Category Archives: July 18

Taking on the puzzle of how to provide broadband for all

Broadband access is becoming critical for learning in all communities.

by Susan Bates

Access to the internet is something most everyone takes for granted. But not all access is equal; there is great variation in data speeds and reliability. There is a minimum standard for adequate service set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called broadband, and many in St. George can’t access it.

“For myself, I view broadband access as something everybody will take for granted 20 years from now. It’s going to be so intertwined with our lives, most people won’t be able to imagine being without it,” says Jerry Hall, who serves as the Select Board liaison to a committee of the St. George Community Development Corporation called “Connect St. George.”

In St. George, the only provider of broadband is Spectrum (the company which bought Time Warner). And Spectrum’s service is generally limited to residences and businesses along town-owned roads. That leaves a large percentage of the town’s residents with inadequate or no service. There is a growing digital divide in our town.

To be able to figure out what our community can do about closing that divide it’s worth spending a paragraph to look under the broadband hood. Internet service is defined by two speeds: the speed to download data and the speed to upload data. Most internet service is designed to provide much faster downloading than uploading, because a typical user downloads a lot more data than they upload. Think of how often you read an email or the news on a web page, watch a video or look at a photograph. Sending, or uploading, emails typically isn’t a big data use. Broadband, the standard for adequate service set by the FCC, provides minimum download and upload speeds of 25 Megabits per second and 3 Megabits per second, respectively. Keep in mind, this is a minimum, and as our use of the internet grows, so will our data needs; for some it isn’t enough today.

Mandy Funkhouser, who is a member of the Connect St. George committee, says her biggest concern is that without access to broadband available throughout the town, young families with school-age children will be discouraged and deterred from moving into and remaining in this community. “If families do not see the town as a desirable community equipped to function in the future, this could very well lead to lower numbers of students entering the school system,” she explains. “In establishing our own district the town recognized that having a vibrant and sustainable school system is key to maintaining a year-round thriving community. The town has similarities with some of our island neighbors in that regard. And many of these island neighbors are investing in bringing reliable high speed internet to their communities. We should join with them and find the right solution for our community.”

Jeff Boulet, who chairs the Connect St. George committee, agrees. ”My wife and I have chosen to raise our son in St. George and I want his friends to have the same opportunities as kids in Rockland and Portland,” he says. “We live right off 131 and have really fast access, but he’ll have classmates who won’t have access to broadband.” After a pause he adds, “And 5G? “I get asked about 5G all the time at Tech Time at the Library. People think it will solve the problem. But that’s not the case. 5G devices need to connect to a network via fiber, and if you don’t have fiber to the home 5G doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Making aging in place possible is another reason why high speed reliable internet access matters. It means people can connect with their health care providers and family, as well as shop online when getting to the store is hard.

Connect St. George is a continuation of the Ad-Hoc Broadband Committee initiated by the Select Board in 2015. This year, to better understand the issues and community priorities, Connect St. George, the Select Board and State Representative Ann Matlack hosted two community meetings.

At the first meeting in May, community members talked about the importance of the internet and their struggles to connect. Several residents voiced concerns about the cost of bringing broadband down every road. Some with broadband came because they wanted to support bringing broadband to the entire town. “I’m glad to see that people have started to push on this. We can help our kids, help ourselves, and help our seniors. It’s good for the future of St. George.” stated Matlack.

On June 18 there was a public meeting with a representative of Spectrum, which currently provides broadband access to 750 customers in St. George. But Spectrum doesn’t have plans to expand service in St. George. It would be up to the Connect St. George committee to ask the company what it would take to do a build-out to serve the entire town, as they’re doing in other communities.

Both meetings were moderated by Kendra Jo Grindle, a Community Development Officer of the Island Institute. “Kendra Jo was a big help in moving these information gathering sessions forward,” said Boulet.

There are a lot of ideas and opinions about how to achieve the goal of making broadband available to everyone in St. George who wants it. Whatever the final plan is going to be, there is one clear next step: Find out how many homes and businesses have inadequate service by getting good data on how many premises are currently not served or underserved by broadband.

To that end, Connect St. George is beginning to conduct a broadband audit to pull together that information. “Collecting good data on which homes can’t access broadband is essential so we have a clear picture of the problem we’re addressing,” said committee member John Maltais.

