relations.

His grandmother Sue Bayley was glad to see her grandson – and several other grandchildren who came to celebrate – but still had her mind on Jack’s comrades in Iraq. “I just wish they could all come home,” she said.

Short outage keeps police busy

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (May 19, 2005): An equipment failure caused a widespread power outage in Scarborough on Friday the 13th, shutting down traffic lights at busy intersections and interrupting electrical and Internet service for about 1,900 homes and businesses.

According to Central Maine Power spokeswoman Gail Rice, the outage, which lasted from about 10 a.m. to about 11 a.m., was caused by an equipment failure in a substation that took out two circuits.

Police scrambled to direct traffic at intersections all along Route 1, Gorham Road and Payne Road, and the Scarborough Fire-Police were also called out. But only one Scarborough fire-policeman responded, so Cape Elizabeth sent its fire-police unit to help as well.

The police department used its Code Red reverse-911 calling system to alert residents to the situation, and to ask people to drive carefully, especially through busy intersections.

Cape drivers win plow roadeo

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (May 19, 2005): Two Cape Elizabeth Public Works drivers have won the Cumberland County Snowplow “Roadeo,” and will compete for the state championship June 2 in Skowhegan.

Jason Emery and Ron O’Brien won Cape’s first county championship, with the lowest combined score for their navigations of a snowplow truck and a wing – as much as 15 feet wide – through a closed course while avoiding fire hydrants, cones and parked vehicles.

The pair, who Emery said does “nothing” to train, doesn’t even drive plow trucks through the winter.

“We both plow on loaders,” O’Brien said. “What it boils down to is teamwork, just like our everyday jobs.” The pair are both seated in the cab of a plow truck, and take turns driving and being the spotter. “He watches the wing,” O’Brien said.

This is the pair’s fifth year competing, but their first as teammates. Last year, when both had low scores but on different teams, they decided to join up this year.

It paid off with the trophy. O’Brien also took second in the individual scoring, narrowly missing a personal win because “I clipped one of the vehicles.”

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Stabbing accused appears in court

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (May 5, 2005): A Scarborough teenager accused of trying to kill a friend in the woods behind the Scarborough Public Library appeared in court last week to hear the charges against her.

Lyndsey McLaughlin, 15, was charged last month with two Class A felonies: attempted murder and elevated aggravated assault. Police believe she stabbed Barbara Kring, 20, also of Scarborough, in the neck and stomach March 8.

McLaughlin then stabbed herself in the abdomen, according to Scarborough police. Both young women were taken to Maine Medical Center, where they were treated and later released.

At her court hearing April 25, McLaughlin heard the charges against her, but did not enter a plea, according to court documents. McLaughlin has been charged as a juvenile because she has no prior criminal record, according to District Attorney Stephanie Anderson.

McLaughlin, a freshman at Scarborough High School, has been at home since her release from the hospital, and school officials have said they are working with the family to prepare for her return to school. Her next court date is set for July 11.

Kring, a 2004 Scarborough High School graduate, was a student at Southern Maine Community College, but left the school following the attack. She and her mother have said she intends to return to the college in the fall.

Kring recently published a first-person account of the attack in the SMCC student newspaper, The Beacon, where she was a staff writer.

McLaughlin’s family declined to comment on the incident or Kring’s account.

Teen leaves India, adoption papers behind

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (May 5, 2005): Linsey Payson was in Calcutta, India, talking on the phone with her boyfriend. It was mid-April, just days before Scarborough High School would go on spring break.

The adoption papers that would let the high school senior bring home a 3-year-old blind Indian boy were signed and ready to go.

But as she talked to her boyfriend, Andrew Flynn, and as he told her she had a lot of life left to experience, she came to agree that her life would never be the same, and that she was too young – 18 – to take on such a huge responsibility.

And though she had already talked her parents into signing the adoption papers – Payson herself couldn’t adopt the child because she is not married – she didn’t submit them to the Catholic nuns running the orphanage where Robi had been consigned by his family, who are caring for his four siblings, who are not blind.

Payson had gone to Calcutta to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity, the order of nuns founded by Mother Teresa, who care for the sick and the dying, as well as orphans in one of the world’s poorest and most crowded cities.

She spent two months there, volunteering in a section of the orphanage where disabled children lived. "She loves kids," said Flynn. "She just always wants to be around kids."

“I spent most of my time working with Robi,” Payson said, though there were plenty of others – most with autism or muscular problems that prevented them from being accepted in mainstream Indian society. And though it was an orphanage, many of the children had families, who had refused to care for them.

