Blog Archives

Westport Island Remembers John Nelson

A friend to Westport Island and to those he engaged…

The Westport Community Church was full this afternoon with friends and family remembering John Jesse Nelson (1928-2014). He was remembered with love and with appreciation for his good.

John: husband to Ruth, father to their seven children, grandfather, WWII veteran, science teacher, friend, animal lover, neighbor, civic volunteer, John Deere operator and neighborhood road crafter…and active participant in the journey of life and learning. (Apparently, also a devotee of hats, tropical shirts and red carnations.) A man who felt proud to have earned the acceptance and respect of Westport Island families who have grandparents on the island. Although his history with the island “only” went back to 1968, he felt roots in the “rock”….

On the Island, John was a member of the Wright Landing Committee, believing in public access to the waterfront as well as a working waterfront; and he had served on the Conservation Commission and the History Committee. He kept up — reading the town report carefully enough to report typos to the Town Clerk — and he always participated actively in town affairs.

One of John’s sons pondered the idea of describing his father in one word, and he could not decide between complicated and contradiction. John was a man who was gruff and had difficulty expressing emotion, yet turned gushing and affectionate when Snafu, Leonardo or one of the long line of Nelson cats jumped onto his lap. He was extremely impatient in general, but infinitely patient as a teacher…

John’s most significant achievements in life were, of course, the love of a good woman, Ruthie, and seven children who — following his tutelage and caring – excelled, achieved and loved him. They are a credit and a legacy.

He gave his children, his grandchildren, and his students a road map for life:

Be as good a person as you can be
Respect your elders
Respect nature
Have a good work ethic
Be organized, be prepared
Pursue lifelong learning
Walk in another man’s shoes

As another son said, “A person lives until his name is no longer spoken.” It is likely that John Jesse Nelson is a name that will be remembered and spoken for some time to come…

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2014: The Year on Westport Island

A look back…

Like every other year, 2014 had its ups and downs – a capsule of time in a history that marches on. A few remembrances as we head into 2015…

On a caring note: We remember those we lost this year: Philip Gesner, Neil Greenleaf, Butch Morton, John Nelson, and Leroy Olson. We honor their contributions and extend our thoughts to family members…

On a civic note: Voters opted to stay in Sheepscot Valley RSU #12 and opted to dismiss the Budget Committee. For the most part, Islanders voted with the rest of the state in November, re-electing Governor LePage, U.S. Senator Susan Collins and U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree. And, we welcomed the newly formed Horticulture Committee which has taken responsibility for the beautification of the Wright Landing.

On a community service note: Fire Department volunteers had a busy year: responding to medical calls, extinguishing a chimney and brush fires, providing medical assessment and traffic control for multiple car accidents, performing a water rescue, and — as always — community service.

On a climatic note: Our most talked about weather event this year was Thanksgiving – three days without power Island-wide – and lots of creative approaches to the “traditional” turkey dinner for those without generators…

On a contemplative note: Although our harbingers of the summer season, the osprey, came and went as is nature’s plan — the turkeys, raccoons and coyotes may be staging a takeover….

We will miss and extend best wishes to Islanders who moved away — and we thank those who had served in positions to better the Island: Chris Fabian, Angie Calvo, Art Ballard, Curt Downer and Carol Way.

On a congratulatory note: We had a banner year of weddings. Congratulations to all who took their vows on Westport. A Westport Islander, Chase Hughes, took home the gold at the 10K Island Shore Run for the first time in recent years. Selectmen honored Treasurer and Tax Collector, Susan Partelow, with a Spirit of America award to thank her for her service as they began preparations for her retirement. And departing History Committee Chair Mary Ellen Barnes’ transition to a regular member was marked with a celebration of her contributions as a founding member of the History Committee.

On a celebratory note: Westport Volunteer Firefighter Paul Bonyun once again completed February’s grueling Fight for Air stair climb in Boston. And Westport Volunteer Firefighters, Jason Abbott and Stacey Hutchinson, completed Firefighter I & II training, earning state certification — as well as promotions to Deputy Chief and Captain, respectively. Vera Cleaves — a World War II vet — celebrated her 100th birthday and made the cover of our annual report. And, Squam Creek reopened to clamming after almost 15 years!

