Thursday, June 30, 2005

Two boats sink in one day

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (June 30, 2005): Two boats sank off Cape Elizabeth in the course of a few hours Saturday, with no injuries to any aboard or any rescuers.

The first sinking happened in the late morning Saturday. The Cape Elizabeth Water Extrication Team was called to Kettle Cove for a sailboat in trouble at about 9:30 a.m., according to WETeam Capt. Joe Mokry.

“There were four large fellas in a very small boat” watching their 26-foot sailboat take on water.

“It appears they touched the bottom hard,” Mokry said. There was a hole in the bottom of the boat, and the men tried to drive it up onto the beach to prevent it from sinking completely, he said.

That effort failed, and the men waited with WETeam members for the Coast Guard to arrive. The Coast Guard took the men back to Portland.

Mokry said Tuesday the boat had already been salvaged and removed. “In an area like that, you need to get the boat out” to prevent it from being a hazard to navigation. “It was sticking up a few feet anyway above the surface,” Mokry said.

The second boat was a 13-foot Boston whaler that sank off Richmond Island at about 3:30 p.m. when the four men in that boat – loaded with diving gear – came quickly around a corner out of the lee and into five-foot seas. The boat was quickly swamped, and the men were in the water.

A WETeam member was in his own boat nearby, and was able to rescue the four men.

“It’s been pretty busy,” said Mokry, noting an emergency call for a woman on a “large yacht” at anchor near Crescent Beach June 23 and a report of a boat with a fire in the engine room off Richmond Island last week.

Those two both ended well, Mokry said. After Mokry talked to the yacht’s skipper to determine exactly where the boat was, the woman was transferred to a WETeam boat and then to a Cape ambulance for a trip to the hospital.

Location information was also a challenge for the boat on fire. After it was located not “in Kettle Cove near Richmond Island,” as had been reported, but off Prouts Neck in Scarborough, the two men aboard were unhurt and “did everything right,” Mokry said.

The fire in the engine compartment was out, but the boat was disabled. It was helped into harbor in Scarborough, Mokry said.

“We’re thinking it’s going to stay fairly busy,” said Mokry, who in his day job trains emergency workers in rescues in and on the water, as well as on boats.

He said he did a training session down in Wells this weekend, and during the class they did three actual rescues.

“The boats out there are unbelievable,” he said, saying that so many people were cooped up by bad weather for so long that they all want to get their boats out at the same time.

He suggested that people make sure they plan for bad weather – like a fog bank two weeks ago that triggered a search for boaters in Harpswell who were later found unhurt – and other unexpected problems. He suggested people carry a cell phone with a fully charged battery with them, so they can call friends and family in the event they are delayed returning.

Without a way to communicate, such as a cell phone or a radio, people are often reported missing two or three hours after they were expected to return, and “a large-scale search” is begun right away, Mokry said.

More often than not, the people are fine but didn’t have a way to tell anyone they were just pulling up into a cove to wait out bad weather, or had gone a different route for some reason.

“A lot of times it’s really unnecessary because people aren’t planning for contingencies,” he said.

Editorial: Be prepared

Published in the Current

(June 30, 2005): Even before Wednesday afternoon's storm took out power and roads, it was important to be careful when boating, as eight people learned last weekend in the ocean off Cape Elizabeth.

None of the boaters were hurt, which is fortunate, but their boats sank, reminding them and all who recreate on the water that the ocean is a fun place, but has its dangers.

And now, in light of the recent high winds, torrential downpour and lightning strikes, it's even more evident that people heading out onto the water - or even out for a hike, bike ride, picnic or drive - need to have a plan in case the unexpected happens.

As Cape Elizabeth Water Extrication Team Capt. Joe Mokry noted in our Page 1 article, a lot of people are not making those plans, even skipping something as simple as making sure the cell phone is fully charged before an outing.

If people are stuck somewhere or have to take a different route, they can be delayed. Without the ability to communicate with friends and loved ones, those left at home may call the authorities and have them begin a search, risking emergency workers' lives.

There's nothing wrong with calling out all the police, fire, ambulance and water rescue people who are needed, if people are really in danger.

But if there is a way to avoid doing so - if people are really fine, just anchored in a cove to ride out a high wind, for example - a simple cell phone or radio call can save rescuers a lot of time, and the folks at home a lot of worry.

