Friday, March 26, 2010

Wells Resident Steps Up to Assist Haiti Aid Mission

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
A Wells man is home after delivering aid to the people of Haiti.
Kevin Garthwaite, 57, a 1971 graduate of Wells High School and a 1976 graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy, stepped up when a ship filled with donations from Maine people ran into red tape in Florida en route to the earthquake ravaged island.
The 220-foot MV Sea Hunter, owned by Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research, was in limbo as no one on the crew had the license required by the United States Coast Guard to take the ship to Haiti.
Garthwaite, whose brothers Jerry and Peter also graduated from Wells and Maine Maritime and went to sea, was home when he read about the Sea Hunter’s problems in getting to its proposed destination.
“I was pretty sure I had the credentials that were required,” he said in a Tuesday interview.
Having been home only a month and a half after five-and-a half months away, he asked his wife, Marguerite, about joining the humanitarian effort.
“I said I think I can do something here and she said go for it,” he said.
So he went to Florida to look the operation over. After talking with Sea Hunter’s captain, Gary Esper, Brooks and the Coast Guard, he was “comfortable with the operation” and joined the effort. “That kind of freed the boat up,” he said.
It took just about three days to complete the trip and the ship dropped anchor at Miragoane, the only port that had the heavy equipment preferred for unloading the ship. The port is about 50 miles from Port au Prince where much of the damage occurred.
Extended negotiations were then held with the local government officials concerning various aspects of the unloading process, he said, although he was not directly involved in those talks.
“We hung around there waiting to get into the dock,” Garthwaite said. “To call it red tape is an understatement.”
Unable to reach an agreement there, the Sea Hunter moved to Les Cayes and anchored about eight miles off the island and, again, waited for permission to go in.
Garthwaite said there was little damage in Les Cayes but refugees from the quake area were coming to that town, overloading the infrastructure capabilities.
Following another set of talks with the local government, the unloading of the ship began.
During the time there, Garthwaite said, a lot of canoes, outriggers, and other small boats came to the ship looking for the cargo. Due to the number of boats and the urgency to get supplies “it got out of hand a few times” but Haitian police and United Nations Security boats kept everything under control, Garthwaite said.
“It was extremely poor,” he said of the area. “It kind of shocked me.”
Garthwaite said he was on board because of Coast Guard regulations and not because of any problem with the captain. “I was there advising him,” he aid. “They didn’t have a lot of experience around cargo. I had a license and the Coast Guard required that.”
Garthwaite, who said he generally serves as second mate and navigation officer, has experience gained working on container ships and other cargo vessels.
He works mostly out of the Masters Mates and Pilots Union Halls in Long Beach and San Francisco, Calif.
Finally back from Haiti, he said he would probably return to sea sometime this summer.

Voters will be asked to help preserve the Deb-Tone Farm in North Berwick. (Courtesy photo) Conservation of North Berwick Farm Goes Before Voters

According to ME DOT, on average 9,000 motorists drive by Deb-Tone Farm on Route 4 every day and for them Deb-Tone Farm provides the bucolic foreground of one of the most scenic vistas of Mt. Agamenticus and the Tatnic Hills. For residents of North Berwick, Deb-Tone is a beloved example of the agrarian roots of this community and an iconic feature of their hometown.
At this year’s town meeting on April 10th, North Berwick residents will have the opportunity to help permanently protect this farm and view. Article 3 of the 2010 Town Warrant proposes allocating a portion of the town’s Open Space Fund toward the conservation of Deb-Tone Farm. Monies in the Open Space fund were generated from impact fees assessed on new residential development and do not come from the general revenues raised by taxation.
Conservation of Deb-Tone Farm began in March of last year, when the owners, Kenney and Marion Goodwin, contacted Great Works Regional Land Trust about permanently protecting the farm through a conservation easement. Great Works Regional Land Trust’s Farmland Protection program has conserved 21 farms and over 1,000 acres to date and has received statewide recognition for its efforts. Deb-Tone’s rich agricultural soils and location within the 500+ acre working landscape of Cabbage Hill made it eligible for 50% funding for the acquisition of its development rights through the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. The April 10th vote will be the first step toward raising the local match to these federal funds.
The campaign to protect Deb-Tone Farm has until January 2011 to raise the $230,000 needed to purchase the easement and reimburse the upfront expenses associated with the project such as surveys and appraisals. $102,000 has been committed toward the project by the federal FRPP program, Maine Farmland Trust and individual donors. The proposed commitment from the town of North Berwick is for $40,000, which was endorsed by the Board of Selectmen and the North Berwick Budget Committee.
An information session is scheduled for March 31st at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Room at the Woolen Mill in North Berwick for the public to learn more about Deb-Tone Farm and the role conservation easements play in saving farmland. Information is also available at the land trust website or by calling the land trust office at (207) 646-3604.
Photo caption: Voters will be asked to help preserve the Deb-Tone Farm in North Berwick. (Courtesy photo)

Rep. Kathy Chase Hails New Property Tax Safety Net

State Rep. Kathy Chase says too many elderly Mainers have been forced to sell their homes because of rising property taxes. A successful bill that she sponsored will enable these residents to defer tax payments until circumstances change, as long as their municipalities offer the new program.
On March 2, the Legislature unanimously approved LD 1121, An Act to Protect Elderly Residents from Losing Their Homes Due to Taxes or Foreclosure. Governor Baldacci signed it into law a few days later.
The new statute allows a municipality to establish a property tax deferral program for eligible senior citizens. In tax jurisdictions that offer the program, homeowners could apply for a deferral of their property taxes starting at age 70 if they have occupied the home for at least 10 years. They also must have a household income of less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which works out to approximately $30,000 for a single person and $42,000 for a couple.
“This is a long-needed safety net for fixed-income folks who face high property taxes simply because their house has appreciated in value,” said Rep. Chase (R-Wells). “These are the kind of folks who would usually sell their homes and move rather than face property tax liens. After paying taxes all those years, it is highly unfair to now tax them out of their homes.”
Under the new law, taxes would be deferred until the time that certain events occur, including the death of the homeowner or the sale of the property. At that point, the repayment of the taxes is required within a set period of time, along with payment of interest at a rate of 0.5 percent above the annually established rate for delinquent taxes. The law provides procedures for the municipality to preserve the right to enforce a lien.
“The State of Maine is not involved in this program,” Rep. Chase said. “This will be handled by communities. It will operate like a community support system and ensure that our elderly residents remain in their homes and continue to play an essential role in keeping our towns as whole communities.”
A municipality that adopts the program would send an annual notice, in lieu of a property tax bill, with an accounting of taxes deferred and interest accrued. A municipality could discontinue the program, but any taxes deferred under the program would continue to be deferred under the conditions of the program on the date it was ended.