Topsham, ME

Money flows like water on the Boothbay Peninsula until the water doesn't flow

Mackenzie Andersen

Let history be the guide in the urban to rural migration.

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Carlos Blanco- Unsplash

The warnings about the effect of development on the water supply came in seven years ago, before the Botanical Gardens built a parking lot in the watershed, and before a large construction project reconfigured the roads in the center of town, and before Topsham rebuilt its water pumping facility when development on the peninsula was already occurring at a faster than average pace but no one paid much attention to warnings.

Once I joked that developers didn’t care about the water supply because they counted on the town making so much money from property taxes that the town could pay to pump a new water supply in from another location.

Today in the Boothbay Register, the water district announced its visions of pumping water into the Boothbay Peninsula from the Bath, Brunswick, and Topsham water districts but it is the introductory statement by water district manager Jon Zeigra that needs explaining, for the public benefit, as if the entirety of the rest of the article is there to obscure what Job Zierga says in one simple sentence, in the beginning, uttered as if a mere introduction for the rest.

While water may become scarce in the Boothbay region in a couple decades, a new $35 million treatment facility in Topsham has the potential to produce six million gallons per day and become a possible future source for additional Boothbay drinking water, according to Ziegra. The Boothbay Register- Regional pipeline part of BRWD long range water plan

The Times Record reports the Topsham water project cost $29.4 million, after being estimated to cost “up to 25 million” but the Public Notice from The Brunswick and Topsham Water District concurs with the 35 million dollar cost stated by Ziegra. Actual costs tend to exceed estimates, and estimates tend to increase over time.

The Times Record reports that “The new treatment plant will produce 4 million gallons of water per day. In 2019, the water district delivered an average of 2.26 million gallons of water per day to customers.”. That’s two million gallons short of the amount said by Ziegra.

Ziegra’s wording is that the facility has a “potential” to pump six million gallons per day while the Times Record is reporting that the Topsham facility “will produce” four million gallons per day. 

The wastewater discharge permit states that flow is limited to 4 million gallons per day.

In the Boothbay Register, Ziegra estimates that connecting a pipeline from Boothbay to Wiscasset, which is connected to the Topsham system. would cost approximately $28 million

There is not enough information to know if the water scarcity projections are based on our current rate of growth or growth factoring in the many development projects that are now being planned for our peninsula, which have only escalated since the warnings first came in, at that time about potential harm to Boothbay’s current water supplies, rather than scarcity.

Boothbay leadership will not want to hear the essential message that Mr. Zeigra just delivered, as cryptic and minimized as it is. It still screams. What did he just say? He said that the peninsula may be dealing with a water scarcity issue in the next twenty years. Yes, we the public would like to know more about that! He had to say it. He must have realized that he doesn’t have any other ethical choice, but then obscured it with a pipe dream- a literal pipe dream about a water pipe!

In the world view of Boothbay’s public-private leadership, increasing development on the peninsula is a given, not subject to discussion and so Zeigra seems in denial as he delivers the message as if it's nothing to be concerned about because we might have a solution. If Zeigra wanted to communicate that we should be concerned, he would have explained to the public where we stand now. The water supply has served us well for centuries and suddenly it might not, and so it is reasonable to conclude that there is a direct link between aggressive plans for development and water scarcity in the future. Time for a paradigm shift?

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East BoothbayMackenzie Andersen / author

An alternate culture, then and now.

East Boothbay, where I was raised, is a beautiful New England Village still preserved in the tradition of New England wisdom that Lewis Mumford writes about in The Culture of the Cities

..the New England town during this period ceased to grow beyond the possibility of socializing and assimilating its members : when near crowding, a new congregation would move off under a special pastor, erect a new meeting house, form a new village, lay out fresh fields. Hiving off to new centers discouraged congestion in the old ones ; and the further act of dividing the land among the members of the community in terms of family need, as well as wealth and rank, gave a rough equality to the members, or at least guaranteed them a basic minimum of existence….A democratic polity-and the most healthy and comely of urban environments : a typical contrast to the despotic order of the dominant baroque city. To describe it is almost to define everything that the absolute order was not.Lewis Mumford The Culture of the Cities

Today the global human population has grown larger and a new urban to rural migration is underway. The wisdom of the New England past is no longer voiced in public community discussions. Instead, it is spoken as an uncontested fact that we must continue to increase the population density of our communities even at the risk of a water shortage. We can solve that one, maybe. Let's not let it stop us from becoming the next Manhatten or Silicone Valley, if not, then maybe Marthas Vineyard.