There are plenty of people - and I am one - who would rather not hear a cell phone ring in the middle of the woods or out on the deck of a boat rocking on a lazy sea. But you don't have to spoil the outdoors to be safe.

Bring the cell phone, but turn it off unless you need it. If you're running late, turn it on and make that call. On a boat in a fog bank or on a bike trapped by rising floodwaters, a cell phone suddenly changes from a wilderness-ruiner to a lifesaver.

Taking a few precautions can help you stay safe, and can help those who are prepared to come to our rescue stay as safe as they can, too.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Storm hits hard

Published at

SCARBOROUGH (June 29, 2005): As the Current went to press Wednesday, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland were experiencing a major thunderstorm with numerous local lightning strikes and heavy downpours.

Intermittent power outages took down traffic lights and forced local businesses to halt operations. The rainfall led to localized flooding, which covered parts of many roads, including Two Lights Road in Cape Elizabeth and Payne Road and Beech Ridge Road in Scarborough, with several inches of fast-moving water.

The edges of several roadways were reported by police as being eroded – in some places, significantly – by the water.

Several houses were reported as possibly struck by lightning, and emergency crews were going from place to place cordoning off fallen wires and trees, warning drivers about dangerous road conditions and checking on homes and residents.

More information will be available in the Current, which will be on newsstands Thursday morning.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rosenfeld: Lots more work to do on Haigis

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (June 23, 2005): After $10 million in utility installation on Haigis Parkway, “it’s going to take developers with very deep pockets to get the sites ready.”

That's part of what Harvey Rosenfeld, president of the Scarborough Economic Development Corp., told members of the Scarborough Community Chamber of Commerce last week.

Rosenfeld addressed the chamber at its annual meeting Thursday at the Black Point Inn, telling chamber members a lot remains to be done to the parkway's parcels before they are ready for businesses to build on them.

The utilities, while present, are only in the street, and the lots will have to be surveyed, have roads and other infrastructure designed and most likely split up for smaller developments, Rosenfeld said in a follow-up interview. That process will likely involve developers buying the land, doing preliminary work and then reselling subdivided parcels to interested companies.

Rosenfeld told the chamber about his marketing plans for the area, saying Maine is not a good place for businesses to make money, but should sell its “quality of life” to major developers.

“The best reason for doing business in Maine” is “quality of life,” Rosenfeld said. “If profit’s the main goal, there are other better places to be.”

Maine has large numbers of elderly and poor people, and a low number of college graduates.

“We are not a particularly skilled population,” he said. “That, unfortunately, does not equip us to compete in the 21st century.”

Making matters worse are the state’s high taxes, long distance from the rest of the country and “limited financial resources” – a few people paying taxes for a very large statewide infrastructure and a lot of demand for increasing services.

But, he said, “Maine can become more prosperous” by investing in education and promoting how nice it is to live here.

He asked chamber members to help his promotional efforts. "Stop badmouthing the state," he said, suggesting they tell businesspeople from other areas of the country why they live here, why they raise their families here and why they are still here.”

Rosenfeld also suggested businesspeople get involved at all levels. At the state and regional level, he suggested supporting regionalization, noting that within 50 miles of Scarborough are more than 100 local governments serving over 600,000 people.

Comparing that to large metropolitan areas with consolidated municipal services, Rosenfeld – himself a former municipal manager – said “there is duplication of services.”

He also suggested people get involved locally, with the town’s Comprehensive Plan Update Committee. That group is reviewing the town’s zoning and will recommend changes to the Town Council. He said they are considering changes to zoning west of the Maine Turnpike, to possibly allow more businesses from Running Hill Road to Exit 42.

And Rosenfeld said business leaders should “help build the best educational system at all levels.”

“We simply can’t skimp on how we fund education and expect to be competitive,” he said.

He also outlined a marketing campaign that is just beginning to pitch development on Haigis Parkway to major developers around the country.

“These are people who can buy 40 acres anywhere in the country,” he said.

He gave out copies of a professionally designed marketing brochure for “Scarborough’s Professional Gateway,” the marketing name for the area near town's Turnpike exit. The road running through it “will always remain the Haigis Parkway,” Rosenfeld said.

He compared the future of the Haigis Parkway area with Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and the Route 128 technology corridor outside Boston, saying he wants to draw “cutting-edge research centers,” “precision manufacturing” and “world-class hospitality ventures” to the area.

