July 1, 2013

Long Islanders still pleased with secession 20 years later

Since splitting from Portland, the island town has managed its own affairs, invested in the community and, as hoped, kept life the same.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Lobster traps are stored last week on the wharf of Harbor d’Grace in the town of Long Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from Portland.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Long Island resident Mark Greene leaves the Municipal Offices building, which the town acquired after it seceded from Portland.

Additional Photos Below

"We've really got it good now. We're so much better off than we were," said Jordan, the town treasurer. "The average tax bill is a third of what it would have been with the city, plus the services are better now." 

Jordan said the island elementary school, with two teachers and 22 students, is stronger than ever, with special classes and activities, such as a fiddle club led by musicians from the island and mainland. After fifth grade, students travel to Portland for school, taking the ferry daily alongside the 30 or so residents who commute to the mainland for work. The recreation department keeps children busy through the summer with Bollywood dancing, an archaeology camp and sailing classes.

Since secession, Long Island has had to take on all the responsibilities of a town, Greene said. That includes enforcing local ordinances and tackling tough budget decisions, like whether to invest in a school bus to replace the van that previously shuttled students to school in shifts. A committee currently is looking at how to provide affordable housing for young families who want to live on the island year-round.

"It used to be a lot of the year-round kids couldn't wait to get out of here, but that isn't the case anymore," Greene said. "There is work here, but no housing. That's a tough nut to crack."

Over time, the relationship between Portland and the island has improved and there no longer seems to be any resentment about the secession, Greene said.

Islanders also have managed to get along with each other while running their own town.

Islanders have always been close, but they've become even more united in the past two decades, said resident Lorinda Vallas. There may be heated debates at the annual town meeting, but "at the end of the day, we agree to disagree" and everyone walks out friends, she said.

Vallas, 54, does a little bit of everything on the island. She delivers newspapers and packages, looks after dogs and helps out at one of the two stores on the island. She came here for the first time in a bassinet when she was 2 months old.

"It's the island of misfit toys," she joked as she tended the gas pump last week. She greeted every resident by name as they lined up in old cars, mopeds and golf carts to buy gas for $4.79 a gallon.

Steve Johnson, a lifelong islander known for racing lobster boats and transforming sports cars into boats, supported secession from the beginning because of the high taxes. Twenty years later, he's glad the town fought for its independence.

"It's pretty much stayed the same," he said, "the way we want it."

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

 

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Additional Photos

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Resident Mark Greene, a retired teacher, talks about the island secession movement that he helped initiate about 22 years ago.

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Michael Kilgore sits in the passenger seat of a car displaying the Long Island town flag. The car is owned by island resident Lorinda Vallas.

 


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