August 06, 2005 
Currently in Falmouth
Current temperature in FalmouthPortland, Portland International Jetport, United States
66° F
Nothing secedes like success
Edgar Allen Beem
The only thing surprising about the secession movements on Chebeague, Peaks and Cliff islands is that they have taken so long to become earnest. Yes, there has been talk of secession on the Casco Bay islands before, especially around the time Long Island successfully declared its independence from Portland back in 1993. But this time, expect it to happen ­ as it should.

Chebeague Island would be much better off on its own than as a cash cow for Cumberland, both in terms of taxation and local control. The Hope Island mutiny a few years ago by its sole owner was a self-serving and ridiculous exercise, but having Hope join Chebeague and several of the other small Calendar Islands as an island township makes sense. Islands and islanders share common needs and interests that they don't share with those of us on the mainland.

The only thing Peaks Island has in common with the city of Portland is a view of the harbor. Otherwise, Peaks is just a small town marooned within hailing distance of Maine's largest city. Let it go. Let them all go. Let them fend for themselves. And good luck to them.

When and if island secession bids get to the state Legislature for approval, the arguments to self rule will be more compelling to lawmakers than the whines about high taxes. The goal of preserving year-round island communities is a noble and worthy one, but that seems unlikely, at least in the long run. There are simply too many forces at work on the islands for them to survive as quaint backwaters of Maine's maritime past.

Look back in time and you will see that the islands in the bay were once summer retreats for Native Americans. Now they are increasingly summer retreats for a few fortunate locals and great many out-of-staters. When my parents were young, Peaks was an amusement park with a popular casino. When I was a kid, Peaks had a reputation as a welfare island, a convenient dumping ground filled with affordable housing for low-income people.

By the 1970s, the same forces ­ and often the same people ­ that transformed the derelict Old Port warehouse district into a thriving arts and entertainment district were busy transforming Peaks from a low-income off-shore neighborhood into a happening little arts colony. Artists, outlaws, and oddballs willing to put up with the inconvenience of a 20-minute ferry ride were followed to the island by creative professionals so eagerly courted these days by economic development officials. In a gentrification process repeated in Everywhere, U.S.A., artists and outsiders colonized cheap spaces, made them fashionable, then got out of the way when the tourists, summer folks, real estate developers and the economically secure began arriving.

Islanders up and down the Maine archipelago cling jealously to their schools as the anchors of their communities, as they should do. And they plan and scheme to keep boatyards open and to maintain working waterfronts for fishermen. But the forces of economic remote control are irresistible. As long as a house that costs $400,000 in Boston only costs $200,000 in Portland, we've all got a problem.

Islands are Maine in microcosm, tiny landscapes defined by water where social problems just seem to stand out in bolder relief. What happens to Maine happens first on the islands. And the future of both the Pine Tree State and its island jewels looks very much like tourism, second homes and retirement communities. Secession may spare one generation of islanders, but it will not save the next from escalating real estate values. In fact, island independence will very likely serve to make island property more attractive to the more affluent millions waiting to escape the increasingly uninhabitable cities to our south.

I wish it were otherwise, but unless islanders are willing to sell their properties to other islanders for less than fair market value, I don't see a long future for year-round island communities.
Featured Listing

Offered by:
CSM Real Estate