The main source of internet service data is the ConnectME Authority, a public agency whose mission is to facilitate the universal availability of broadband to all Maine households and businesses. The problem is that some of the data on the Connect ME website doesn’t accurately reflect the conditions on the ground. As Maltais explains: “ConnectME gathers their data through a federal agency. It lists households within a range of addresses that are unserved or underserved. We know that specific St. George roads like Scraggle Point, States Point and Snows Point don’t connect at those rates (a minimum 25 Mbps download), and yet, they all show up as adequately served. Once we’ve accomplished a community audit we can begin to plan the scope of the project.” It’s a puzzle, Maltais says, of “how to work with the politics, regulations, and, most importantly, the community-at-large, to assess the need and figure out how to do it.”

There will also be many more conversations. Hall reflects: “How do we get there? We need to have a discussion about how we get there. On the Select Board there are quite different points of view, which reflect the different points of view in the town. It’s important that we talk as much as we can with people about the different options before us.”

Funding from the State may help with the eventual solution, says Matlack. “I’m hoping the legislature will pass the bond package later this summer to be on the ballot in November. That will provide $30 million for the Connect ME Authority to help unserved and underserved communities improve their broadband infrastructure.”

“The way broadband is regulated it’s not a service that is guaranteed,” notes Rob Kelley, President of the St. George Community Development Corporation. “The effort that was made to bring telephone and electricity to everyone should be done with broadband—it may be, eventually, but until it does we have to band together as a community and make it happen.”

Jerry Hall sums up the challenge. “The key question facing us is how do we get a partially served community to be a fully served community? It’s a tricky one.” For the members of Connect St. George it’s a challenge they’re ready to tackle.

(Bates is a member of Connect St. George.)

A career fashioned around a passion for designing and painting yachts

Chuck Paine in his studio

Tenants Harbor artist Chuck Paine and his twin brother, Art, began a competition to “out-paint” each other when they were only five years old. Over sixty-five years later, they both have mastered painting dynamic marine scenes that often depict sailing vessels on challenging seas.

Raised by their mother and grandparents on Jamestown Island in Narragansett Bay, the boys developed a close relationship to the ocean and the vessels that sailed upon it. The family provided art supplies to the boys at age five, when that ferocious competition between them began. The direction of their work also took hold around that time when their grandfather, a caretaker for many summer homes on the island, took the boys to see an enormous seascape painting by William Trost Richards which hung in one of the vacant mansions. Awestruck, Chuck Paine instantly knew the subject he wanted to paint. Trips to boat yards on the island also sparked his desire to design yachts.

Moving to the mainland at Warwick, Rhode Island to attend a public school with a robust art curriculum, the Paine brothers received a top-notch education. They were among the very few selected by their art teacher to attend the Rhode Island School of Design on Saturdays. This experience introduced the brothers to other forms of art and subject matter that enhanced their artistry.

After high school, Chuck Paine was awarded a full scholarship to Brown University to study mechanical engineering. He wanted not only to paint pictures of yachts, but design them as well. While there, he also took art classes and never stopped painting and drawing.

With a college degree in hand, Paine entered the Peace Corps in 1969 for a two-year stint in Afghanistan and Iran, where he picked up some experience in computer programming. By the time he returned stateside in 1971 he was qualified to become a yacht draftsman and worked for Dick Carter in Nahant, Massachusetts for a couple of years. But fate intervened when Paine met Deborah Wheelock, his future wife, and he left the firm. The couple traveled to Iran, Afghanistan, India and other regions he’d come to love from his time in the Peace Corps.

Returning to America, Paine found work as a carpenter until he earned enough money to open his own firm designing yachts. In 1974 he established C.W. Paine Yacht Design, LLC, in a rental apartment in Tenants Harbor. Four years later the firm moved to Camden. Notably, Paine’s company designed 16 sailboats for Morris Yachts in Northeast Harbor and also won bids for many multi-million dollar yacht designs. However, dedication to engineering yachts led him to neglect his passion for painting. Recognizing this problem, his wife encouraged him to pick up the brush again in 1999. Although creating art was secondary to running his firm, Paine’s ambition to gain mastery in oil painting required hiring instructors such as Barbara Applegate and Cynthia Hyde. “I look at myself as a student,” remarks Paine. “My goal is always to improve as an artist.”

