2005 November 25
by Marie Jones Holmes
The Washington County Economic Summit 2005, sponsored by the Sunrise County Economic Council, attracted a variety of speakers and over 100 participants to the November 18 event in Machias. The welcome address was given by Dr. Cindy Huggins, president of the University of Maine at Machias.
Keynote speaker Governor John Baldacci spoke about a number of programs that are under way in Washington County, including funding for the customs operation in Calais, the Department of Transportation's improvements to Route 1 in Robbinston and Perry, and the passage of a $1 million bond for a secondary vocational school in Jonesboro.
Baldacci's presentation appeared to be more optimistic than the just released report by David Flanagan concerning the needs of Washington County. Flanagan was appointed by the governor last year as his personal representative to the county and was charged with the task of preparing a report on economic development in Washington County. Flanagan's report is supportive of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in Washington County. Baldacci mentioned LNG in his address, but did not discuss it at length. Baldacci, in reviewing the report which was recently completed, said, "We have an opportunity to plan for things rather than doing them in a haphazard way."
During the day, the governor did meet separately with the Save Passamaquoddy Bay 3-Nation Alliance. The group submitted a list of formal requests. The governor was asked to: declare that all development activities related to LNG in Passamaquoddy Bay cease immediately, pending the outcome of the Whole Bay Study due in the spring of 2006 and the Bay Management Study due in January 2007; send this declaration to New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord and re-energize a process for Maine-New Brunswick joint ventures focused on tourism and natural resource development; send a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stating that Passamaquoddy Bay is not presently an eligible site for LNG and request that they remove notations of sites on their "prospective list"; seek support of this position from Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Reps. Michael Michaud and Tom Allen; set the leadership model for state's rights in relation to siting decisions; explore a pipeline spur to Domtar for creation of an ecologically appropriate co-generation facility; support the Whole Bay Study personal support and state funding; declare Passamaquoddy Bay a state cultural and ecological treasure; and support continued evolution of the creative economy, eco-tourism, nature tourism and cultural tourism in collaboration with DESTINY 2010 and FERMATA reports, with the bay as a central feature.
The governor was also asked to: support exploration of sustainable energy (tidal, solar, wind, biomass), and consider Washington County the state center for design, pilot projects in Green Community and Green Coast experimentation and light manufacturing of resulting sustainable energy products; support an information mission to Gussing, Austria, to explore that city's economic success; sponsor a conference on creative sustainable development in rural communities; appoint Valerie Carter as Washington County liaison to the governor's office and support her presence in Washington County once a month; involve persons who are engaged in businesses and organizations and actually developing the area in conversations about the future; reach beyond the recently appointed economic development group for information on present area development and ideas for future sustainable development; set the pattern to erase language and mind set that constantly place Washington County in a negative position; and begin to accentuate the positives that exist in the county.
A presentation at the summit that attracted much interest was given by Dr. Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at the Regional Economic Studies Institute of Towson University in Towson, Md. Irani conducted an economic impact analysis for an existing rural LNG terminal at Cove Point on the Chesapeake Bay. His study focused on the facility's impacts on local property values. Irani says such a study is important. While he recommended studying the literature on such matters, he said many factors may not be applicable to Washington County. Simplifying his various economic models, he said noticeability is likely to cause a loss in property values. "If you can notice it, smell it, it will likely affect property values."
Judith East of the Washington County Council of Governments described tourism as "one slice of the pie in Washington County." She noted that sometimes tourism gets a bad rap in that people associate it with low wages and skills. But throughout the United States there is a positive relationship between recreation and resident workers' earnings. East told the group, "We have something here that is very special. We can sell it better, and we can understand it better." There are nature-based, cultural and historic tourism opportunities. Washington County needs to become more than a "pass-through" point.
Other suggestions included a trip-planning guidebook, an evaluation of existing festivals and fairs and the development of new ones. A one-cent gas tax devoted to a Washington County marketing fund was another suggestion.
Pleasant Point Tribal Governor Melvin Francis said there could be cooperative projects in the county. He noted that the tribe is often able to obtain federal funding that is not available to the rest of the county. "I am open to any business that wants to come to Washington County," stated Francis. "When you talk about resources and development, people have lots of different ideas. How do we make it happen?"
Francis pointed out that there is not enough economic base in Washington County to retain the young people in the county. "This [youth] is a precious resource that is being utilized elsewhere." The tribe is looking at its blueberry holdings as an entrance into the natural food market. Aviation manufacturing is also being considered. A new interest is building panels constructed out of crushed glass. "This is an exciting time for us," commented Francis.
Sebastian Belle of the Maine Aquaculture Association told the group that commercial fishing landings are flat and by 2030 50% of the seafood consumed in the world will be produced by aquaculture. At this time 70% of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported. Seafood is the second largest contributor to the U.S. trade deficit. Aquaculture holds promise that within the next three decades it could produce most of the world's marine produce. Belle says Maine needs a comprehensive multi-agency aquaculture development plan with a dedicated staff and funding. "We need the political will to prioritize aquaculture development."