To that end, SEDCO will be distributing more than 70,000 of the brochures locally, in “a national mailing to developers around the country” and at trade shows around the country.

Rosenfeld said the lots on Haigis Parkway, and a few along Payne Road that are also part of the region, will take lots of money to develop, even after the town spent $10 million installing water, sewer, gas and electricity.

Half of that cost is being charged to the landowners in a tax-increment financing district deal Rosenfeld authored and presented to state officials for review. He said they didn’t initially understand what he was proposing, because it had never before been done in Maine.

“The owners are sharing the cost of the infrastructure,” Rosenfeld said.

Two of the parkway’s largest landowners – Linwood Higgins’s Three Diamonds Realty and Scarborough Downs – are suing the town, saying the assessment of fees was done unfairly.

Rosenfeld dismissed concerns that the lawsuits could cause developers to be wary of getting involved, saying, “public-private partnerships are really the way to go.”

While he said “any lawsuit has a negative publicity,” the arrangement as it is “in the long run will pay off.”

Editorial: Bad for business

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (June 23, 2005): We hear a lot about Maine having a bad climate for business, and most notably we heard it again last week from Harvey Rosenfeld, Scarborough’s top person for drumming up business. It’s getting worse, and that needs to change.

“If profit’s the main goal, there are other better places to be” than Maine, Rosenfeld told members of the Scarborough Community Chamber of Commerce.

It was Thursday lunchtime when he told chamber members the real value for business in Maine is “quality of life” for workers, rather than actually making the owners money.

The following night, Maine’s lawmakers voted to accept a state budget that made Rosenfeld’s statement about profits ring even truer.

The Legislature did not just raise corporate income taxes, but also cut back on state reimbursements to companies for major investments in equipment. The state’s expected revenue from the changes? $16 million over two years – not nearly enough to be worth the loss of goodwill, or perhaps sympathy, from big businesses with a presence in Maine.

Gov. John Baldacci talks the good talk, saying he is defending Maine jobs and has a plan for developing Maine’s economy. If this is that plan, he needs to think again, and fast.

While the state is certainly in a budget hole, taxing business more is not the way to get out of it – especially not taxing large businesses that have invested heavily over the years and are longtime cornerstones of local, regional and state economies.

These businesses are the ones that employ large numbers of people in their own and surrounding communities. They are the barometers of Maine’s economy.

They should be expected to pay their fair share of the state’s expenses, but should not be looked at as a cash cow for state budgeters when other wells run dry.

The companies are rightfully upset and reconsidering future investments in Maine, which should have occurred to lawmakers before they voted.

UnumProvident, which has been shifting staff members and assets out of Maine in recently years, says it doesn’t like the message the state is sending. We can’t afford to shove companies like UnumProvident out the door without any plan for replacing the jobs and local investments they provide.

But an increased tax on business investment is worse than no plan for replacement – it’s a deterrent for companies that might be considering Maine’s quality of life in the future. They certainly won’t be considering making any money here.

And UnumProvident is not the only company angered by the new taxes.

National Semiconductor says the new budget has broken a promise made by state officials in their effort to get the company to invest here – a promise that the state would reimburse the company for every penny it pays in local taxes on business equipment.

States don’t break promises to big business without huge long-term consequences.

Rosenfeld shared with the chamber members a vision of Haigis Parkway as home to top-notch research centers, high-tech companies and precision manufacturing.

If Scarborough – or Maine – is to have a prayer of that vision coming true, the state’s increasing taxation of businesses has to be reversed now.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Historic ship gets refurbished home

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (June 16, 2005): An important piece of American history and Maine lore has a refurbished home on Spring Point in South Portland, as well as a tribute to a man key in its preservation.

A portion of the clipper ship Snow Squall, launched in 1851 from the Cornelius Butler Shipyard on Turner’s Island in Cape Elizabeth (now South Portland), is part of the permanent collection at the Portland Harbor Museum.

The gallery has been refurbished and was reopened for the first time last week, showing off the new elements of the exhibit, including a display in memory of maritime historian Nick Dean, the man who rediscovered the wreck of the Snow Squall in the Falkland Islands in 1979 and spearheaded her return to Maine.

Dean, who was also the first director of the museum when it was called the Spring Point Museum, died in January at age 71. His widow, Zibette Dean, attended the gallery’s opening, as did Dave Switzer, who with Nick Dean wrote a history of the ship, called “Snow Squall: The Last American Clipper Ship.”

