SCARBOROUGH — To the casual eye, the sprawling Scarborough Marsh is a wonder of nature, refreshed twice daily by tidal waters that create a ribbon of rivulets and small ponds bordered by wetland grasses.

But the Scarborough Marsh – the largest and most ecologically significant salt marsh in Maine – has been under assault for over 100 years, bisected by railroads, highways and other man-made diversions. The existence of the marsh was facing a crisis until nearly 20 years ago, when a landmark study by the Maine Audubon Society called attention to its slow but steady ecological decline.

That study galvanized a sustained response from a network of groups, including the creation of the Friends of Scarborough Marsh, and led to a coordinated effort to reverse the effects of human encroachment and restore the natural ecology of the marsh.

Now, a new threat has appeared in the form of a proposed Verizon Wireless cell tower – to be installed right at the edge of the marsh – which could reach up to 150 feet in height. The marsh ecosystem and its viewshed would suddenly be exposed to a permanent visual blight. You can chalk up the construction of the railroad, Route 1 and other roads to ignorance, but ignorance is no longer an excuse for allowing any commercial development on the marsh.

The Scarborough Planning Board, which will hold a hearing on Verizon’s proposed tower Monday, should read the 1999 Maine Audubon study. It is a sobering account of what happens to our most revered natural resources when we turn a blind eye and allow private interests to invade wetlands in the interest of “progress.”

The pattern here is familiar: Verizon has downplayed the risks and insists that it wants to build this tower in our marsh to support the needs of its customers. It claims that it can make this tower almost invisible to the human eye by painting it to blend in with its natural surroundings. And it wrongly asserts that there is no alternative to its proposal, setting in motion a battle within the town of Scarborough. Will our town stand up for preservation of these wetlands, or will we let a massive corporation solve its internal business problems at our expense?


How the town responds is critical to the future of this remarkable natural resource, as it will send a signal to profit-driven corporations either that they can breach this ecological red line, or that they will be thwarted by citizens who defend our shared natural heritage.

The ecology of the Scarborough Marsh is of great importance to biologists and conservationists, but its protection and preservation should also be important to the town of Scarborough, which benefits economically from the tourism that this wonder of nature attracts to our shores. While gazing upon its seemingly endless majesty, it is easy to understand why Winslow Homer, one of the most celebrated artists in American history, settled in Scarborough in the late 1800s to immortalize these shores and the Maine coastline.

The decision by the town on this proposal raises broader questions that extend beyond Scarborough: What do we value as Mainers? Will we fight to protect and preserve our essential natural resources, or will we bend and break under pressure from corporate self-interest?

There is a solution to this problem, however, that would both protect our marshlands and provide the community with better telecommunication coverage.

There are alternative, inland locations where Verizon Wireless Corp. can place this tower. Would it cost Verizon a little more to build their tower in another location? Perhaps, but this is a company whose 2017 revenues were $126 billion. Verizon would feel minimal pain from a decision to relocate the proposed tower. If it refuses, the company should be prepared to spend significant time and money in a fight against a unified community that has spent the better part of 20 years restoring this great marsh and mitigating the errors of the past.

Dear Verizon: “Can you hear us now?”

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