As usual, The Community Association pulled us together for some fun and laughs, including a square dance reminiscent of days past. We laughed with ventriloquist Bert Prater and his pal, “Roadkill” while they poked fun and had good-natured audience members simulating puppets on stage while dancing to the tune, “I’m a little teapot.” The summer barbeque added entertainment for children this year; the Island Christmas Program starred young talent that wowed; and Santa surprised holiday visitors to the Town Office Building. Nita Greenleaf organized a Valentine’s Day Dinner for cupids and their valentines.

And, speaking of silver linings, when a resident parked a tad “too close” to the Town Office Building, we learned the wall was crumbling from dry rot. All has been repaired and is better now than before…. Which leaves us with a possible New Year’s Resolution…

It might be time to take stock and invest a little TLC in what we have.

Happy New Year!

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Upcoming Westport Island History Project

Sponsored by the Maine Memory Network


“Everything just the same here, only more people. The girls are dancing all the time as usual and are just as fickle as ever.” …That was the note written on this postcard from Westport in August, 1909. More people? Dancing all the time? Fickle romance on rock island Westport? Makes me want to know more…and if all goes as planned, the Westport Island History Committee will soon be bringing snapshots and snippets of the Island’s yesteryear to a computer near you.

The Westport Island History Committee has been awarded a grant from the Maine Memory Network (MMN) for $650 to purchase a high quality scanner. The scanner and bundled software will allow the committee to upload photos and documents from our collection to the Maine Memory Network’s digital library.

The MMN is an on-line, digital library curated and maintained by the Maine Historical Society. Such libraries are revolutionizing access to historical information in small towns like ours that can’t afford a library or historical society building to showcase old photographs, family letters, and artifacts.

The History Committee will soon start the process of assembling a historical “town photo album”. This will be a significant undertaking. Committee members will be scanning photographs and documents, cataloguing scanned items, and chasing down identifying information and narratives.

The goal is to bring stories from the Island’s past alive, to make the information accessible, and to invite more interest and commentary from those with information, stories, and memorabilia to share. The quest is on to bring our lantern slides, photographs, and antique objects to life. This is so cool. Where to begin?…shall it be with….

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Microburst on Westport Island?

Wind: the island nemesis

There were no emergency management alerts last Friday: no more than an expectation of passing thunderstorms. And — other than a night without electrical power — for most on the Island, Mother Nature served only a brief pounding of much-needed rain, a cooling wind, and a few claps of thunder.

For a half mile along the western shore of Westport — roughly from the Ferry Landing to 289 Main Road — August 3 brought a tad more “weather.” Donna Curry says it’s the worst damage she’s experienced from any storm in her 17 years on the Island. She had horizontal sheets of rain pushing into her attic vent, and she’ll be cleaning uprooted and snapped trees and debris from her yard for weeks to come.

According to the Weather Channel Storm Encyclopedia, a severe thunderstorm produces one of the following: hail of 3/4 inch or more in diameter; tornadoes; or wind of 58 miles an hour or more. The National Weather Service estimates that trees are uprooted or snapped with 58- to 72-mile per hour winds — so it’s fair to say that the winds that struck the Curry property and nearby were in excess of 58 mph. And, a “microburst”, which is a downburst confined to an area less than 2.5 miles in diameter, is among the most devastating expressions of a severe thunderstorm. A downburst is defined as “a sudden vertical drop of air that produces strong wind shear.” Looks like a half mile of wind-related destruction meets the definition of microburst…

The only other Lincoln County storm reports to Portland’s National Weather Service station on August 3 were in Boothbay. The winds were reported to be from the southwest.

Sometime around 7:30 or 8 p.m., Westport Island’s thunderstorm microburst “warmed up” at the Ferry Landing where it snapped a broad pine next to the Wright house and lifted a stand of pine from its rock base on the point. The wind sped onto the Curry property with increased strength where more than a dozen 20- to 70- foot hardwoods and pines were leveled. The top “feathers” of branches brushed the side of Donna’s house and broke off on her deck and roof. Part of the stairs to her dock were crushed, and she ended up with a stray orange kayak on her shore that she would like to return to its rightful owner.

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RSU-12: Stay the Course or Withdraw?

Which road will the yellow school bus travel?

On June 12, Westport Islanders will vote on whether Westport Island should begin the process to withdraw from RSU-12 (Regional Supervisory Union 12). The ballot question is:

Do you favor filing a petition for withdrawal with the Board of Directors of the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit No. 12 and with the Commissioner of Education, authorizing the withdrawal committee to expend $10,000, and authorizing the Selectmen of Westport Island to issue notes in the name of the Town of Westport Island or otherwise pledge the credit of the Town of Westport Island in an amount not to exceed $20,000 for this purpose?

