The Stormy Roundabout: A Tale from Midcoast Maine

Please know that this is a true account of events as confirmed by a representative of Grover’s Hardware in Boothbay Harbor. The prominent characters in this abridged tale are Maine and Mainers. Some would say that’s redundant but humor the notion just for the moment.

Change is challenging especially when community consensus is a prerequisite. The weather was beautiful on March 9, 2016. The high temperature had reached into the 50s, the wind was seven knots out of the southeast, and the skies had been clear for most of the day. But, by 7:00 p.m. darkness was upon Boothbay, and a pall of skepticism advanced with the sun’s retreat. Attendance at the Boothbay Board of Selectmen meeting promised to be high, so the assembly moved from the town hall to the YMCA. True to expectations, a substantial proportion of the town’s 3,000 citizens showed up. The big draw was the vote on whether or not to vote on the proposed roundabout. Let me explain.

Mainers like to vote. They vote on everything. And that’s probably a good thing except in Wiscasset, but that’s another story involving stubbornness, lobster rolls, and traffic flow. Back to Boothbay, after robust and bounteous citizen dialogue, the selectmen voted 3-0 to allow the roundabout question to appear on the November ballot alongside the question of who would be President of the United States.

On November 8, 2016, the roundabout measure passed 1,121 to 968 and surveying and construction began almost immediately. The busy summer and early fall were tested by construction as crews labored to unravel an indiscernible tangle of stop signs and county roads intersecting in a Bermuda Triangle North, of sorts. The ancient conglomeration was a “failed intersection” characterized by no less than the Maine Department of Transportation. The plan was to superimposed a small but functional traffic circle on the mess. Now with the work mostly complete in early November 2017 and the roundabout in service, all that is left is for local motorists–because only locals are left in Boothbay this time of year–to learn how to use it.

There’s a significant backstory that I’ll summarize as follows. The story involves a flavored vodka magnate, a person from away (PFA)–that is, forty-eight miles away–who many locals believe is trying to disrupt the historic Boothbay social and economic trajectory. Yes, the magnate built a 30 million dollar mansion, luxified a sleepy old golf course and a tired hotel on the harbor, and has projected that he knows what’s best for the region. The magnate, Mr. Coulombe, was a principal supporter and financier and beneficiary of the roundabout. Hence, the roundabout was a much-discussed emotional issue.

With any change, there’s a learning curve. Since Mainers don’t travel far from home, perhaps for fear of being pegged as “from away,” many have never used a roundabout. Suffice it to say from inception to implementation; the roundabout has been on everyone’s minds and tongues.  At least it was until the Sunday before Halloween. That’s when the wind began to howl, and the rain started to sting.

The storm started around 10:00 p.m. and by 5:00 a.m., more than half a million Mainers had lost power. Virtually everyone in Boothbay lost electricity, and some were out for seven days. Barters Island, our home away from home was out for four and a half days. Thank goodness it wasn’t freezing, and the temperatures stayed between 40-60 degrees.

Now we come to the point of the story. When the people of Boothbay lost power, they stopped talking about the roundabout. All the local buzz changed to talk about the storm and trees and generators and power lines. So, if you want people to stop complaining about something, cause a bigger problem. Again, this social phenomenon has been confirmed by a credible representative of Grover’s Hardware so you can take it to the bank or if you prefer, the hardware. –SJH

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