In the past, New Englanders were not faced with the possibility of a water shortage but they sensibly prevented overcrowding simply because a spacious community makes for a better way to live.

Today? Do not worry, we are told, there is a solution to the looming water scarcity.

According to water district manager, Jon Ziegra. the $35 million treatment facility in Topsham has the potential to produce six million gallons per day and become a possible future source for additional Boothbay drinking water”.

As noted above, he is talking potentiality, not actuality.

According to USGS, an average person uses 80–100 gallons per day Six million gallons per day should serve 60 to 70 thousand people. Four million gallons per day serves only 40 to 50 thousand people.

Population figures from before the current real estate boom (2010–2019) put the combined population of Topsham, Bath, and Brunswick at 37,500. Zeigra is talking about hooking up to a pipeline that Wiscasset recently built to the Topsham facility. Wiscasset's population was reported as 3700 in 2018, putting the current population being served by the Topsham facility at 44,500. If you add the 2018 population of Boothbay (3130) and Boothbay Harbor (2199) the population reaches 49,828. Without any further population growth that is about the capacity that 4 million gallons of water a day can serve.

Ziegra identified a twenty-year time span when the water may become scarce. If the population continues to expand in all towns during that time, the six million gallons that the Topsham facility is said to have the potential to produce might be needed to serve Brunswick, Bath, and Topsham and Wiscasset areas. Back in the days before Topsham built its new facility, there was not a new urban to rural migration underway.

Back In 2017 my family business, Andersen Design, experienced a sudden inability to mix a ceramics casting slip at our East Boothbay location. The cause was eventually traced to the Knickerbocker Lake water supply. The problem was viscosity, which we normally adjust with a small amount of deflocculent. It was apparent to us the water was over-dosed with flocculents used to clean the water supply. That was the year when the Botanical Gardens was building a parking lot in the watershed, and the roundabout was being placed in the middle of the road at the Boothbay Center, both large construction projects.

At that time I read the report from the Boothbay Water District. The report began with drought the previous year which was said to be a great boon for the economy, even as the same report told of the state identifying Knickerbocker Lake and Adams Pond as endangered by further development.

Today as I was reading the latest news, I looked for the earlier report and found that it is no longer available on the Boothbay Region Water District’s website. Why not? That report covers the time period when the water district should have been paying attention to the potential water shortage- before the Topsham facility was rebuilt. If the water district were attending to water issues, it might have negotiated with Topsham when Topsham was designing its new facility to propose a collaboration that could also serve the peninsula.

The Camoin Report, a town plan commissioned from New York consultants at the cost of S79000.00. to taxpayers in February of 2018 recommended planning for water needs:

Goal Area 6: Regional Collaboration Objective #2 — Think regionally regarding waterfront infrastructure and access, strategically investing in the most efficient resiliency improvements that will benefit all four towns. 1. Hold joint four-town meeting to evaluate options for the regionalization of BBH sewer district and water district. Buy-in from BB and Edgecomb in particular into regionalized sewer and water district(s) will be needed to allow for greater (and more consolidated) expansion of housing and business/industrial site development. Regionalization of the districts into one entity will allow for greater cost sharing to fund this expansion and for more planning of expansions in a proactive manner when new developments are proposed (i.e. CMBG) that may also benefit adjacent parcels to the development site(s) Camoin Report pg 19 (emphasis mine) 

In my old records I found this quote from the Water District Report, which gives an example of the priorities of the Boothbay Water District:

Early in 2016 the Boothbay region began to experience drought conditions. Even though droughts are generally bad for crops and water reserves, the byproduct is an abundance of warm, sunny summer days. Coupled with the on-going drought the national and state economy was thriving, allowing tourists more discretionary income, which translated to a very successful and hectic tourist season. 2016 was an excellent year for revenue, setting an all-time high at $3,367,520.83. Much of the higher than expected earnings were derived by state, federal and private grant income totaling $217,988.96 with an additional $100,000.00 in revenue from a short-term line of credit from the First National Bank of Damariscotta and transfer from cash reserves of $388,661.13. In addition to the contributions to total revenue listed above, the economy seems to have been strong and the weather warmer than usual and extremely dry, creating the perfect conditions for a strong tourist season. In October, the district became the first non-profit water utility to take advantage of the Infrastructure Surcharge allowed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) which was enacted just before seasonal overage billing. With only one quarter of the year the district realized an addition $34,429.65 in revenue slated solely for the cost of newly constructed infrastructure. Boothbay Region Water District

The infrastructure construction celebrated in the report for the revenue it brought in, is the type of project mentioned in the report, which singled out both the Botanical Gardens and the country club as large projects of specific concern. The owner of the country club, Paul Coulombe, was the private partner who made it possible for Boothbay to go to the head of the line to receive infrastructure funding from the Maine Department of Transportation to proceed with the type of project cited by the state as a water quality concern.