The ship was a fast freight ship carrying cargo around Cape Horn between the east and west coasts of the United States, as well as across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

In 1863, she escaped from the Confederate raiding ship Tuscaloosa near the Cape of Good Hope in an all-day race pitting crew skills and ship speed against each other.

In 1864, the Snow Squall was on her way from New York to San Francisco but ran aground near Cape Horn. She limped back into Port Stanley in the Falklands and was abandoned.

“It sat there for 114 years,” said Hadley Schmoyer, the museum’s new curator, who started the job April 20.

When it was discovered in 1979, it was one of a few remnants of the American clipper shipbuilding years, and a rare specimen of how the ships were designed and built, Schmoyer said.

Because clipper ships were built so quickly and with many changes from ship to ship – all in search of a few extra knots of speed – there were few models left to show how they were built.

Dean, an Edgecomb resident, recognized the value of the find, and coordinated the work required in returning her to Maine.

Other parts of her hull are in the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, South Street Seaport Museum in New York City and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in California.

The evening also saw the opening of the new seasonal exhibit at the Portland Harbor Museum, called “Old Salts and New Directions” and focusing on the people who work in and around the harbor.

Among the artifacts is a scale model of the Casco Bay Lines steamer Maquoit, handmade by Capt. Larry Legere of Cape Elizabeth. Legere, the operations agent for the lines, is the son of Capt. Edward Legere, who captained the ferry steamers for many years, and the father of Alexandra Legere, who also works for the ferry company.

Editorial: Hail and farewell

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (June 16, 2005): As graduation season winds up for another year, we wish all of the graduates well, their parents too – and a special "good luck" to the graduates’ younger siblings, who now step up a rung in their own growth ladder.

Scarborough’s 202 graduates and Cape Elizabeth’s 129, all newly minted this week, join 221 of their neighbors in South Portland who became alumni last week, taking on new roles in the community and in their lives.

Many of them will leave town to attend college or other professional training, or to enter the military. Some will stay near home, either living in town while attending classes nearby, finding a new job or sticking with an old one.

To all of these – and any other subgroups – we offer hearty congratulations and wishes of good luck.

By now, you have chosen your role models and begun to follow them. But you will find still others who affect how you live your life. Choose cautiously those whose models you will follow, as no road is truly clear from the outset.

One example we hold up this week, not just to celebrate an extraordinary graduate making an unusual choice, but also to provide food for thought and discussion among parents, students and teachers, is Megan Barnes of Cape Elizabeth.

As we read on Page 1, while many of her classmates are headed to college, she is delaying that route – not forever, she says now, but perhaps. Instead, she is headed to Ecuador to work in an international school where she studied during part of her junior year, seeking out international experiences to enrich her learning and development. (Plus, it’s fun.)

It’s very common in this country to go directly from high school to college, and for many students, that’s the proper way to do it. But there are a whole lot of high school graduates for whom college right after school may not be the best idea.

Schools and parents should be open to the idea students who don’t follow any of the three traditional American paths for high school graduates: college, work or the military.

In other countries, from Europe to Australia and New Zealand, it is very common to take a year or more before college for what is sometimes called an “OE” – overseas experience. Some young people work, as Barnes is doing, while others just travel. Many do a mix – traveling until they run out of money and then working for a bit to make it back.

That type of experience is very valuable, and even those going directly to college should seek some sort of study abroad if they wish to truly understand this incredibly diverse and wonderful world we share.

People on an OE meet others in similar quests from other countries, visit faraway lands and explore not only other cultures but their own, and themselves.

High schools strive to prepare their students for the “real world,” but can go only so far – staff and teachers know it just as well as parents and students. Some sort of additional education or preparation is needed before these young adults are fully fledged.

There are a number of routes available – including college, work and the military. But there is another, and Barnes has found it, all on her own, and stuck to it despite advice to the contrary from teachers, guidance staff and administrators.

She should be proud for growing up to be the young woman that she is, as all the graduates should be proud of who they have become.

We look forward to hearing more of Barnes, and of all of the class of 2005. May they all grow to know their own minds, choose their counsel wisely, and refuse to take no for an answer, no matter how authoritative the rejection may seem.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pipe bomb found on Cape beach

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (June 14, 2005): A pipe bomb found in the surf stayed on a Cape Elizabeth neighborhood beach for five hours Sunday, while children and adults played nearby.

