Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

As a major manufacturing presence operating right up against a tightly packed residential neighborhood, Bath Iron Works does an exceptional job in being neighborly. What they do day-to-day as the fourth largest employer in Maine is of relatively little bother to those living even in close proximity.

That hasn’t always been the case. Far from it. Not so long ago BIW was an oppressive fact of life impacting the livability of much of Bath’s South End. Residents simply thought that came with the territory, the unavoidable cost of business activity benefiting “the greater good,” meaning those that didn’t have to live at ground zero to Maine’s then largest employer. Given all that, South End life coexisted without imagining any recourse.

Then BIW revealed its need to become far more competitive if it was to survive as the last vestige of Bath’s proud shipbuilding past. The goal was to increase productivity while reducing employment overhead by a full third. To achieve that, BIW requested and received $197 million in state and local tax breaks to offset costs in building a state of the art Land Level Transfer Facility. $85 million of that tax rebate is still disproportionately shouldered by Bath residents alone.

Thrown under the bus of “economic necessity” by state and local government, livability in the South End rapidly worsened. A grassroots coalition formed, petitioning federal oversight to mitigate impact of General Dynamics’s corporate callousness.

When eventually forced into DEP compliance, BIW remarkably self-imposed even higher standards on noise, traffic and pollution. The bottom line admirably decided to travel a higher road to profitability. That still surprising outcome remains a lasting testament to the belief that win-win solutions can be found despite all the conventional wisdom arguing otherwise.

BIW’s competitive success came at the price of significant job losses locally and statewide. Yet, many of my neighbors still find rewarding employment at BIW, and its union-driven wages still set a higher pay scale for many other Micoast workers and Mainers far and wide.

After all that water under the bridge, BIW now finds itself once again behind the eight ball of a decidedly dulled competitive edge and the vagaries of defense spending favoritism.

The first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers has finally headed off to become part of our military might, the cost of getting it as far as sea trials being a bit over $4 billion tax dollars. What its ongoing cost will be will likely never be known, as such defense expenditures aren’t audited. Never. The military asks Congress, and Congress bills the taxpayer, for ever increasing revenues without any real accountability. We already have the most powerful armed forces in the world, equaled by none. Yet, according to politicians and corporate manufacturers, “We” always need more and more sophisticated and expensive armaments. Donald Trump proposes that our “depleted” military needs “total” rebuilding.

Some think increased military spending will automatically mean more work for BIW. Truth is, BIW’s recent loss of a crucial Coast Guard contract wasn’t due to lack of defense spending but because that work was awarded elsewhere. Even military-industrial quasisocialist economics can fall prey to competition. More government contracts mean more product made somewhere, but not necessarily in Bath.

Whether the election of Donald vs Hillary would improve the prospects for BIW is complete speculation, and Maine’s congressional delegation, past or present, blue or red, always fights tirelessly to bring home as big a slice of the Defense pie as possible.

BIW workers need steady work in order to maintain their shipbuilding prowess. BIW needs contracts if it’s to retain the skilled workers they still have. What is overlooked by many is that such work needn’t be only military.

As with so many things, Gov. LePage doesn’t get that. So, Maine said bye-bye to Statoil’s plans to build wind turbines at BIW.

BIW realizes that it needs to diversify its manufacturing base. Statoil was evidence of that. As one of the world’s major oil and gas companies, Statoil realizes that it needs to diversify towards sustainable resources. Its investment in wind energy is evidence of that. The Department of Defense repeatedly stresses that climate change’s reality is our nation’s foremost security threat.

Some in our community think things need be radically changed in addressing that connect-the-dots narrative. Protesting the most recent Zumwalt launching, 12 peace activists purposely chose to be arrested, in part to emphasize BIW’s military-industrial dependency but mostly to question the accepted wisdom of our national reliance on global armed conflict as our second largest economic engine.

Others feel such freedom of speech is only possible due to the unmatched military capabilities of futuristic weaponry like a Zumwalt destroyer.

Just three years ago BIW requested yet another multi-million dollar tax break from Bath in order to “modernize” its still new LLTF. Tax burdened citizens again mobilized. The City ultimately Ok’d only half of BIW’s contested request.

BIW now warns of continued employment downsizing. Bath’s anticipated BIW TIF payouts remain a ways down the road.

Hopefully, such a currently good neighbor can somehow find sufficient profit without need of any additional public largesse.

Gary Anderson lives in Bath.

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