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January 4, 2013

Letters to the editor: Revised mining laws could hurt Maine

In regards to the Portland Press Herald story "Council: Mining rules contractor 'misrepresented' credentials" (Dec. 14), I wanted to add some background and other information.

One of the biggest environmental rollbacks passed by the state Legislature last session was a complete rewrite of Maine's mineral mining laws. Despite best efforts to improve the bill in the Legislature, the bill that passed was disappointing.

Open-pit mining in Maine could result in arsenic, lead and other toxic chemicals contaminating lakes, rivers, streams and soils, as they have done in other states.

Most of the discussion of open-pit mining in Maine has focused on Bald Mountain, owned by J.D. Irving, in central Aroostook County. However, Maine has significant metallic mineral deposits that mining companies hope to extract, including in the western foothills.

Now, the Land Use Planning Commission is revising its zoning rules for potential mining sites in Maine. These rules will set the criteria for what applicants will need to submit to the commission and what the commission must consider in reviewing applications to rezone land for new mines.

The impact on the Bald Mountain area could be enormous. Mining activities there would likely drain into the Fish River and the Fish River Chain of Lakes, which provide some of the best brook trout fishing in the country. Mines in the western foothills would likely drain into the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers, critical tourism destinations and economic drivers.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy lots of activities in northern Maine, including white-water rafting, and this is pure shame on the state of Maine.

HUMANE-ity starts here.

Carole G. Jean

Portland 

Portland should look to Princeton for plaza ideas 

Recently, I visited Hinds Plaza in Princeton, N.J. While there, I noted many similarities between that place and Portland with regard to Congress Square.

Princeton is a university town (as is Portland) and has two major streets, perpendicular to one another, at its center (like Congress and High streets); a central public plaza (like Congress Square), and a nearby arts center (like the Maine College of Art).

Hinds Plaza fronts onto a major street and is surrounded, otherwise, by buildings including a public library by a prominent architect (like the Portland Museum of Art by I.M. Pei), a condo apartment building (like the Eastland Hotel) and the blank back wall of small pre-existing retail shops (like 593 Congress).

Hinds Plaza is about one-quarter acre (Congress Square is about one-third acre) and is mostly paved, with a canopy of 12 locust trees, placed on a diagonal grid.

The similarities end here. Hinds Plaza is one of the most successful small public plazas in the country, larger than vest-pocket Paley Park in New York City and smaller than Copley Square in Boston.

Hinds Plaza is built at street level. The library is entered at the corner of the plaza and has a public meeting room, facing the plaza. The first floor of the condo building has retail store frontage and a restaurant, with furniture for outdoor dining. And the back walls of pre-existing shops are concealed by a long vine-covered metal trellis, lined with benches.

Hinds Plaza is furnished with numerous metal-mesh tables, armchairs and pedestrian post lights. It is the venue for a weekly farmers market, as well as frequent dance and musical performances; holiday festivals; art exhibits; reading and socializing; teenagers' rendezvous and children's play.

Congress Square has the potential for all of these possibilities, as described in my two earlier letters ("Considering options for Congress Square Park," Aug. 15, and "Congress Square Park an opportunity," June 30).

The city of Portland should not squander the opportunity to build such a public amenity to accommodate the warehouse-like "ballroom" proposed by the current owners of the Eastland Hotel.

Charles A. Alden

retired urban designer and certified planner

Portland  

Budget priorities spell out America's view of violence 

The news these days has been dominated by stories of the tragic school killings in Newtown, Conn., and the looming "fiscal cliff."

At first glance they seem like unrelated stories, but a strong argument can be made for connecting these two stories under the umbrella of violence in America.

We are told that the only way to avoid falling into a fiscal cliff is to cut social programs, scaling back funding for schools, food stamps, unemployment, housing assistance, health care and, now, Social Security.  

The one area that is never mentioned in a discussion of cutbacks is the U.S. military, whose budget has increased 81 percent since 9/11. American tax dollars have subsidized wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while continuing to support our 761 military bases worldwide along with an increasingly expensive drone assault program, controversial for the large number of innocent women and children it has killed.  

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to conclude that a country whose highest priority is military intervention is condoning violence at home.

Pat Taub

Portland 

Altering traffic pattern won't benefit Portlanders 

The one and only apparent benefit of one-way, two-lane traffic on High and State streets accrues to drivers -- drivers who come from someplace else, are en route to someplace else and whose primary goal when visiting our city is to get out of downtown as quickly as possible.

Are there any upsides to sanctioning 30- to 35-mph traffic through the heart of downtown to the thousands of people who live here? Any at all?

And is there any compelling reason Portland should allow quality of life and property values to be degraded in order to accommodate people who do not want to be here?

Mark Barnette

Portland





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