As we approach the November election date I thought I'd write one of my occasional updates about my perspective on some of the ballot issues and how the Camden Select Board is functioning.
First off, in these times of extreme political differences let me say how wonderful it is to work for the town on a board that is not elected via partisan politics.
Even though our five members are wide-ranging in their political viewpoints, it's a pleasure to work together with four other considerate, dedicated people that never allow partisan feelings to interfere in our discussions, negotiations and votes.
Instead of having to stay within political boundaries that very often have nothing to do with the problems that seriously need attending to, we can all focus on one thing — doing the best job for the town of Camden and its citizens.
How refreshing and rewarding.
Probably the issue I've gotten the most questions about recently is the proposed ban on plastic bags and fee for paper bags.
People often suggest we need something bigger to deal with the plastic problem and wouldn't the problem be solved with more attention to littering?
Here are my thoughts.
I've always felt that progress is made in small steps. And often taking small measured steps is the best way to build a foundation for the work that needs to be done.
Yes, the plastic bag ordinance is a small step, but a very important one.
The Camden Conservation Commission, a very dedicated group of town citizens, formed a subcommittee to dive into researching the problem so we could make an educated decision about this issue, not an emotional one.
Their research showed that eliminating just plastic bags and keeping paper bags, as was done in some of our neighboring towns, didn't eliminate the use of single use bags (the goal here is to increase the use of reusable bags). People just switched to paper. That doesn't help us much ecologically. (And it increased the use of additional use of paper bags so much that Hannaford, in the Maine towns that just have a plastic bag ban, is going to start charging on their own for paper bag use.)
So if voted in, our ordinance will eliminate plastic bags and charge for large food size bags.
Note however, that our research also included talking to our town retailers that depend so much on tourist sales.
Smaller size paper bags that are ecologically much less damaging than grocery store size bags will be allowed in those stores at no cost to consumers.
I genuinely feel that we have one of the most thoughtful and most balanced bag ordinances that's been written in the state.
And my reply for the people that ask why don't we just enforce our littering laws — we do. We try. And we're trying harder. Littering is against the law. As a matter of fact it's been against the law my entire life, everywhere I've lived. It's sad that so many people don't seem to care. It's a different issue than plastic bags; I wish I had an answer on how to solve it.
As regards eliminating polystyrene containers. One simple fact about plastic was all I needed to know to champion that additional plastic ban. Plastics break down over thousands and thousands of years but sooner than that they become microbeads in the ocean. Scientists are now finding that virtually all shellfish now contain those microbeads in their systems. If you love our Maine shellfish - and I certainly do - then let's stop feeding them (and us) plastic.
Regarding the articles that make minor adjustments in the charter, the planning board and zoning? Those are the items that the select board (and where appropriate, the planning board, the town manager and / or the town attorney) studied closely and voted onto the ballot to simplify or correct (align with state law) specific situations.
In the case of the Mary E.Taylor school building zoning, the change allows the building to be repurposed properly if the bond for that is passed.
How do I feel about the proposed bond / fix for the MET school?
As I do with everything I try to find out as much as I can about the situation and then make a decision.
Right now the Zenith student program, adult education and our education administration are all crammed into the Bus Barn.
Which leaves no room for the building to be the Bus Barn. (A repair facility for our school buses).
But there's not enough space and absolutely not enough appropriate educational space for the students and administration so they need to move.
There are two ways to accomplish this properly.
Vote to do a substantial and proper restoration of the MET school.
Or if this bond doesn't pass, the school board will come to voters in the few years to build a new building on land owned by the schools by the high school.
Pros and cons?
If a new building is built, it, as of this moment, would be less expensive. But in a few years, the cost of building will continue to rise and a new building won't be much, if any cheaper than redoing MET.
But a new building would be designed to fit the tenants needs exactly and would be smaller and probably less expensive to operate.
However, redoing the MET building would be faster. It might not be a perfect fit but it would come pretty close for the education tenants.
It would also preserve an older building in Camden which otherwise will be torn down (not an ecologically great move).
And for someone serving Camden on the Select Board - where I need to consider this vote from a town perspective - I also realize that the jobs and the people using the building would be in downtown Camden. Within walking distance of main street, our local businesses and housing.
Not much available to walk to in Rockport by the high school. Which means more driving and more cars.
Although it's nice to go for perfection, in this situation, if MET is properly restored, it's a better deal for Camden.
One last point, a wonderful thing to realize, if we restore the MET building we're done with upgrading our school system. We'll have exceptional facilities for all of our students well into the middle of the 21st Century.
How wonderful is that!
One of my favorite parts of serving on the select board is interacting with so many people that serve on various town committees. Besides the select board meetings I try to attend all the meetings on committees that I liaison with the Downtown Design Group, Camden Conservation Commission, Opera House Committee, Energy Committee and the Planning Board and when I can I stop by other meetings as well. We are so fortunate to have so many dedicated people volunteering their time for the benefit of all.
Just some of the benefits these people have produced over the last couple of years — our town solar farm, our new 'dark skies' street lights downtown, our plastic bag and polystyrene ordinances, our signs in the harbor informing boaters of our free pumpout policy, the mini medallions on our sidewalks and streets (look for them) by the street drains reminding that they drain directly into the ocean, the interns that worked so hard over the last couple of summers to clean up our water systems and prepare us for the emerald ash borer pest and the wonderful bookings and new programs at the Opera House.
There's more to come.
What a lucky town we are and I'm delighted to serve on your select board. Thank you for the honor.
Marc Ratner serves on the Camden Select Board