Retired from his company in 2008 (although he still designs yachts part-time) Paine is now a full-time artist drawing inspiration from his surroundings, both on land and sea. “I keep coming back to the marine subject because it’s such a challenge—and to compete with my brother who is a superb artist,” he explains with a wink. An adherent to classical techniques and materials, Paine begins by creating a grisaille on prepared canvas. A grisaille is an underpainting rendered in neutral colors to establish the forms and values of the final composition. The overpainting is rendered with oil paints applied with great detail for a realistic depiction. However, Paine strives to “loosen-up” his work to create “the happy accidents. The times that you let yourself go and something wonderful happens,” he explains.

Paine and Wheelock have lived in Tenants Harbor since 1976, having served our community in many volunteer positions over the decades. Paine’s spacious studio is found on the second floor of the barn attached to his home where many of his dynamic paintings grace the walls. Paine’s work may be viewed at www.painefineart.com.—Katharine Cartwright

 

Population dynamics

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

A raccoon youngster

“Maybe the next column should be about baby birds,” I wondered out loud. “Baby animals would be better,” my son Leif exclaimed. “You are right!” I replied—actual conversation.

The size of the St. George peninsula’s critter population ebbs and flows with changes in season and resource availability. Take the month of May for example. The peninsula sees an uncanny rise in population numbers connected with increases in daily daylight-length and plants making food and turning things green. Through the magic of migration and some hardy overwintering techniques, yards that were quiet and seemingly bare just a few months ago come to life. Literally overnight the peninsula’s population can double in size (songbirds migrate at night), if not by more.

And even though some birds (and insects and mammals, too!) do sit on beaches, the peninsula’s animals are not here to lounge. They are here to mate and raise their young, a constant effort to put their offspring in the best positions to survive. With that in mind, each June the peninsula’s already increased population enjoys a significant bump in numbers with the woods and fields crawling with youngsters.

Mammals that overwinter in St. George start their courtship and mating rituals in winter, before most songbirds arrive or insects wake up. The strategy (and the song) remains the same, though—time your youngster’s food independence (the weaning process) for when food resources are rich and plentiful. The best position for your young to survive, nutritionally speaking.

Lately, we’ve heard talk of foxes carrying young pups across Watts Avenue. Seems a little overprotective, as Watts is not a very dangerous road, but maybe the road wasn’t the danger they were avoiding. Whatever the case, relocation can be a good survival habit. There has also been a group of five young raccoons that have spent quality time in the neighborhood (tip of the hat to the Delaneys for the heads up on this masked crew). To be as active as they were, the raccoons had to be at least 10 weeks old, which puts their birth in the early part of April. With a little more math and a glance at a calendar, we can move further back in time to account for the mother raccoon’s nine-week gestation period. That has us looking at an early February (roughly) successful mating “incident.” Such heat-generating activities during the coldest of winter stretches provided some sweet, fuzzy entertainment in June. What a world! Now, if every pair of raccoons on the peninsula had five young? Well, you can do the math…population explosion!

Catbird chicks

Listening can be a key to finding “baby” birds. Just the other day Leif and I heard the begging cries of nestling birds as a cardinal flew out of one of Suzanne’s shrubs. We put one and four together and figured we’d poke our heads into the canopy and maybe find us some young cardinals! It only took a few moments to locate the nest, complete with four now silent heads pointing up and giving us the “big eye.” Lack of a seed cracking bill and or any sign of the color red tipped us off that this was no cardinal nest. We watched the nest for about a week and as the nestlings developed it became clear this was a gray catbird nest. Even though we kept a close eye on the shrub, never once did we see the adults enter or leave the area. It was a lesson in stealthiness as a good parenting technique. On a personal note, it was also the first active catbird nest I have ever found (thank you cardinal). How many other pairs of birds have sneakily added four young to the peninsula’s critter population?

With any fluid population though, the number of individuals will peak at some point and then begin an inevitable decline. Ducks with young are an observable example of this and repeat trips to watch common eider families at Marshall Point in June had this concept on full display. A female eider averages four or five fledglings per nest (one nest a year) and at Marshall Point (and other locations most certainly) it’s not uncommon to see multiple females bring their young together and form rafts of 15 or more little bobbing duckies. It’s one of those “safety in numbers” things—the best position for your young to survive. Watching this year’s local raft dwindle from 12 to four youngsters (probably less by now) reminds us that numbers don’t provide safety for all and that many species of duck will have multiple young every year for multiple years in order to simply replace themselves.

