Joe’s Journal

Here we go again

Posted:  Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 9:15am

In 2011, the Norwegian energy giant, Statoil, announced it planned to build a four-unit floating wind farm 12 miles off the coast of Boothbay Harbor. The projected cost was about $120 million.

For two years, they jumped through all the hoops with state regulators, until they ran into an obstacle named Gov. Paul LePage. The gov just didn’t like the project at all, and he put the kibosh on it.

Last month, Statoil cut the ribbon on a similar project 15 miles off the coast of Scotland. They built five 850-foot tall floating wind turbines that will generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes. The cost was somewhere in the neighborhood of $253 million.

Would the wind farm have been a good deal for Boothbay Harbor? What would have been the effect on our taxes? Would it have been good business for our marine industries? How about our hospitality businesses? Would it have been an obstacle for our fishermen? What about folks on the shore? Would it have interfered with their view?   

We will never know for it was blocked before we could find out.  

Today, our community is facing another development project, although this one is a lot closer to home. Some want this to go away too.

Paul Coulombe is floating a proposal to redevelop the east side of Boothbay Harbor.

Once again, we are facing change. Some think it is a good idea, a lot of people don’t like it one bit. Neither side is reluctant to speak up, in person, in my favorite newspaper, and online.

On one hand, there are folks who believe the developer when he says he is investing in our community in hopes others will follow suit. He acknowledges there has been little new major investment in the harbor in decades. Some folks say they are glad someone is stepping up to the plate to update our facilities and add to the tax base.

The developer has done just that. In addition to buying and upgrading the golf course, which was in foreclosure and in danger of becoming a housing development or a forest, he bought and overhauled the old Rocktide giving it a major makeover.

Then, he got behind an old Maine DOT proposal to redesign the confusing intersection by the Boothbay Town Office, where Route 27, Country Club Road, Corey Lane, and Back River came together.

After a series of more than contentious meetings where everyone chimed in, the town voted to approve a roundabout. Coulombe picked up a third of the cost of the $3 million project.

It is almost complete and seems to be working pretty well, especially after they removed the phone poles from the middle of the street.

In addition to his construction projects, Coulombe has donated a bushel of bucks to our local charities including my favorites, providing scholarships for all the school kids at the “Y,” building new docks for lobstermen at Cozy Harbor, and opening up 75 rooms at the old Rocktide, now the Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort, to folks who lost power during the recent windstorm.

By most accounts, he will never recoup his investment.

Some of those opposing his proposals for the harbor’s east side just don’t like him. They think he is a rich guy who is throwing his weight (and checkbook) around expecting our town to bow down to his wishes. Others don’t like him because “he is from away,” as if a longtime summer resident from Lewiston doesn’t count. Who does he think he is to waltz in and change our town, is another argument.

The east side of the harbor was once a working waterfront, home to shipyards that sent huge four-masted schooners around the world. Today, only one major shipyard calls the harbor home and it is on the west side. The bulk of the region’s ship construction and repair are housed in East Boothbay and Southport.

Despite the zoning ordinances favoring working waterfront businesses over tourist amenities, only a handful of east side fishing facilities have survived. We all know we need to grow our economic base and create more jobs.

In many ways, we are no longer a picturesque New England fishing town. Some believe we are on the way to becoming a retirement community dependent upon seniors and tourism to pay to educate our kids and provide the money for municipal services.

Several years ago, we lost out on a huge project that might have been an economic jackpot, or a bust.  We will never know the answer to that question.

Paul Coulombe is just asking for us to listen to his plans. Before we shoot him down, shouldn’t we at least listen to what he has to say?