January 10

OUR OPINION: Thumbs up, thumbs down

Quick takes on the issues making news this week in central Maine.

THUMBS UP to the Maine Farmland Trust, which has worked over the years to preserve farmland and keep agriculture as a viable industry in Maine.

At the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, held Tuesday-Thursday this week at the Augusta Civic Center, two farmers, one from Palermo and one from Pittsfield, each credited the Maine Farmland Trust with helping them expand their farms and prepare for the future.

In what is a typical action for the group, the trust used its funds to help Walter Fletcher, a Pittsfield dairy farmer, purchase 100 acres adjacent to his farm. The land may have otherwise been sold for development, which often puts the price out of reach for farmers. In this role, the group has helped protect more than 35,000 acres of farmland across 225 farms, using easements to ensure that the land will be farmed in perpetuity.

The group announced this week that it has raised $18 million, with a goal of $50 million to preserve about 100,000 acres of farmland. The group estimates that 400,000 acres of Maine farmland will be in transition in the near future, as farmers age and look to sell.

Supporting the Maine Farmland Trust will help keep that land as farmland, and connect it to the next generation of farmers.

THUMBS DOWN to recent missteps by Summit Natural Gas as the company works to bring natural gas to the Kennebec Valley.

Summit missed the original target completion date of early November on the $350 million project. A dispute with a contractor led to a $72 million lawsuit against Summit, and other contractors complained to the state and construction industry groups after the company failed to pay $38 million it owed. Also, in December, the company admitted to installing the wrong kind of pipe fitting along some of the pipeline in Augusta.

A project of this size is bound to have some hiccups, and many customers remain eager to realize the savings currently available by using natural gas. But the problems do not inspire confidence.

THUMBS DOWN to Gov. Paul LePage for withholding the results of a $925,000 study about the state’s welfare system, part of which was scheduled to be released today following pressure from the media and the attorney general’s office.

The governor likely has political reasons to keep the taxpayer-funded study private, but there is clearly no legal justification. The study, which LePage has had since Dec. 16, is a public document, and the public deserves to see it as soon as possible.

THUMBS UP to LePage for his efforts in securing a new 10-year contract for the warehousing and distribution of liquor.

The new contract, which went to Pine State Trading Co., the distribution subcontractor under the previous deal, is expected to bring the state $450 million in the next decade, compared to the $190 million or so brought by the last deal, signed under then-Gov. John Baldacci.

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