THUMBS UP to the Bridge Year program, which is helping dozens of Maine high school students, including 14 in Waterville, obtain college credits while in high school, and at a fraction of the cost.

Bridge Year is a partnership between high schools, the University of Maine and the state’s career and technical centers. Participants can earn up to 30 college credits in their junior and senior years of high school for $45 per credit, compared to $279 per credit at the university.

That makes college a shorter and less expensive proposition for the students, making it more likely that they will earn a college degree, and not be waylaid by the kinds of financial and familial emergencies that sidetrack some students. In Waterville, 10 of the 14 students in the program are the first in their family to take college courses, a population that is particularly at risk of dropping out of college.

Eight schools now offer Bridge Year, and more, including Messalonskee High School in Oakland, are expected to join next year.

Funding is an issue, though. Waterville has relied heavily on charitable organizations, and the charitable donation of volunteer time by its teachers, to operate the program and offer scholarships to students who cannot afford the tuition.

The state Department of Education contributed $500,000 to the program this year, and Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal includes $2 million for next year.

As the Bridge Year students and teachers in Waterville will testify, that is a well-placed investment.

THUMBS DOWN to the political battle that is holding up 30 worthwhile land conservation projects through the Land for Maine’s Future program, including the purchase of 164 acres near the Capitol complex in Augusta.

Gov. LePage has refused to issue $11.4 million in bonds for the conservation projects as leverage to gain support for his plan to increase timber harvesting on public lands. It is the second time that the governor has withheld these particular bonds in order to get his way — he even previously promised to release the bonds, before backtracking earlier this year.

The Augusta project, which would preserve an area known as Howard Hill that runs from Capitol Street to the Hallowell town line, is a good example of how the LMF program works.

Local organizations, in this case the Kennebec Land Trust, identify plots of land whose conservation serves a larger purpose — keeping an area of the city green, for instance, or preserving a particularly valuable animal habitat or hunting ground.

They then negotiate, often painstakingly, with the property owners, many of whom may be getting better offers from developers but see the value in conserving the land.

Those ideas are then vetted by the LMF board, which prioritizes the projects on a statewide basis, and uses funding approved by voters in statewide referenda.

That long, arduous, delicate process is being disrupted by the governor. It seems unlikely that he’ll let the bonds expire, but the delay is unnecessary, and unsettling to the many people who worked hard to make sure generations of Mainers will have open space to enjoy.

THUMBS UP to the better-than-expected performance of Waterville’s new pay-as-you-throw trash collection system.

At a budget workshop Tuesday, City Manager Michael Roy told councilors the city should save $430,000 a year through lower tipping fees and the sale of trash bags associated with the program.

That exceeds the $300,000 in annual savings the city had expected when it kicked off the program, which was put in place as part of this year’s budget.

The savings is the clearest argument yet that residents should vote to retain pay-as-you-throw at a referendum scheduled for June.

Under the program, the amount of trash Waterville has sent to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington has decreased by 55 percent. That’s good for the environment, and for the city’s bottom line.

An increase in illegal dumping of trash is a concern, but it is one that can be mitigated, and not a reason to throw out a program that is showing such promise.


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