Friday, September 16, 2005

Islanders at forum keen on secession

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

CUMBERLAND - Crowds of Chebeague Island residents have come to the mainland recently to argue against a proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal in their backyard and a plan to downsize the island school. On Thursday, about 100 islanders again took the ferry over to make their opinions known to the Town Council. This time the issue was whether Chebeague should cut its 184-year-old ties to Cumberland and become self-governing.

Islanders said this movement is different.

"It doesn't feel like a reaction . . .," Herb Maine, an island resident, told the council. "It feels like an action."

He was one of about 30 people who spoke at a public hearing on whether Casco Bay's largest unbridged island, with a year-round population of about 350 people, should secede from Cumberland.

Most of the people who crowded into the council chamber were islanders, but some were mainland residents. A handful represented small islands that Chebeague wants to take with it if it secedes.

Most speakers favored secession.

Islanders said their needs and the town's are too far apart, citing last year's proposal to build an LNG facility on nearby Hope Island and the school district's plan for the island's school as examples.

Neither proposal became reality, but islanders said they had to fight to make town and school officials understand the negative impact those proposals would have had on their community. "They did not come to us and say, 'How is this going to affect you?' " said Dave Stevens, another islander.

A couple of islanders spoke against secession. Michael Porter called the secession proposal "not well thought out, unrealistic and potentially dangerous." He said the island doesn't have enough money, know-how or volunteers to run its own school and town.

But other islanders said they already are self-sufficient, having built their own library, historical society museum, recreation center and assisted living facility.

Peter Bingham, a mainland resident, said he wants Chebeague to remain with Cumberland. If the two do part, he said he wanted a financial settlement that is "fair to both parties."

Town Manager William Shane said it probably will be months before the impact of secession on the town's tax rate can be calculated. His estimate now ranges from zero impact to a 90-cent increase in the tax rate.

The public hearing is just the second step in the secession process outlined by state law. More than 80 percent of the island's 336 registered voters petitioned the town for the hearing.

The council said it plans to hold at least one more public hearing. The next one will be in October, probably on the island.

On Nov. 8, residents of the island and mainland will vote in an advisory referendum on secession. The results will be tallied separately and the islanders' vote will take precedence.

If more than 50 percent of islanders want secession and the Town Council approves the request, the matter goes to the Legislature. If the council opposes the proposal, the issue will go to mediation, with the Legislature the final arbiter.

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at: