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'Orlando' is a winner for MDI Drama
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BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School continued its winning streak at The Downeast Regional of the Maine Drama Festival last weekend when it once again took top honors in Class A with Sarah Ruhl’s one-act adaption of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando.”

Since 2010, MDI Drama has earned 11 Regional Championships and two State Championships for its performances.

Ellsworth High School’s Mad Jesters also won Class B top honors with their original one-act about the life and death of Marie Antoinette, with some contemporary twists.

In the MDI Drama production, Ly Dillon, last seen this past fall, as an engaging Oliver Twist, took home well-deserved acting honors for their spot-on portrayal of the swashbuckling young poet Orlando, who, like a time traveling Forrest Gump, manages to touch down at many of the important historic events and times of the past 500 years, starting in the court of Elizabeth I and stretching to the present. Halfway through the centuries, Orlando somehow transitions into a no-less charming and charismatic woman.

And, it appears, it does take half of a millennium and a sex change for our hero to finally get an inkling of what “it” is all about. Sadly, the play ends before he/she can share the revelation with the rest of us.

As the male Orlando, Ly Dillon is a small but mighty dynamo as a lover, swordsman and aspiring poet. No wonder Elizabeth I becomes besotted with the pretty youth and no wonder Eva Cricklear, who channeled her inner Judy Dench for this role, also earned All Festival Cast status, as did Alfair Durand as Orlando’s first true love, the enigmatic Russian, Sasha. Adam Losquadro should have been so honored, as well, for his over-the-top languorous portrayal of the Archduchess Griselda, but he was certainly one of the many cast members who helped win the Acting Ensemble award.

The excellent lighting and overall technical achievement were also singled out. This latter involved three handsome picture frames (huzzah, Isa Raven, for these wonders!) representing classical and modern motifs, which serve as video screens for additional action, vogueing and pre-filmed content. There is a sailing sequence, which, though brief, is simply exquisite.

Chris Doherty’s costumes were excellent and helped create some beautiful tableaux‚ including the sailing scene and a very stylish moment in Elizabeth’s court. But for the final competitions, which will be held March 24-25 at Lawrence High School in Waterville, she may want to rethink Orlando’s female outfits and “Annie” wig, which were unflattering and unconvincing.

Director Casey Rush did quadruple duty managing to blend the live stage action seamlessly with whatever was happening on those screens.

In addition to their praise of the technical aspects of the production, judges also complimented the relationships the main characters formed and the intimacy they demonstrated on stage. Rush added that this is not surprising given that much of the cast is comprised of seniors who are appearing in their fourth one-act together.

For my part,” Rush commented, “I am proud of the leadership demonstrated by the seniors and veteran actors and techs in the production. The inclement weather the week before last forced us to cancel three rehearsals/tech sessions, so the final week of our production was a challenge, to say the least. But they all stepped up and showed amazing resilience in the face of challenge.

Judge Philip Hackett summed it up saying, “People like to say there are all types of theater: high school theater, college theater, off-Broadway, summer stock – they are wrong. There are only two types of theater: good theater and bad theater. The MDI Drama production of ‘Orlando’ is good theater.”

Herman High School was named Class A runner-up for its “Shuddersome Tales of Poe.”

Ellsworth High also scored some acting and production awards for its performance of a Georgia Williamina Ziljian’s original one-act about the doomed French queen.

Bucksport High School’s performance of “No Problem” was Class B runner-up. Those who missed this regional will get a chance to see the Class B winners at the state finals March 24-25 at Ellsworth High School.

Critics, fans of housing project face off

MOUNT DESERT — A few opponents of a proposed six-unit workforce housing development in Northeast Harbor found various ways of saying “not in my backyard” without actually using those words at the Planning Board’s sketch plan review of the project last Wednesday.

Mount Desert 365 owns the 0.79-acre lot at the corner of Neighborhood and Manchester roads on which there is currently an old single-family home. The nonprofit organization wants to renovate that home and build another single family home and two duplexes on the property.

Kathy Miller, executive director of MD365, said that a study conducted in 2018 in collaboration with Island Housing Trust and others showed the need for hundreds of homes for people who drive on and off Mount Desert Island every day for work.

“So, this is a small drop in that bucket of what is needed,” she said of the proposed Northeast Harbor project. “Since that time we have seen things get far worse in terms of availability and affordability for year-round people here on the island. There is no shortage of need.”

As for what buyers of the homes would be paying for them, Miller said, “We are looking to keep the cost of the homes well under $300,000. We would love to have it around $275,000.”

To keep the houses affordable in perpetuity, there would be a limit on how much the owners could sell them for.

“Who would buy a house that has a cap on how much the value can increase?” asked Neighborhood Road resident Andrew Kennedy. He also asked whether the home buyers were likely to live there for a long time or for only a year or two.

“My sense is that people tend to take less pride in places they think they’re going to be leaving soon,” he said. “Is there a median period of time when people actually stay in houses like this?”

Steve Anastasia responded, saying, “I am what a resident looks like.”

Since 2013, he and his family have lived in Ripples Hill, the workforce housing neighborhood developed by Island Housing Trust in Somesville.

“I work for the National Park Service. I have two kids who have come up through the elementary school and are now in the high school,” he said. “The house is a long-term residence. We want to stay in this community.”

As for there being a limit on how much he could sell the house for if he chose to do so, Anastasia said, “You’re not stagnant in its value. You’re not losing money.”

Tracy Aberman, who lives on Sound Drive, questioned MD365’s rationale for putting six residences on the lot.

“It looks like you’re cramming too many houses onto that lot in a summer neighborhood,” she said. “What would be wrong with having fewer houses there? Three units would fit better into this neighborhood.

“I don’t understand why the sensitivity level to the neighbors is so low in this project.”

Responding to the question about why six residences are being proposed, Miller said, “Because the need is that great and the ordinances allow us to have six. We are trying to do what the town needs.

“That property has always been a year-round property. The property across the street had, until its current owners, always been a year-round property. I think there is a history of at least part of Neighborhood Road being a year-round community. So, we think Neighborhood Road, within a block of the elementary school, is the right place to develop year-round housing.”

Betsy Kelly, who lives on Neighborhood Road, said, “I fully support the building of affordable housing in Northeast Harbor or anywhere in Maine where people need to live close to their work.

“I think there is a real PR problem here, and it is pitting summer residents against year-round residents, and it’s painful. This neighborhood has always been a mix of year-round and summer residents who enjoy each other and get along very much. And this project has been very divisive.

“I challenge MD365 to create workforce housing that is the most beautiful, that is the most elegant, that has the most civic pride you could possibly imagine.”

Joseph Ryerson, a summer resident who lives on Manchester Road, asked Miller, “What happens if the person who moves in here loses their job? Do you throw them out?”

“Like any other homeowner, if they have a mortgage, they’re working it out with their bank,” she said. “They can stay there as long as they wish to and can afford to.”

Ryerson then asked what happens when the homeowners retire. Do the workforce houses eventually become a cluster of retirement homes?

“They’re not workforce anymore,” he said. “What’s the point?”

Miller responded, “They maintain their affordability for people who worked until they retire.”

Several year-round residents in addition to Anastasia expressed support for the proposed workforce housing development during the Planning Board’s sketch plan review.

Donna Reis, whose house on Manchester Road is adjacent to the property in question, said, “I am very appreciative of all the efforts that MD365 is doing. I just wanted to say thank you for all the attention and respect they had shown to all the residents of the town and for trying to keep it fitting in with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s beautiful.”

Sam McGee said, “I think it’s going to take more than just this project to help ameliorate an ever-shrinking supply of year-round housing options. The viability of our communities and generations of people who might want to live here year-round is really at risk.”

Martha Dudman, a Northeast Harbor resident and member of the Select Board, also spoke in favor of the proposed development.

“I see this as a small but important step to restoring year-round housing in the village of Northeast Harbor,” she said. “Young families starting out can’t afford to buy a house here anymore. There are those who complain that this project will change the neighborhood. The neighborhood is already changed. This was always a year-round neighborhood.”

The next step in the Planning Board’s consideration of MD365’s proposed development is to determine whether its subdivision application is complete. Then the board must decide whether the application conforms to all the relevant ordinances. A public hearing will be held before the board votes on whether to approve the application.