Cape police and a State Police Bomb Squad member said the item was dangerous, and warned the public against going near any such device.

But, when officers handled it, they did so without any special protective gear. The bomb technician said his training has taught him to handle dangerous substances properly.

“It was high noon, the beach was full of kids” when Cameron Gale, a beachfront resident, found the pipe while picking up trash on Casino Beach with his 4-year-old daughter, Annie, putting the garbage in a child’s sand pail.

“My daughter and I go down once a week and do the rounds,” he said. “There was no way to know it was a pipe bomb,” so Gale “tossed it in the bucket with the rest of the trash.”

“It sat next to our towel for five hours in the roaring hot sun,” Gale said. “Everybody was walking by it.”

The pipe was “rolling around in the debris” in the surf, and looked like a harmless piece of copper pipe, Gale said.

"There was no fuse," he said, and no way to know what it really was.

It was still shiny copper, Gale said, so it had not spent much time in the water. “I think if it had washed up it would have been more corroded,” he said. “The little bar code was still intact.”

Not until he brought the pail up to the house and started throwing away the items did Gale peel a piece of tape off the eight-inch pipe, revealing a hole drilled in it. At that point, he realized it was more than a pipe.

He took it out of the bucket, put it on his woodpile and called the police.

Sgt. Andrew Steindl came to the house, picked it up – spilling some gunpowder in the process – and drove it back to the police station, where he covered it with a sandbag in case it blew up.

“I felt it was safe to handle,” Steindl said Tuesday. Otherwise, he said he would not have touched it.

A bomb expert from the Maine State Police came to the station Monday to collect the pipe and destroy it, Steindl said.

That officer, Sgt. Mike Edes, is a member of the State Police Bomb Squad. He took the pipe away and blew it up. "We don't try to dismantle it," Edes said.

The pipe bomb contained gunpowder, he said. "It was very unstable."

Edes said Gale "really put himself in a great deal of danger" by handling the bomb.

Steindl said he handled the bomb with care but without special protective equipment, and Edes said he did the same. Edes said his training taught him to be more careful than perhaps Gale was being. "We know what we're doing," Edes said, calling Gale's actions "the dumbest thing I ever saw."

Steindl and other officers searched the Casino Beach – a neighborhood beach just off Shore Road – on Sunday and again Monday, and found nothing.

“We kind of think it was a one-time thing,” said Police Chief Neil Williams. He suspects someone was either getting rid of the bomb or wanted to see it blow up.

Steindl said the investigation is considering all possibilities for how it got to the beach, including washing up from a boat or being intentionally brought to the beach by someone.

“This is not a terrorist bomb,” said Gale. “Kids do it and they’re going to keep doing it.”

That is his theory – some neighbors mentioned they heard fireworks on the beach Saturday night, and Gale’s trash collection efforts turned up some bottle-rocket debris in nearby rocks.

Edes, from the bomb squad, said pipe bombs are more than just fireworks. "A real pipe bomb is going above and beyond" usual mischief, he said. "We don't see a lot of them just as jokes. When you're dealing with pipe bombs, you're usually dealing with some bad actors."

Cape police have distributed leaflets in the immediate neighborhood, with a picture of the pipe bomb and a warning to people not to touch “anything remotely resembling this.” Instead, people should stay away from it and call police, at 767-3323.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

221 graduate from South Portland

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (June 9, 2005): South Portland High School graduated 221 seniors Sunday, in ceremonies marked by bright skies, cool breezes and beach balls bouncing among the graduates.

The first diploma was awarded to the family of Anthony Varanelli, a member of the class who died during freshman year.

Honor Essayist Jeana Petillo challenged her classmates to contribute to society. “Giving back is something we can all do, regardless of where we are going next year,” she said.

“Everyday people will continue to influence and inspire others with small acts of kindness,” she said.

Honor Essayist Leia Crosby, who recently returned from a semester in Thailand, echoed the theme, urging her fellow graduates to “have an open mind and an open heart and the courage to take risks.”

She recited a quote from the diploma she received at the end of her Thailand semester: "To live is to risk dying, to hope is to risk despair, and to try is to risk failure. But only a person who risks is free."

She said the school had given them a good foundation on which to build their futures. “South Portland High School has not just given us an education; it has taught us to develop our education on our own,” Crosby said.