Project Selection/Eligibility MaineDOT will continuously accept project applications and eligible projects will be selected on a first come first serve basis. Additional project selection/eligibility factors include the following:
• Percentage of Local Match: The greater the percentage of non-MaineDOT funding, the greater the likelihood the project will be selected

In recent years, if the Water District or the developers are at the bargaining table, the one thing they won’t give up is the intent to increase population density as a driver of the economy. The popular phrase used to express their bottom line is “people want to move here”. No one ever explains what that phrase actually means and so a fair interpretation is “developers want to build” in the expectation that if they build the people will come. The question of whether people want to move here is complicated since the cost of development means only the wealthy can afford to live here in single-family homes that were once middle-class homes, while housing projected to be developed for people of ordinary means becomes smaller and smaller.

The new developers of the Boothbay Region seem far removed from the functionality of what they build or of the needs of the people who, they say, want to live here. The prevelant thinking is to construct an upstairs-downstairs community. Is this really a culture that the people want? 

A proponent of development, whom I shall call Howard, though it is not his name, expressed his vision for quadrupling the density of the village of East Boothbay:

 Low income housing should focus on rental units and cluster units like townhouses. Another approach would be to convert large summer homes to multi unit apartments. Easy to quadruple densities by doing that in East Boothbay. Of course all this will require substantial hikes in the property taxes.

Why substantial hikes in taxes? Why is Howard, the agent who is telling us so? Have we slid into the next phase of public-private relationships wherein special private interests dictate the rate of taxation according to their needs and wants? Private investors are running our town from our infrastructure to our school system and probably the ordinances. Mr. Ziegra says that building a pipeline to pump water from Topsham to Boothbay will require legislative changes. That can potentially be bought too. Maine is a public-private state, a system that is formed to concentrate wealth. 

It’s all for the public good

Today every player in the local power elite, be they public or private, for-profit or non-profit, talks as if they design the grand plan, for the public good of course, but without actually consulting anyone outside of their own circle.

In June, Edgecomb selectmen wanted to hear more about joining the Wiscasset district, and how it would impact Boothbay Region’s expansion plans. On June 2, Cossette and Ziegra met with the three selectmen. One unanswered question was who pays for connecting a pipeline to Boothbay. Ziegra has gauged potential costs for years, and estimates the project would cost approximately $28 million.
Cossette believes the best funding mechanism includes state, federal, local and other public and private partnerships. “You look at who the stakeholders are. I think an assortment of stakeholders would participate in the project because it benefits so many,” he said. Boothbay Register= Regional pipeline part of BRWD long range water plan 09/03/2021

The Purpose Statement of the Financial Authority of Maine set the policy for government advantaging public-private relationships back in the 1980s, all for the public good, like a codified three-card monte card trick- look here- not there!

Chapter 110: FINANCE AUTHORITY OF MAINE §962. Purpose: The authority will serve a public purpose and perform an essential governmental function in the exercise of the powers and duties conferred upon it by this chapter. Any benefits accruing to private individuals or associations, as a result of the activities of the authority, are deemed by the Legislature to be incidental to the public purposes to be achieved by the implementation of this chapter. [1985, c. 344, §5 (AMD).] [PL 1985, c. 344, §5 (AMD).]

I spent many years independently studying the economic development statutes of Maine. To my reading, the statutory policies are designed to the benefit of private investors. In essence, public-private relationships are oligarchies that pose a growing threat to our democracy. The Boothbay oligarchs are like Pied Pipers leading the community down a road of excessive spending beyond the means of the ordinary citizens and all directed at driving up the cost of living on the peninsula. A wealthy people’s caucus has enormous power to design our communities to suit themselves which they portray as unconditional philanthropy to serve the public good although few among the public get to weigh in on the plans made by the do-gooders.

The town has taken on an air of excessive entitlement as new multi-million dollar projects are proposed on the belief that the town can raise any amount of money by public-private fundraising and if a small starting goal can be reached, the rest will materialize as incentives or whatever. Don’t worry about it! Want and you shall receive! 