Schools take first step in reorganization planning

BAR HARBOR — The school committees in all the Mount Desert Island Regional School System towns are voting this month to take part in planning to replace the current school system structure with a regional school unit (RSU), which advocates say would be more equitable and efficient.

Superintendent Mike Zboray says it is an early step in a long process and doesn’t commit any school committee or town to supporting the creation of an RSU. In the RSU model, there is a single school board and a single annual budget that covers all the schools in the district.

The votes that the school committees are taking authorize their chairs to sign “a notice of intent to engage in planning and negotiations with other school administrative units for the purpose of developing a reorganization plan to form a regional school unit.”

A special committee that the school system board formed last year to look into reorganization options has recommended the creation of an RSU. But first, the school system towns must form a Regional Planning Committee to come up with a detailed organizational plan for the schools. Then that plan would have to be voted on by citizens of all the school system towns.

“Once all the boards have signed the letter of intent, I will submit it with some documentation to the commissioner [of education] about why we want to form the unit,” Zboray said. “Then at that point we can start forming the Regional Planning Committee.”

The notice of intent that the school committees are signing simply allows them to participate in forming that committee.

“It’s just to start this process, to begin talking, to have a seat at the table,” Zboray said.

The Regional Planning Committee must consist of one school committee member from each town, one municipal officer and one at-large citizen of the town.

“We will work with the Teachers Association about having representation from teachers, as well,” Zboray said.

A page on the school system’s website says it wants to “reorganize its current structure from a collection of individual schools into a coherent and more equitable model to better serve our students and educators.”

It goes on to state that the goals of reorganization are: “To develop a system that would make excellence much more attainable and accessible to students no matter where in the district they live;

“Provide an opportunity for staff movement between schools without the loss of seniority and other earned benefits; and

“[To have] schools in which the administration can better focus its full attention on improving the quality of education rather than attending to a governance structure that is cumbersome, duplicative and increasingly difficult to provide.”

The idea of creating an RSU is expected to face opposition. as some community members want their town to retain as much control over their elementary school as possible.

All the school committees that have voted so far on the letter of intent to be involved in planning for an RSU have authorized their chair to sign it. But at least one school committee member has voted no. Cliff Noyes, a member of the Southwest Harbor School Committee, said he didn’t think they should even be talking about forming an RSU until there is more information available to the community.

Zboray said that no reorganization plan would be going to voters anytime soon.

“It’s a long process,” he said. “I would see [the Regional Planning Committee] probably meeting through next year, going through this process in a thoughtful manner. And we’ll see how we come out on the other side.”

Tremont discusses short-term rental regulations

TREMONT — The Select Board was joined by Noel Musson of the Musson Group at its meeting on Monday to discuss the possibility of adopting regulations for short-term rentals in town. The rental properties, and the idea of regulating them, have been hotly debated in town.

Select Board members first discussed the possibility of a short-term rental ordinance in December 2022 after receiving a list of signatures from residents who wanted more regulation. The Select Board passed the matter along to the Planning Board to come up with a regulatory process and authorized consultation with Musson at a meeting in January.

Musson, a land use planner based in Southwest Harbor, has done recent work on a similar set of short-term rental regulations for the town of Mount Desert. He advised Tremont town officials to start conversations about what particular issues residents feel need to be addressed in regard to short-term rentals and used the key issues behind Mount Desert’s new regulatory process as an example.

“The big issues that have come up in Mount Desert are really two things. One is what is the challenge and the concern about the availability of year-round housing opportunities,” Musson said. “What are the, say, the land use implications of short-term rentals that are different than just a house.”

Musson explained Mount Desert’s process, which involves an application form and registration fee to operate a short-term rental. By requiring rentals to be registered, it gives the town a way to keep track of how many rentals are in the town and where they are located.

“The goal there really was to try to understand where and how many short-term rentals there are in that community, and so then you can start to quantify and use that data to understand what the implications are for a lot of different things,” Musson said.

Musson advised that the Planning Board begin discussing what other details the town would like to keep tabs on regarding short-term rental properties. Using the basic framework of licensing and registration, and the broad concerns about affordability, availability and land use as a foundation, the town can implement solutions for other concerns that are unique to Tremont residents.

Regarding the goals of potential regulations, Musson made it clear that simply putting a cap on short-term vacation rentals would not solve the problem of affordability and availability of year-round housing on MDI. He explained that the affordable housing issue has many different factors at play, and that simply getting rid of vacation homes would not suddenly make year-round housing cheaper and more plentiful.

“I think that what gets lost is that it’s not the silver bullet to solve the affordability issue on MDI and the year-round availability issue on MDI,” Musson said. “There’s a full suite of things that you need to start to work on in order for that to be effective.

“Short-term rental regulations are one thing, but if that were to pass and you started limiting the number of short-term rentals, that’s not automatically going to make affordability and availability here.”

Musson urged town officials to be more proactive to the issue as opposed to reactive, and to work with developers to incentivize beneficial housing projects rather than treat them as an enemy.

The discussion ended with a motion to ask the Planning Board to look into a registration process for short-term rentals by August.

Maine lobstermen sue aquarium over red-list rating

KENNEBUNK — The state’s commercial lobster fishery continued its legal push against detractors with a federal lawsuit filed in Kennebunk District Court March 13 against Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation, claiming it made “false and defamatory statements about Maine lobster fishing practices.”

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), with co-plaintiffs the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, South Thomaston lobster processor Atwood Lobster, Rockland’s Bean Maine Lobster and Port Clyde lobster-fishing company Bug Catcher, claim that “the Aquarium has falsely depicted the Maine lobster fishery as being directly responsible for right whale injuries and mortalities” and that “consumers’ appetite for seafood was ‘driving a species to extinction.’”

The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has defended its assessment of the danger of trap/pot and gillnet fishing gear on the East Coast.

“The North Atlantic right whale is an endangered species at high risk of extinction and entanglement in gear using vertical lines is the leading cause of injury and death to these whales,” according to a statement on the group’s website. “Current management measures do not go far enough to mitigate entanglement risks and allow the North Atlantic right whale to recover.

“For the North Atlantic right whale to recover, NOAA determined that less than one whale per year can be seriously injured or killed. Data show that North Atlantic right whale mortalities from fishing entanglement continue to occur at levels five times higher than the species can withstand.”

Seafood Watch placed American lobster on its “red list” in September 2022 because of the risk of right whale entanglement in fishing rope. Seafood Watch rates about 2,000 seafood items using colors: green for “best choice,” blue for “certified” as sustainably managed, yellow for “good alternative” and red for “avoid.” Restaurant chains and other food-based businesses use Seafood Watch’s guidelines in their decisions to serve and sell seafood products.

The MLA and its co-plaintiffs hold that consumer demand for Maine-caught lobsters is down “due in whole or in part to the Aquarium’s false statements,” lowering the price for lobster and causing economic harm.

“As a result, several large businesses that had purchased lobsters from Plaintiffs in the past announced that they will no longer carry Maine-caught lobsters because of the Aquarium’s statements,” the lawsuit continues.

The plaintiffs claim the Aquarium knew these statements were false, and that the scientific data it used does not show that right whales have been entangled in Maine fishing gear. Instead, the Aquarium concluded that all fisheries using vertical fishing lines are considered a risk to right whales. The suit states that MLA had presented evidence to the Aquarium prior to September 2022 that “the Maine fishery was not responsible for right whale entanglement.”

The lawsuit points out that Maine lobstermen have removed 30,000 miles of rope from the ocean and use weak links in rope so whales can break free, practices that have made the industry “a model for what a sustainable and environmentally responsible fishery can do.”

“Lobstermen have been under constant assault for the past several years. Yet the science is clear – right whales are not dying in Maine lobster gear,” said Patrice McCarron, policy director for the MLA. “In fact, the opposite is true; innovations by Maine lobstermen have been instrumental in minimizing harm to whales.”

The suit asks that the Aquarium remove all published “defamatory statements concerning the Maine lobster industry and its fishing practices,” money damages “including but not limited to the value of all business Plaintiffs have lost or will lose in the future as a result” of the alleged defamatory statements, punitive damages and attorney fees and court costs.

Portland law firm Roach Ruprecht Sanchez & Bishop represents the plaintiffs.

Scientists estimate that more than 85 percent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, but the source of the gear is often unknown.

Perennials, thalictrum, heliopsis, Queen Anne’s lace and Shasta daisies grow in one of Park’s gardens.