When Payson arrived in India, she was overwhelmed.

Feeling lucky

In what she now calls “my biggest dream and my worst nightmare,” she found herself staying in what was for Calcutta a “five-star” hotel, where bugs crawled across the floor and water periodically ran black from the taps. Her room caught fire twice, flooding once as the sprinklers let go.

She paid about $13 a night, and was able to get a television – “I understood about three channels out of 100” – some cupboards and her own private bathroom.

On the streets, she saw people washing in just water, too poor to buy soap. Some owned only the ragged clothes on their backs and a piece of cardboard to cushion the hard sidewalk on which they slept.

Payson ate breakfast at Mother House, the nuns’ headquarters, each morning, in a courtyard open to the sky. “If it rained, we ate breakfast in the rain,” she said.

Then she would go to work at Shishu Bhavan, the orphanage, where 25 disabled children and 250 actual orphans lived.

Meeting Robi

When she first came to the orphanage, the sisters had written off Robi as having behavioral or mental problems. Payson came to understand they were wrong, and was able to help them see it too.

He wouldn’t eat when the sisters said it was mealtime, so they had to force-feed him on the floor while the other children ate at a table.

But when Payson met him and talked with him, Robi opened up. He started eating, and spoke for the first time. He started mimicking her speech, copying her every word at times.

He was able to join the other children at the table, and began learning letters and numbers in the rudimentary classes the volunteers conducted at the orphanage.

Along the way, Payson fell in love.

“He’s just absolutely amazing,” she said, thinking back to the smiling boy whose only real problem is that he needs a cornea transplant.

The two spent a lot of time together, and Payson came to feel as though she were the mother Robi didn’t have. They would talk and play together, smile and laugh.

Payson decided she wanted to take Robi back to the U.S., where he could get surgery and where he could have a real family – Payson’s.

“He was the reason I got out of bed” each morning in a country where street crime is punished by beatings as police look on, and where people earn a living pedaling others around the city on rickshaws.

"Linsey has always been the child that was unrelenting in what she wanted," Payson's mother, Novella, wrote in a letter to the Current in March. "If she asked for something and did not get the answer she wanted, she would not give up until you saw things her way."

She looked into adoption so deeply and wrote and spoke so passionately about her wish that her parents signed the papers, and the sisters at the orphanage were prepared to revoke Robi’s mother’s parental rights and send him home with the 18-year-old from Scarborough he had known only three months. Her mother had even found a surgeon in Portland who agreed to do the surgery free of charge.

But when the time came, Payson did not turn in the adoption papers. She got on the plane alone, leaving Robi behind, too young to understand why she had come or why she was going.

Thinking back

She returned just before April school vacation, and has spent the days since healing – both from a parasite that still plagues her and from the pain of separation from a child she considers her own.

She is back at work before and after school in the Community Services childcare program at Blue Point School, and is also back – as a Police Explorer – stopping the traffic on Gorham Road to let the high school buses exit in the afternoon.

But when she is alone, it hits.

“I just sit in my room and say I can’t believe I left him there,” she said. “I feel like I left my child in a Third World country.”

She is comforted – though not much – by the thought that the sisters came to see Robi as having promise. They were going to try to get him the surgery he needs and send him to school outside the orphanage, though Payson hasn’t heard any updates since her departure.

One of the nuns told her before she left, “If you hadn’t come here, he would have sat in the corner for the rest of his life.”

But that’s not enough for Payson, who had a modest view of her endeavor. “I didn’t think that going there, being a high school student, that I could make a difference,” she said, knowing now that she has.

“I would love to go back and see him, I would. I would love even more to bring him here,” she said. “I feel like I should have.”

Spreading the word

Last week was her first week home from school, and she has spoken to eight classes at Scarborough High School, as well as a group of teachers and administrators, about the trip.

She went in part because she was inspired by the story of Susan Conroy, a South Portland woman who volunteered with Mother Teresa and spoke to Scarborough students last year.

Now, in her talks, she has inspired at least one student to consider going to India as well, according to history teacher John Lewis.

Payson is still trying to adjust to her homecoming, and life with a new perspective. She hears her friends and classmates say things like “my life sucks,” and wants to tell them, “No it doesn’t. You don’t know the half of it. … At least you have shoes on your feet.”

When kids complain about school, she thinks, “All the kids on the street in India would love to go to school, and they can’t.”

She kept a 200-page journal during her trip, and her mother and a teacher want her to publish it. Payson isn’t so sure.