Class Salutatorian Shana Kieran, who said she is “going back to basics these days,” told of the recent rediscovery of her favorite childhood book, “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney.

It is a picture book about a girl who dreams of growing up, going off to see the world, settling by the sea, but has been taught that “she must do something to make the world more beautiful,” Kieran said.

So when she gets older, Miss Rumphius settles by the sea and plants lupin seeds all up and down a hillside outside of town.

“Once in a while we need to get outside of ourselves,” Kieran said, reminding her classmates, teachers and assembled friends and relatives that the class “began our freshman year on Sept. 4, 2001.”

“Over the last four years our awareness of terror and fear have been heightened,” she said. “This is a time when we need people to do things,” like improving the world and helping people gain understanding of each other.

She said there are a lot of groups, even in the school, with people divided by political lines, social issues, class, race and even “people who listen to rap, people who listen to country.”

“Be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking,” she said, suggesting that people do something to make the world better. “It’s not about fixing the world or eliminating evil,” just making things nicer for each other, she said.

Valedictorian Tim Cahill began his address by invoking the age group that has been called “the greatest generation” – the people who were young adults at the beginning of World War II and faced huge challenges that they rose to and overcame.

“Our generation comes of age at a time of uncertainty and fear,” said Cahill. “The challenges for us are great.”

But, he said, in his own class there are “ordinary people already doing extraordinary things.”

He praised nearly two dozen of his classmates by name, and the rest by association, saying they are working in a wide range of ways to make South Portland and the world better places.

He said Hannah Dunphy has "devoted countless number of hours" with Amnesty International, leading the school's group and representing all Maine students to the larger organization.

He told of Shana Kieran and the Key Club's efforts to make money and give it to needy causes, and of Matt Fitzpatrick, "who is too young to join the Marines" but volunteers on weekends training and recruiting others, and will join when he can.

Cahill honored the achievements of Seth York, who will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; Martha Shaw, who is joining the Air Force; the class's three Eagle Scouts, Nick Meyer, Sam Jackson and James Kemer; and Kyle Dixon, owner of his own landscaping business and a dedicated volunteer in the community.

He recognized the artistic ability of graffiti artist Eli Shank, whose work can be seen at the legal tagging wall in Portland, and on the class of 2005 T-shirts; and Tyler Dyment's caricatures and Ben Braley's photography.

Cahill told of athletic prowess, too: record-setting track athletes Courtney Albin and Eric Giddings, Whitney Morrow's 1,000-point basketball career, and columnist and softball star Amanda Aceto.

Some students have other interests, too, Cahill said: "Annie Clancy is the heart and soul of all our auditorium performances. Alex Trout is the go-to guy for any kind of technical assistance. ... Casey Doucette and Jeana Petillo work harder than anyone will ever know to keep our class fired up and on track."

He pointed to two students in particular for extending the reach of South Portland High School around the globe: Leia Crosby, who spent a semester in Thailand, and Xibei Ding, who moved to Maine from China this year. "They have shown us how to be citizens of the world," Cahill said.

Two wars, two generations, one flag

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (June 9, 2005): When Sgt. First Class Garth MacDonald leaves his bunker in Iraq to go on a mission, he takes with him a rare artifact: a Maine state flag that was carried by a soldier in Vietnam more than 30 years ago – his uncle Jim.

MacDonald, a 1986 Scarborough High School graduate, is a member of the 716th Military Police Battalion, part of the 101st Airborne Division, based in Fort Campbell, Ky. He is now on his second tour in Iraq, and is again in Mosul, helping train Iraqi police officers, who do their jobs under constant threats to their lives and families.

Although the circumstances surrounding the wars and their lives are different, MacDonald's service runs parallel in many ways to that of his uncle. Although they both won medals for bravery, neither MacDonald nor his uncle talk much about them. They have at times used the same words in correspondence with family. And carrying a Maine flag has been important to both of them.

When Jim went over to Vietnam – he had dropped out of college and volunteered to fight – he wanted a Maine state flag. Carol called state officials, asking them to send a flag to her brother.

She got nowhere, and ended up calling Gorham Flag Company, whose owner not only hand-delivered the flag to her, he gave her a discount on the purchase.

That flag went to Vietnam and flew there, and returned home safely with Jim.

“When Garth went over the first time, Jim couldn’t find the flag,” so Carol sent another, new Maine state flag to him in Iraq. Garth wanted the flag, and his mother wanted him to have it, to pass on the tradition.

