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[Published in __ on dated November 2003. Written by (© 2003) Sandy Garson]

HARPSWELL AND THE INCREDIBLE HULK

      Although after 29 years I no longer live in Maine, I have been pressed by several who still do to write something to my former neighbors caught in a controversy probably best described as Beauty and the Beast. The incredible hulk has appeared asking to marry Harpswell and folks are in a frenzy of what to do? What to do?

      I do not have as many hard facts as a journalist should but I hear the people asked to decide on this pairing don’t have many either. The government of the community has given its governed only information from the folks who want to do the deal, like public relations flacks for those companies. They’re from the government and they want to help you.

      Well, there is a problem. The state’s heavy hand on property tax valuations plus the sonic boom in waterfront real estate has afflicted the old timers of Harpswell very badly. And it wasn’t nice when the snide folks up in The County who’d already got their farmland tax abatement and the smug folks up in the woods already enjoying theirs too meanly over-whelmed the coastal people with a No! vote on equal property tax relief for working waterfront.

      Now, the hard nosed and hard headed money driven megacorporations are galloping to the rescue with a dowry that will pay the town’s legal fees for letting them in, a bonus for condoning the marriage, a bigger something for nothing bonanza for two years after that plus money to make a park somewhere else (on land they have already optioned!). Just for the swell of it, they promise half a million a year for three years to a “community investment fund”, then year after year up to $100,000 for pocket spending money over and above $8 million in taxes. And oh yes, a cellular phone tower too!

      Wampum sure has changed a lot since the Indians let Manhattan Island go for cowrie shells. But one thing never changes: the old childhood rule that you should never take candy from a stranger and you should definitely NEVER get in the car with him. It is just not going to end well and for your benefit.

      As a grownup who’s been in the marriage marketplace, I also know the corollary: when a suitor starts sweet talking you in that blizzard of promises called a snow job, you’re skidding into big trouble. You need to find out what’s under the sugar coating: why is he so desperate that you are being bludgeoned with blandishments?

      Funny how now that the Selectmen have gone for the ride, one is getting a little indigestion from all the candy and it’s causing a little insight. He says he’s “angry and worried” because the hulk’s handlers are “making a pullback of commitment.”

      Promises, as any lady knows, are made to be broken by sweet talking men quick with them, Don Juans who do whatever it takes to win you, romance then drop you, shirking any responsibility or commitment. It’s the same old story, probably old as time, only what’s new these days is the switch from guys and gals to multinational corporations and small communities.

      Newspapers are littered with these tales of broken promises and hearts. I read that already other mega-corps behind a natural gas installation in Nova Scotia have traded their cotton candy handouts for holdouts on paying their tax assessments by repeatedly appealing them. I also read intimations that Everett, Massachusetts has become unhappy with the LNG terminal operation they got themselves stuck with there.

      I know about the sneaky language that makes the evasions possible. When I wrote about celebrities for national magazines, I had to carefully use the words may, could or would or should to avoid being pinned down to did, will or is. Nobody can legally hold you to those theoretical words.

      These are definitely blowing in the Fairwinds. The project people are saying: “It’s in our best interest to fill all the positions we possibly can from the Harpswell community” but that doesn’t mean they have to or will. They say they will try to avoid crossing hard bottom but may have to blast. They are already balking at their promise to pay legal fees and saying that if they are voted into Harpswell then they’re going to change the agreement—and nobody will know how until after the vote. And the description of the project they are putting up for the lease negotiation is nonbinding.

       Harpswell residents for the marriage say: “So what, been here, done that”, referring to the jet fuel tankers that once loomed up Casco Bay to land at the fuel depot the hulk is hot for. They think the coming megatanker cavalcade no big deal, nothing new. They are right. Once again it will become hell on high water for the lobstermen and maybe boaters-- both the backbone of a tourist industry worth millions, and certainly the fish, seals and marine life that made Harpswell the magical place people paid a million to live in when the tankers left. Once again a prime portion of Harpswell coast will become an active sore spot, or maybe the wet spot everybody tries to avoid.

      There are women who let a husband love ‘em and leave ‘em with a big black eye, the way the Navy left Harpswell with a toxic dump, but should they rush back into marriage with an incredible hulk capable of breaking an arm or a fatal stab in the back? It is after all the whole messy and seemingly unsolvable problem of coping with the shameless damage the Navy did to Harpswell that’s put the town in this predicament.

      By upping the danger ante, Fairwinds is a fine example of what a friend of mine calls a duo’s dynamic: if you can’t make a situation better, make it worse. At least you’ve dealt with the problem. Then what? Once Harpswell’s neck is in an industrial noose, how can its islands resist getting hung? A fish processing plant stinking up Cundy’s Harbor, fuel tankers offloading in Mackerel Cove? How does Harpswell with all its deep waterfront then stop becoming Rockland or Oakland, California or Newark, New Jersey?

      In early November in astonishingly overwhelming numbers all the people of Maine voted NO!!!! to gambling. Why then is Harpswell gambling now? And on a jackpot of unsubstantiated and unsecured rose-colored blandishments?

      So what I want to say is: it’s always better to be safe then sorry. Even our legal system knows this, for jurors must vote NO if they have doubt. Can you answer without a doubt: what does the town have to lose in accepting this marriage proposal--and if it’s lost will you ever get it back?

      In his quest for gold King Midas touched his daughter and although he got rich quick, the story did not end well. Maybe it would be better to find a more appropriate painkiller for the taxpayers, something to kill the pain without killing Harpswell.

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