Proponents of withdrawal argue membership in RSU-12 has been more costly than anticipated. Westport Islanders are paying significantly more than other jurisdictions: partly because of higher property valuations on the Island than in other RSU-12 towns, and partly because the cost-sharing formula does not account for declining Westport enrollment. Given that Westport students have “school choice,” Island students can go where they wish; and there are other options for supervisory administration that make more sense from a cost/benefit analysis. They believe one of these other options may save voters up to 20% on their property taxes. Westport Island Cost Assessment

Those arguing against withdrawal ask voters to give the evolution of RSU-12 a chance: a withdrawal petition now is premature. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and cost figures and formula recalculations are in the process of shaking down to account for student count and cost per student which could result in the same outcome as a time- and money-intensive study process. There are now programs available in Wiscasset schools that had been cut prior to supervisory union streamlining, and the school’s scores on standardized achievement tests are improving – an indication that our students’ education is improving. Additionally, Wiscasset is also voting the withdrawal question on the 12th; and the outcome of that vote will have implications for Westport’s costs. Westport can vote on a withdrawal petition at a future date if anticipated cost-sharing recalculations do not improve Westport’s cost burden. Westport Island and RSU-12

Parents have expressed concerns about any risk that children would have to change current schools where they are adjusted — and about transportation. As one parent said, “school choice for working parents without the money or flexibility to arrange private transportation means: where the school bus goes, is where the student goes.” Now, most students go to Wiscasset. Families polled by an ad hoc research committee would like to keep their children in Wiscasset — but they are not insensitive to cost issues. Ad Hoc School Research Committee

Island voters benefited from a May 31 town forum featuring a debate of pros and cons. Dennis Dunbar, Westport Island Budget Committee, presented the case for withdrawal; and Richard DeVries, Westport Island RSU-12 School Board Member, presented the case against withdrawal. Both seem to agree that Westport Island’s cost burden is excessive. The basic question seems to be: Do we scrap the current structure in favor of another to grapple with and contain costs? or, Do we stay the course and fight for an equitable cost formula within the RSU-12 structure that we have participated in shaping?

Tomorrow, June 12, is voting day: help the Island make a decision that represents you. The polls will be open at the Old Town Hall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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After the Rain: An Update

East Shore Road is now passable and has been reopened. Sortwell and Junction Roads have been repaired. MDOT responded to view the beaver encampment on the Main Road; they cleared the culvert debris. The waters have receded, and with the exception of gutter erosion on West Shore Road, Baker Road, and some other gravel roadways, life is back to normal.

Some finish work on the roads — culverts, grading, and paving await (budgetary discussion)…

A representative from the state emergency management office will be viewing the damaged areas with town officials later this month.

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It’s a Rainy Day in the Neighborhood

Westport Volunteer Fire Fighters, Road Commissioner Garry Cromwell and crew, Selectmen, and emergency management officers have been out and about today marking, monitoring, and documenting water damage to the roads. East Shore Road has sustained the worst damage.

Following are the areas where caution and good sense are needed:

East Shore Road, which is closed between Gary Webber’s Hill and Log Cabin Road;
Willis Point Road;
Junction Road;
Doggett Road;
Main Road by the beaver encampment adjacent to Oak Run Road;
Baker Road; and
Sortwell Road

If you have additional road or storm damage to report, call 911 — or if you have damage to document, email:

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Westport Island and Rising Tides

Or, people who live on an island shouldn’t ignore rising waters…

If you stand on the shoreline of Westport, you’ll be standing 7 to 8.5 inches closer to the water than you would have been 100 years ago. If you’re standing at the water’s edge, your feet will likely be under water in years to come.

beagle viewing McCarty Cove waters

Investigating the rising tide

According to the Maine Geological Survey, the state’s average sea level increase in the last 100 years has been 8 to 8.5 inches – in Portland, ME (where there has been a tide gauge since 1912) there has been “only” a 7.3 inch increase. Maine scientists predict that the sea level will increase 2 feet over the next hundred years, which most scientists agree is a middle-of-the-road projection based on the current incremental height increases in coastal tides.

To illustrate the potential impact of a rising water level, nature sends an occasional storm our way with “super-sized” storm surges. The Patriot’s Day Storm in 2007 measured a 2.5 foot storm surge in Portland, and the “100-year” storm of 1978 measured a 4.2 foot storm surge in Portland.

