How a dead governor has stalled Portland’s park fix plans

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Here’s what’s going on.

What we’re talking about

When Maine Governor Percival Baxter gave the people of Portland a parcel of woods that had once belonged to his father on the condition that it “shall forever be kept in its natural wild state,” he was likely not thinking about overflowing sewage.

But a city effort to stop sewage overflow caused by a pipe that was run through Mayor Baxter Woods more than 50 years ago has been delayed as officials try to figure out whether the project would go against Baxter’s wishes that the land stay wild, like Baxter State Park.

 

On Tuesday, officials canceled a public meeting where they would have discussed a plan to enlarge a pond in Baxter Woods that overflows during heavy rains and causes sewers in Back Cove to run over. The meeting was put off to give Portland’s legal department time to look into whether the city can legally cut down trees in the woods, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.

The conditions of Baxter’s gift state that the park must be kept as a bird sanctuary and that no tree shall be removed save “any trees that shall fall or that may become a menace to life.” And Debra Ann Gorneault, who lives near the woods, alleged that the city’s plan, “will break a deed contract, destroy wildlife and habitat for the very birds they were instructed to protect with this deeded land.”

City arborist Jeff Tarling told BDN Portland that the plan only calls for the felling of invasive trees that will be replaced with a mix of indigenous species including oak, pine, birch and fir. By resolving a problem created when Portland decided to channel a brook that had run through the woods into a pipe around 1950, Tarling said, the park will be returned to a more natural state.

But the arborist also said he could also sympathize with people desire to protect the woods.

“Because we’re removing a tree, people have a strong emotional reaction to that,” he said. — Jake Bleiberg

 

ICYMI

 

The violence behind him, a Portland photographer looks forward through his lens — Troy Bennett literally bumped into Egide Mbabazi while covering this month’s First Friday Art Walk.

“Over coffee, a week later, I learned Mbabazi, 27, arrived in the United States from Rwanda in late December 2009. The then 20-year-old came alone, and spoke no English. He was fleeing ethnic violence at home. His father died in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

“But he made one thing clear to me. He wasn’t interested in talking about the past, only the future.

“That’s fitting for a photographer. With a camera, you can only focus on what’s in front of you. He’s left his old life behind in Rwanda. He’s building a new one, here in Maine.”

No one’s keeping track of how often ships transfer fuel in Casco Bay — Jake follows up on his story from last week about how ships that refuel out in the bay are not required to use rubber protective mats to prevent spills.

It turns out that neither of the agencies that oversee refueling in Casco Bay keeps records of how often ship-to-ship refueling occurs. They also don’t require prior notice from vessels before they refuel, even though federal law grants the Coast Guard the ability to do so.

Do you wonder whether the city’s schools are actually that bad? See for yourselfPortlanders next week will be able to take a tour of Lyseth and Presumpscot schools, along with the group of city councilors and school board members trying to find a fiscally responsible way to fund the long-needed renovation of four of the city’s aging elementary schools.

Context: Revisit Jake’s story on the 20-year battle to renovate Portland’s elementary schools.

The gentrification of East Bayside, explained in two paragraphs — Randy Billings’ story this morning about one developer’s plan to build 10 new townhouses in East Bayside includes this summary of how neighborhoods and cities often change. 

“In some ways, the story of East Bayside is the story of Portland, only on steroids. It took decades for Portland to fill empty storefronts on Congress Street and the Old Port. That resurgence was led mostly by artists, who happily took over dilapidated storefronts for studios and galleries. As the art scene grew, so did the interest of developers, and the artists were subsequently pushed out by rising rents.

“In the past five years, East Bayside has been on a similar arc, quickly becoming one of the city’s more eclectic neighborhoods with artist studios, breweries, distilleries, coffee roasters and a growing number of restaurants.”

Big ideas

‘The DNC Hack Is Watergate, but Worse’ — Franklin Foer writes in Slate: “What’s galling about the WikiLeaks dump is the way in which the organization has blurred the distinction between leaks and hacks. Leaks are an important tool of journalism and accountability. When an insider uncovers malfeasance, he brings information to the public in order to stop the wrongdoing. That’s not what happened here. The better analogy for these hacks is Watergate. To help win an election, the Russians broke into the virtual headquarters of the Democratic Party.”

‘Why Democrats and Republicans Need to Talk About Affordable Housing’ — From the Atlantic’s City Lab: “Neither Republicans nor Democrats are all that eager to put affordable housing up front as an issue at their national conventions. This is a surprise in at least two respects: Democrats and Republicans broadly disagree about what to do about housing, but have policy solutions in mind that are close to their respective ideological solutions. More importantly, Americans overwhelmingly want to hear about these solutions.”


Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

As always, like BDN Portland on Facebook for more local coverage.

 

 

Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.