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The Issues: Maine's Island Communities
As a lifelong islander, there is almost no commitment I feel more strongly about as a public servant than the responsibility to be a voice for island people and communities. I have grown up during a time when many wonderful things about island life have remained the same, while other factors essential to the future of our small communities hang in careful balance.
Over and over, I hear island people talk about the key issues that affect our communities. Some of the issues are listed below with some useful websites and pieces of information for other that may assist other islanders.
Whether by boat, ferry, or plane, those of us who live on off-shore islands face a special hurdle when it comes to doing regular errands, working, or traveling to the mainland. The State Ferry Service is a key to year-round transportation. In addition, after a brief scare and the temporary shut down of Atlantic Aviation Service to the islands, a new service, Penobscot Island Air is now up and running and delivering mail and providing transportation and emergency medical service to the Penobscot Bay Islands. Thanks and congratulations to Kevin Waters, who has taken on this important challenge for the benefit of island people!
With rising property valuations and growing summer populations, nearly every island community grapples with the issue of how to make homes and property affordable for young families and those who want to live on an island. Many islands have come up with creative affordable housing options like Vinalhaven's eldercare home and Frenchboro's family homes. One useful resource is the Genesis Community Loan Fund which just got a major grant to start the Island Fund for Affordable Housing in recognition of the unique and changing housing market on Maine's islands. Other useful resources include CEI's Affordable Housing Network, the Maine State Housing Authority, and the State Planning Office, all of which offer valuable resources for housing studies and research information.
As with the affordable housing issue, most coastal and island towns have seen significant valuation increases, thus increasing residents' property tax bills. The legislature took a major step forward in January of 2005 with the passage of LD 1, a law aimed at directing property tax relief to the communities and people who most need it through an increase in the circuit breaker program, an increase in the homestead exemption and increases in school funding. To learn more about the new law, read the Portland Press Herald's article on the new plan and visit our own Budget and Tax Issues page for additional informative resources.
Maine's island communities have some of the most successful fishing grounds in the state. Visit our Fishing Issues page for lots of facts, reports, and information on Maine's fishing industry and the preservation of our unique working waterfront.
Island schools are often the key to an island's future and success. The loss of an island school has often signaled an end to that community's year-round existence. The Island Institute has a number of useful resources for island schools including the Island Teacher Conference and the Island Fellow Program. Visit our Schools Issues page for additional resources including an article I wrote for the Rural School & Community Trust on small schools in Maine, Small Schools with Big Politics.
One new development that I hope will help islands avoid "reinventing the wheel" and provide a larger forum for island voices and activism is the Islands Coalition. The Coalition meets several times a year and consists of at least one appointed member from every year-round island community.
Fostering this increasing communication between island communities is the accessibility of online local papers. Some island papers that have online editions include Island Advantage serving Deer Isle, Stonington and Isle Au Haut, The Mount Desert Islander, and The Bar Harbor Times. There are also many off-line papers that someday may be online, including the North Haven News and The Wind (serving Vinalhaven).
Visit the websites listed below to learn more about each of the individual islands and other small communities I represent and take a look at their demographic data compiled from the town's websites and the 2003 Census data from the Bangor Daily News.
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