A wealthy people’s caucus led by Paul Coulombe raised two and a half million dollars to pay for the architectural design for a yet to be funded fifty million dollar school, which Mr. Coulombe said “ will solve the shortage of young persons on the peninsula”, without a proposing any method for funding the forty-seven million dollars needed to build the school. Where once the New England villages “ceased to grow beyond the possibility of socializing and assimilating its members”, now growth and economic development is conceived of as replacing existing members of a community with a wealthier demographic.

Developers talk of quadrupling the population of East Boothbay and of building “large scale workforce housing”. Current local low-income-affordable housing provides more space and privacy than do the concepts proposed for the working professional classes. Perhaps if the workforces don't move in the smaller units can be used as Airbnbs which provides the most profit per square inch. Visitors do not need as much living space as residents. Maybe the village should be called East Airbnb in the future, instead of East Boothbay.

Once the Boothbay Peninsula was a place where families had summer homes, where generations gathered during the summer months. Howard would like to see these former homes broken up into subdivisions to serve the developer’s goal of a four-fold population expansion in East Boothbay, a town designed for lifestyles that do not require space or sun. Apparently, this is the citizenry type that developers target for the Boothbay Region.

When I brought up water issues, Howard told me it didn’t have anything to do with what he was talking about. He was talking about development, he said, expressing the prevailing mentality.

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Blake Wheeler / Unsplash

Speaking like an emperor wearing no clothes, Zeigra just threw a spanner in the works of all those development plans. I wonder if anyone will notice? If they notice will they acknowledge and address the current state of affairs? How can a peninsula facing possible water scarcity in twenty years consider building a fifty million dollar school and large-scale workforce housing and all the rest? Shouldn’t a peninsula facing a water scarcity probability be thinking in an entirely different paradigm about development than the dominant paradigm being advanced for the Boothbay Peninsula, a paradigm that filters down from Maine’s centrally managed wealth redistribution system of economic development where larger is always better. Peninsulas are not that. Peninsulas are small worlds unto themselves.

New is old!

Let us reintroduce our past. Forget the ‘New”! Its proponents imagine that they have no limitations! Money drops out of the sky into the palms of their hands, but not so the water. Water is a force of nature, much like coronavirus. Those who hear what nature tells us, fare the best. Those that don’t may rue the day. You really do have to take nature seriously.

A few years ago Paul Coulombe came to town with intentions to transform the peninsula into a luxury tourist destination but since coronavirus hit, the vision held by developers has transformed into one part Hamptons, one part Silicone Valley, and one part Levittown.

Old is new!

NO PART- businesses in or attached to a home, the quintessential design for a quality rural lifestyle, modeled on the family farm. Businesses in a home have been wiped from the map in both housing and economic development, but as coronavirus continues and the Boothbay Peninsula processes a possible future water scarcity, businesses in a home are a type of development that accommodates the circumstances and is a housing design well suited to a small rural peninsula. Businesses in a home provide spaciousness for living and for working, the new horizon of the future of work.

The philosophy that Boothbay developers have been advocating for the Penisula is exemplified in the fifty million dollar school and the talk of large-scale workforce housing. It is the long reach of a centrally managed wealth redistribution economy, aptly named by Lewis Mumford as “the dominant pecuniary-power economy”, (The Culture of the Cities, Preface page 10), Central management is too remote to hear the natural voices of any local region. Central management seeks to make everywhere the same ignoring local differences, excepting differences in wealth accumulation. 

Boothbay’s unique local identity is inseparable from the limitation imposed by the size of its water supply and for now, it is what it is since the dominant pecuniary-power economy failed to take nature’s limitations into account in a timely manner when it could have done so before Topsham built its new water pumping facility. If there does exist an additional two million gallons a day potential, and if Boothbay were able to access it, it is not merely the cost of the pipeline to be considered, there must be a cost as well to actualizing that potential. The four million dollar capacity facility is now a done deal. All things considered, while the solution spun by Ziegra has an unknown price tag, it is reasonable to suppose that it is at least as much as the fifty million dollar school, and why invest in a fifty million dollar school to be located on a peninsula facing a potential water scarcity? First things first. A fifty-million-dollar school belongs in a more central location, not on a peninsula. Perhaps the Boothbay Region can barter its fifty million dollar school with a community that will allow the region to access its water supply.

For now, we just need to know where we really stand based on current circumstances. It is reckless to keep pushing for more and more development beyond the limits of a water supply that we can say with certainty is available to the peninsula.

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Independent researcher of contemporary issues placed in a historical context, giving voice to alternate perspectives and conceptualizing where it all leads in the future . . . . .

Boothbay, ME
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