When he came home in April 2004 after about a year in Iraq, she went to greet him in Kentucky, but Garth got to Maine first: His homecoming flight stopped to refuel in Bangor, and “he was very proud to say he was from Maine.”

After some time at home in Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and three sons, just over the state line from the fort, the family headed up to Maine’s North Woods to unwind and reconnect.

“We knew it was just a matter of time before he’d have to go back, but you don’t think about that,” Carol said.

By the second time Garth was heading to Iraq – in January – Jim (who lives in Presque Isle) had cleaned his attic and found the flag, the same flag he had flown in Vietnam.

Now that flag hangs on the wall in Garth’s office bunker, and goes on missions when he leaves the base.

The similarities between her son and her brother startle Carol, and make her smile with pride. Both men went through jump school, and are quiet about their combat medals.

On his first tour, MacDonald, a career soldier, earned a Bronze Star for courage under fire during a firefight with Shiite militants in Karbala in October 2003, during which his battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Kim Orlando, was killed, along with two other soldiers.

“Garth drove his Humvee between incoming fire and the wounded,” shielding them from the enemy, said his mother, Carol MacDonald.

His uncle did a similarly brave thing in Vietnam, calling in fire on his own position during a firefight. He didn't tell her about it for decades – not until Carol told him about Garth’s medal.

“These folks who get these medals are never overjoyed,” she said.

Jim told her he thought he could have avoided the dangerous situation for which he was honored. Garth, who will be 38 in October, told his mother, “I just did what I had to do.”

There are differences too, mostly in the circumstances surrounding their service. Jim signed up for an unpopular war, and his family was left with little emotional support and only rare contacts with him.

“We didn’t have e-mails. You waited for the mud-coated letter with that red dust,” Carol remembered. She has a single picture of her brother during his service.

By contrast, Garth has slideshows of his service on his laptop computer, Carol is part of a Kentucky-based Family Readiness Group by e-mail, and the two are often in touch by e-mail. Carol has even figured out how to make the technology keep her even closer: She sends Garth greeting cards through the America Online service, which tells her when he has picked up the message, even if he doesn’t write back right away.

But the similarities keep coming. “Just before Jim came home, he sent me a letter and at the end of it he said, ‘Keep the faith,’” Carol recalled. Though he had never heard about that letter, Garth used the same three words to end an e-mail he sent when on his way home from his first tour in Iraq.

Both have cared for the flag. “This one he will bring home and give back to Jim,” Carol said. “He may live in another state, but Maine has always been his home.”

“I feel about my son the same way I did about my brother,” Carol said. “They go away, they shoot people, they come back changed forever. … That’s the saddest part.”

Editorial: No vacancy

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (June 9, 2005): The Scarborough Planning Board’s concern over what happens to the present Wal-Mart building is well-placed, especially now that the board has approved a new, 24-hour super Wal-Mart that will be built across the street.

Wal-Mart’s operation in Maine started relatively small, with a 114,000-square-foot store on Payne Road in 1992

Since then, the company has opened 11 department stores, 11 Supercenters and three Sam’s Clubs around the state, in locations from Biddeford to Presque Isle.

Wal-Mart apparently has even bigger plans for Maine, with a regional distribution center in Lewiston, a 24-hour Supercenter proposed in Scarborough and a similar one not five miles away in Westbrook, all in the works.

Earlier this year, the company vacated a 93,000-square-foot building on 17 acres in Waterville, to head to a new 207,000-square-foot Supercenter nearby.

Now that’s happening in Scarborough, too. But what is to come of the existing building? Could a company, which as of January had 325 vacant buildings nationwide totaling 25 million square feet, leave this one vacant for a long time?

If it did, that would leave a large black mark right in the middle of prime retail territory. That’s what residents, businesses and town officials are worried about, and what the Planning Board has moved to control.

The board has that option only because the two store locations are so close together that Wal-Mart itself needs to run the road to the new store across the existing store’s parking lot.

So the board has cleverly applied the rules about approving projects, granting approval for the road with conditions that would allow them effectively to close a portion of it if they don’t like what’s going on at the old store – even if that is nothing.

That gives Wal-Mart a real incentive to do something with the store, and fast. In fact, the company says it is close to a deal already, and may have something set up within the next 90 days, though the new store will take months to build.

