The coast of Maine has many facets. Its beauty and
charm have lured millions of tourists and others over the years. However,
as a jumping-off point to some of the richest fishing areas in the world,
it also supports a widely varied maritime industry.
Now, those two facets, which have existed side-by-side for generations,
are at war. The area's scenery and casual way of life have begun to draw
an influx of prosperous newcomers who are snatching up properties all along
the coast. So much so, in fact, that those who make a living from the sea
believe that the pressure of rising property values is driving them away
from the coast - and thus out of business.
Now a new report, prepared by the Maine Coastal Program, will be submitted
next month to the new Legislature and Gov.-elect John Baldacci.
The report studied 25 coastal communities from Kittery to Jonesport.
It concluded that unless something can be done about "threats to access"
to waterfront properties for fishing purposes, the industry will decline
at a rapidly increasing rate.
Fishing is a very important industry, pumping $860 million into the
state's economy and supporting 26,000 jobs. It is threatened, the report
says, by: higher taxes; tourism and recreation demands; development pressures;
a decline in commercial fishing because of reduced stocks; conversion of
property to other uses; and deterioration of the industry's infrastructure.
While the report makes no recommendations, one does exist: It's the
"Chebeague proposal," a plan floated by a number of fishermen and others
to give owners of property anywhere in the state a tax break as long as the
property remained dedicated to its current use.
It would only apply to land, which would be assessed at rates used
five years ago, while buildings would be assessed at current rates. If the
land is ever sold to nonfamily members or converted to other uses, the owners
would pay penalties similar to those under the Maine Tree Growth law.
The plan has problems - lower tax rates would hit some towns hard - but the penalties might make up a lot of the difference.
It is clear that something needs to be done. Not only is a valuable resource at stake, but so is a way of life.