Joe’s Journal

Dear Governor Janet Mills

Posted:  Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 10:00am
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Dear Governor,

I know you just moved into your new job, and have a lot on your plate, what with the Legislature and all that entails.

We all know it is a big job with lots of responsibilities and expectations. Seems there are lots of folks who expect you to wave a magic wand and solve all the problems in the Great State of Maine.

Most of us old geezers know better. We have seen the “Committee To Do This,” and “Citizens United Against That,” raise an uproar, get lots of TV air time, but we see little change. (The groups seem to get more air time when they have cute babies or matching shirts, but that is just a personal observation and probably doesn’t mean much in the long run.)

No, this message is not about a big deal, like climate change or the Second Amendment. I won’t ask you to wade into the thicket that has twisted the knickers of our church-going friends in recent months.

Sorry for rambling along, but I wanted to let you know of a situation in our towns that isn’t getting much attention and rates some executive action. Or, maybe the word is executive non-action.

As you know, our coastal communities depend on folks from away coming here and exercising their gold cards at our shops, motels, and restaurants.

They come, take all our parking places, and wander around the shops for a while until they take a boat ride and see the whales, seals, and lighthouses. Then they sit down and eat a lobster and some steamed clams and spend the night at a motel or B&B.

The next day they grab breakfast, look at the harbor, other tourists, and wonder what to do next.

Now, all winter along, our friends at the Chamber of Commerce scratch their heads thinking of what they can do to get our visitors to stay another day and spend a few more dollars.

We have Windjammer Days, and that committee does a good job bringing in tourists. Ms. Kathy at the Opera House does a super job booking top entertainers. Don’t miss the “Kruger Brothers” this summer. Top notch pickers, they are. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a huge attraction bringing thousands to smell the roses and wander through the wonders of nature, summer, and winter.

We are trying to attack our community’s concerns, and we all know community engagement can be a bit messy, but in the off season, we love to argue over things like the design of a highway intersection or the shape and size of someone else’s business.

We are working on the big problems too, like trying to save the lives of those seduced by the wicked wiles of opioids and solve the double-barreled dilemma of big old school buildings and fewer students.

Of course, you know all this stuff. But, there is one local attraction that is in danger of disappearing, and you can fix it with a stroke of a pen.

It is no secret that people from away seem to love the unique, quirky, and sometimes old fashioned things that abound in our great state.

Last summer, the national TV folks came to our community and spent time focusing on one of these unique, quirky, and decidedly old fashioned attractions that we love.

I am referring to the Barters Island Bridge, the last hand-operated bridge in Maine.

It is an 86-year-old, 110-foot-long, steel pony truss swing bridge carrying traffic over Back River. During the summer, a real human, not a computer, stops the cars and inserts a long steel pole into a slot in the bridge decking. Then he or she starts walking in a circle. By walking round and round, the tender engages the gears and the bridge swings open, allowing fishermen and other boaters access to the Sheepscot River.

Tourists, especially those eating a lobster roll at the Trevett Store, love it. So do we.

In the coming weeks, your DOT engineers plan to spend a couple of years and more than $8 million of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to rip up and replace it.

I guess I am asking why are your folks doing it in the first place. Is it falling down? Have there been lots of accidents there? Is it a danger to traffic? Admittedly, there is not a lot of significant truck traffic waiting to go to Barters Island.

I am sure there are lots of places where you could spend $8 million and do a lot of good. Maybe you could just send it over to our schools and help them fix the HVAC system. Or, you could just save it for a rainy day.

“If it ain’t broke…”