It’s true that the location, right on Payne Road, in what has become the retail destination area around the Maine Mall, is profitable and likely desirable. And all the people heading to Wal-Mart will pretty much have to drive right by the old one. That’s quite a carrot for developers, though the expense of converting or refitting such a large building might make them look just a little ways down Payne Road to some of the vacant land.

The Planning Board’s efforts give Scarborough a stick to go with the carrot.

Covering the city

Readers will notice this week that we have added two special contributors who will help us improve our coverage of South Portland, without losing our focus on Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth.

Alan D. Johnson is a former publicist and reporter, most recently contributing to his previous community’s newspaper in Florida, and has covered a wide range of topics.

Leora Zucker, a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces, is a student at Southern Maine Community College, where she is involved with the campus newspaper, the Beacon. Both live in South Portland.

We welcome them to our family of writers, and look forward to working with both of them.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Editorial: What are they on?

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (June 2, 2005): You have to admire the gall of the Cape Elizabeth High School student government, who asked point-blank for a rule change that would let students drink, smoke and do drugs more often, with fewer consequences.

And you have to wonder why the school administration and School Board have begun actually considering such a change.

While the present substance-abuse policies are incomplete – they don’t address third offenses, for example – and vague in places, the students’ proposed changes aren’t the way to fix them.

What the students want is clearly laid out in the proposal from the Student Advisory Council: “if substances are used at any time when the participant is not under contract, i.e. between or before seasons, the consequences outlined below do not apply.”

Of course, the students want each contract to last only for a single season, rather than all year long, as is now the case. That lets them take advantage of the “between or before seasons” time and drink all they want.

And then: Rather than a first offense (except if a student turns herself in) being the end of the season for the student, the SAC wants that to happen upon a second offense. Only upon a third offense – rather than the present rules’ second infraction – would a student be kicked off all teams for the rest of the year.

It gets better: “‘Extra-curricular’ identifies with many activities offered at Cape Elizabeth High School, but to be consistent, a student is only suspended from activities in which they represent the school or compete in.” So students could still participate in non-competitive school activities, no matter how many times they get caught drinking.

But, after a clause that does require teen hosts of parties to face consequences, comes the real kicker: “(Note: those under contract who attend a party but do not abuse substances are not subject to the consequences of this policy.)”

It sounds like they're just trying to protect the innocent people at parties. But what it really means is that if a student denies he was drinking, smoking or doing drugs, and no one else comes forward to say otherwise, the only music they’ll face is the singing of Cape fans as they march onto the playing field once again.

Who’s going to come forward and snitch on her friends? Nobody. So the proposed policy is completely ineffective, which is just what the students want.

Let’s remember: Drinking and doing drugs are illegal. The schools can’t condone it in any way, even by loosening the rules.

This is, you will recall, the town that is home to dozens of teens who went wild at Sugarloaf over New Year’s 2003, drawing the ire of the Carrabassett Valley police chief, who was not only upset at the teens but also at the parents who refused to go pick up their wayward children.

It is also a town in which locals of all ages are charged with OUI just about every week, and at least one young person every week – often someone under 18 – gets a summons for illegal possession or transportation of alcohol. (Check the Current’s police logs for details.)

Well-known party spots abound, but when police or school officials intervene, parents have been known to get upset not at their children but at the authorities trying to keep order and enforce the law.

While teen drinking and drug abuse are not unique to Cape, other towns are handling the issue very differently.

In Westbrook recently, when seven top basketball players were caught drinking, those players – and the whole team – had to pay the price. The school board upheld the decision, despite parents’ appeals. The players were suspended from the playoffs, and the team was knocked out of competition.

In South Portland last month, a 17-year-old man was badly beaten with a baseball bat at a party where there was underage drinking, leading the schools to consider strengthening – not weakening – their rules.

But under the Cape students’ proposal, only people unlucky enough to be both over 18 and actually summoned for possession of drugs or alcohol would be punished. (State juvenile-justice laws prevent police from telling school officials the names of those under 18 who get summonses for possession.)

The Cape School Board has some tough questions to answer in their review of the substance-abuse policies: What about the students who commit third offenses? Why don’t the consequences of an infraction in the spring carry over into the fall? Should students who turn themselves in get a lighter punishment?

But the real questions they must answer are these: How did you allow a group of high school students to get you to even consider gutting your alcohol policy? Why did you not just say no?

Jeff Inglis, editor