A small raft of ducklings

The disappearing eider ducklings also remind us that young bald eagles need to eat. Adult bald eagles start sitting on eggs in the heart of winter so their young would be fledging the nest just when ducklings are numerous and ripe for the picking (amongst other food species). Babies being fed babies. Food chain, baby.

I got a lovely text the other day from Brian and Meg (and Alita) from across the road saying a falcon was eating a robin in their backyard. Would I like to come over for a look? (Have I mentioned how much I love the neighborhood?) By the time I got over the Merlin falcon had feathers flying and a sizable pile of discards surrounding the carcass. It dawned on me that the robin which had only moments before became a meal could easily have been a youngster I mentioned in the previous column. Survival instincts were not strong in that one. But a Merlin needs to eat and feed its young, like the fisher, coyotes and owls. Watching a predator at work can be awesome!

Significant parts of local food chains are supplied each year by the failed attempts of animals to replace themselves. While we celebrate youth, rebirth, and new life each spring, soon the glaring and harsh reality that most young will end up in another critters belly becomes clear. It’s beautiful in its own way, of course. The persistence, perseverance, and “never quit” attitude of those animals who watch their young disappear each summer is a marvel as well. Keep trying and spawn ’til you die. It amazes me, the will of instinct. It’s all worth celebrating, all the stages of life.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Studying a winter moth invasion

Winter moth caterpillars from one infested oak tree

By Zoe Hufnagel and Amy Palmer

Winter moth is an invasive species of moth from Europe. An invasive species is a living organism that comes from a different place and takes over. Winter moth has invaded places like Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and Eastern Massachusetts. Most recently it has come to Vinalhaven and Harpswell. When people move or have a summer home, they sometimes bring their favorite garden plants with them. Little do they know, the winter moth cocoons are in the soil from June through November. They emerge at Thanksgiving time and spread around their new home and lay eggs. Those eggs overwinter on the bark of our trees, and become voracious caterpillars in June. Since they have no predators here, they can defoliate trees quickly.

We noticed an area in Tenants Harbor where tree leaves looked like Swiss cheese. We wondered if it was winter moth causing the problem. We also wanted to know how many winter moths were populating the area. Last November and December, we set out to investigate.

We put pipe insulation with sticky tanglefoot on four different deciduous trees around town. When the winter moths emerged from their cocoons in the soil, the wingless female moths climbed up the trees and got stuck in the tanglefoot. The males meanwhile flew over to meet them and got caught in the tanglefoot as well. We took photos of the moths and shared them with state entomologists, who confirmed them as winter moth. We found that on Sea Street, winter moths were really bad. About 800 winter moths got caught in our trap on that tree, as compared with 175 on the tree at 20 Watts Avenue, 20 at the school tree, and eight on the tree at 90 Watts Avenue.

This spring we did the second part of our investigation. We went to Sea Street and got leaves off of some maples and oaks.

Then we counted how many caterpillars were on each leaf. On one infested oak tree there were 53 caterpillars on just 31 leaves! When you go up the hill on Sea Street, you can literally see the holes in the leaves from all the caterpillars. If the trees have to endure this for several years, they will die.

Zoe Hufnagel and Miles Bartke with a tanglefoot trap they placed on a tree on Watts Ave. as part of a project on winter moths they worked on with STEAM teacher Amy Palmer throughout this past school year.

In order to help, we collected winter moth caterpillars and reared them until they became cocoons. Now we are sending them to Tom Schmeelk, who is a Maine state entomologist. He will dissect them to see if there are any parasitic flies in them. If there are, that is great news. The parasitic flies will control the population of winter moth. If there aren’t, we will try to raise money to get parasitic flies released here next spring. (They were released in Harpswell and Vinalhaven a few years ago.)

If you want to help, you can let people know not to transplant their plants from other places that have winter moth. In the meantime, if you want to prevent winter moths from laying eggs on your favorite deciduous tree, you can put up a tanglefoot trap in mid-November. If you have questions, you can contact Amy Palmer at the St. George School: a.palmer@stgeorgemsu.org

(Zoe Hufnagel just finished 4th grade at the St. George School, where Amy Palmer teaches STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).)

PHOTOS: Amy Palmer