Roger, as Director of Westport Island Emergency Management Assistance (EMA), has been appointed to Lincoln County’s Sea Level Rise – Coastal Hazards Project. This project will be using an aerial topographic-survey map done last year using “LIDAR” technology (Light Detection and Ranging, a laser measurement device). LIDAR maps are accurate within 6 inches and include layering details, such as infrastructure and buildings that will allow modeling of the impact of 2-, 3-, and 6-foot storm surges — kind of a create your own disaster movie, so you can figure out how to outsmart a super-sized tidal surge.

Information gleaned from this project will help Lincoln County towns plan and prepare for “the storms of today, and the tides of tomorrow.” According to Robert Faunce, Lincoln County Planner, vulnerable areas in Westport include: low-lying coastal roads, causeways, and shore land structures.

Data from the Sea Level Rise Project will help to target areas that can be “hardened” against future damage or destruction. Target hardening strategies for higher tide levels might include: expanding road culverts; raising roads; relocating water treatment and purification equipment; installing breakwaters; and revising planning ordinances for new structures. Additionally, as of November 2011, Westport residents can now purchase federally-backed flood insurance to protect their homes.

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For more information, see the Lincoln County Sea Level Rise — Coastal Hazard Study.

Westport Island Cleanup Day

And, some musings on roadside debris…

Saturday, May 5: Derby Day, Cinco de Mayo, eve of the Super Moon — and the Westport Island Cleanup. The Conservation Commission has sponsored this annual event for the last five plus years. Twenty-five volunteers collected enough roadside debris to fill two pickup beds, with time left to catch the Derby, celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and relax in the light of the Super Moon.

Picking roadside trash brings back memories. I spent paid hours picking trash in detective assignments in Vice and Elder Financial Crimes. There’s a lot to be learned from trash. Cleanup day nuggets, included:

Most “hmmm” item of trash: a fully endorsed, un-cashed check written by a non-Island person to a non-Island company — such an item might typically come from a mailbox or other theft.

Best reminder to “secure personal information by shredding” item: an ATM receipt with a Credit Union’s name, the full name of the deposit holder, a partial account number, and financial information.

Most “reasonable hypothesis drawn from trash” in my assigned area: persons who drink beverages on the go, and are most likely to be careless with their trash, drink either Dunkin Donuts coffee or some kind of Budweiser Beer.

Best reminder to follow your mother’s admonition “not to leave stuff lying around”: a fleece-lined hoodie that an early morning dog walker advised had been sitting on the side of the road since crews cut branches for CMP some months ago.

Best “reuse” items of trash: parts of colorful buoys that make great garden accents.

Until next year…

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Not Exactly a Westport Story: Chief Michael Maloney Remembered

Small Town Tragedy

Today, Chief Michael Maloney of Greenland, NH, was laid to rest. He was killed on April 12 during the service of a narcotics search warrant. Officers from Newmarket, Dover, the University of New Hampshire (UNH), and Rochester were wounded. The suspect, Cullen Mutrie, and his girlfriend, Brittany Tibbetts, are dead as the result of a murder/suicide perpetrated by Mutrie. Although this is not a Westport Island story, it could be an Anytown, USA story.

My husband and I mourn as retired law enforcement officers. I mourn as a New Hampshire native who: knows Greenland as the home of a best friend; graduated from UNH; worked at the Dover Police Department while at UNH; and lived in Newmarket before moving to San Diego and joining the San Diego Police Department. I feel tied to the officers and the communities.

When we mourn and remember Chief Maloney — along with his family and his communities, it is with deep sadness that my husband and I remember other such deaths and moments in the lives of families, officers, friends, and neighborhoods. The loss is beyond that felt by the families and communities involved… Families and friends have lost loved ones. The officers involved will never forget that night and will live with the sometimes unreasonable guilt of surviving. The community, now violated, will never recover its “before the incident” sense of security. And, we all feel a sense of helplessness with the rotting cavity that drugs and the illicit drug market have bored in our extended families and neighborhoods. This event will live on as yet another training scenario of the dangers inherent in dealing with the drug addicted, the alienated, and the mentally ill.

The proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child” is oft quoted in child development. Likewise, it takes all of us and all of our villages to address the permissions given to drugs in our culture and our families. Donna Tibbetts wisely stated at her daughter’s vigil this past week, “Just remember, life is too short. Make good choices…take one day at a time; and make every day special.”

The best way to commemorate the Chief who gave his life, as well as the suffering from this tragedy, would be for just one person, and hopefully more, to recognize bad choices and start the journey back to those who care and to a life well lived.

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