“If I was someone, I don’t know if I would want to read it,” she said.

She is still working on finding a home for Robi, even as she prepares to graduate from high school next month and attend the University of Southern Maine in the fall.

At night, she dreams Robi is getting off a plane with one of the sisters from Calcutta.

“I feel like there’s a piece of me missing. … I know it’s him.”

Planning Board worried about existing Wal-Mart

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (May 5, 2005): Members of the Scarborough Planning Board worried Monday about the fate of an existing Wal-Mart, slated to be vacated after construction of a new 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter across the street.

At a hearing where Wal-Mart developers had hoped to get final approval, the board refused to grant that, saying there were state and federal permits outstanding and other issues remaining unresolved.

The board also indicated they might impose new restrictions on the project, which would put a 212,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, a 138,000-square-foot Lowe’s, four 75,000-square-foot “high-turnover” restaurants and a 75,000-square-foot retail space on 90 wooded acres between Spring Street, Mussey Road and the Maine Turnpike spur to Route 1.

The new restrictions could mean that Wal-Mart would face a penalty if the company’s existing store remained vacant for too long after the new store opens. The board did not mention any particular timelines.

Board member Susan Auglis raised the first concern, asking if there could be a “penalty” if the building were left vacant, as many former Wal-Marts have been around the country.

Town Attorney Chris Vaniotis said the board could grant a time-restricted approval to the existing Wal-Mart property, which must be modified to allow a new road to cross the parking lot if the larger project is to be approved.

Board member Bill Shanahan said he wanted a timeline as well. “So much effort’s gone into rebuilding this area” that it would be bad to have a large vacant lot amid Payne Road’s booming development.

Board member Mark Porada suggested the building be demolished “so that you don’t have an empty box sitting there for years.”

Board Chairman Mike Wood said he wants to “protect the town as to what this site might look like and how it might be used” after the Wal-Mart Supercenter opens, which is slated for mid-2006.

The board reviewed several elements of the project and tabled the entire set of proposals until sometime in late May or early June.

Editorial: Changing times

Published in the Current

(May 5, 2005): The problem with a legislative proposal pushed by Cape Town Councilor Mike Mowles and sponsored by Republican Rep. Kevin Glynn of South Portland is not that changing from Eastern Time to Atlantic Time would probably make us all feel better.

And Mowles is right to think that having an extra hour of daylight in the evening might be more fun, could be safer and would likely save us money on energy bills.

The problem isn’t that Maine is way out east of the rest of the United States and with different national boundaries might actually be in the Atlantic Time Zone.

It’s also an interesting point that the rest of New England, still on Eastern Time, would think it was the same time as Maine all summer long, when they would go on daylight-saving time and we would not.

While we’d be even more isolated in winter than before, perhaps the summertime adjustment would reduce some of the worst problems for the big tourist season.

The real problem is that the proposal doesn’t pass the straight-face test, a requirement if the issue is to pass a statewide referendum.

We were surprised to learn of the proposal from Mowles last week, when he was fresh from testifying for it in Augusta. And two people sitting nearby, who heard his exuberance in favor of the idea, immediately chimed in with the instinctive questions we all have:

What about the economy? Would putting Maine an hour ahead of the country make us even less of a place businesses would look at as a serious option? What about scheduling appointments with people in other states? What about making phone calls to family and friends elsewhere? Will other New England states go along with it? Should we change something that has worked for years, just to make ourselves feel better?

But behind this particular legislative request for extra daylight, something darker lurks.

The fact that the State and Local Government Committee members went for it unanimously paints a frightening picture of what really goes on in the Statehouse.

If lawmakers are so out of touch with actual Mainers that they believe we would all come around to their point of view if only we understood reality – we need “education,” as the public-relations folks say – they are hopelessly far from understanding what else might actually make life better here.

But then again, as we wake up each black morning to the foibles and whims of those elected to represent us, maybe we could use that extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day, to make us feel a little better about it all.

National pride

Bethany Roy should be very proud of herself, and her family, her school and community should be too.

Roy, known to many around Cape Elizabeth as a participant in more activities and groups than any of us can remember, has been named a Presidential Scholar and will be honored in Washington, D.C., though she may not be there because of a family trip.

The honor has been conferred on only two people from Maine this year, and is given to fewer than 150 of the most promising high school seniors nationwide.

Congratulations to her, and to those who have taught, helped and supported her along the way, and continue to do so today.

Jeff Inglis, editor