Sometimes the solutions to vexing and frustrating problems are so elegantly simple that it’s breathtaking.

We’ve got a big problem in Augusta with the bond money voters approved to preserve land for future generations. Maine has had lots of these bonds, through the years, and in every case they’ve passed by a wide margin. It turns out that land conservation is one of the truly nonpartisan ideas we have.

We passed the latest bonds, but nothing’s happening. No money is going into projects. No land is being preserved. Nothing.

What’s the problem? Gov. Paul LePage is holding up the money because he wants something else to happen that is completely unrelated to land conservation. Here’s the argument he’s been making: People in rural Maine, who live in the woods and have wood stoves or furnaces, don’t have enough wood to stay warm. So we should give them some wood. But not just any wood. We should give them wood from the state’s parks.

And unless everyone agrees to that idea, LePage won’t release the money from the land bonds.

I know that sounds convoluted. But logic hasn’t been a strong suit of this administration, as we now know well. But there it is, believe it or not.


Needless to say, there are some problems with the plan. First, LePage has no business ignoring the voters on this or any other issue. Then, of course, there’s this whole business about helping people with firewood. I’m all for helping the truly needy, as most people are. But how is that going to work?

How are we going to chop down trees in state parks without damaging the parks? How are we going to cut, split, store and dry that wood over a year or so, then deliver it to households in far-flung parts of Maine?

Are we talking about — heaven forbid — a massive new state government bureaucracy to help poor people? I thought the LePage administration was trying to dismantle the programs we already have

Then, finally, there’s this question: What in the world does any of this have to do with land conservation?

If you’re looking for examples of wacky, senseless actions in a government out of control, I offer you this plan as Exhibit A. It can best be described with one word made famous by an American general who was surrounded by the German army during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. When told to surrender, he offered this one-word reply: “Nuts!”

I’m worried about where this governor is going with this idea, and some of his other plans right now, including the one to campaign against Republicans who don’t support his tax plan. Ignoring Democrats is one thing. But ignoring voters and threatening your friends is a perilous business.


LePage seems to have become intoxicated with power since the last election. Not that he wasn’t tipsy before, but he seems now to be confusing what a governor in a democracy can do with what an emperor does.

But in the spirit of making the most of the situation in which we find ourselves, let’s see if we can find a compromise. This is where the elegantly simple idea comes into play.

In the Freeport area, where I live, the Maine Department of Transportation has been engaged in a ruthless tree cleansing along Interstate 295, cutting back as much as 100 feet on both sides. This has caused an outrage to people who like trees, and probably lots of grumbling from passing drivers who suspect that this is little more than senseless make-work.

It’s been particularly bad for people who live near the highway, who always used to be on the other side of those woods. Now you can peer into their backyards and inspect the laundry on the lines, if you like. They are not amused.

MDOT officials say they’re doing this for safety reasons, but anyone who’s observed the highway cutting crews mowing some high hill 100 feet from the highway can appreciate what this is really about. It’s a job security program. Cut trees today. Make them lawns tomorrow. Then mow them in perpetuity.

So here are my suggestions to the governor. First, investigate what’s going on at MDOT and do what you love most, which is to root out waste, fraud and abuse. Then, find the tons of wood they’ve already cut and give it to people in rural Maine who need it. Finally, leave the parks alone and free up the bonds.

 Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is a partner in the Caron and Egan consulting group, which is active in growing Maine’s next economy. Email at [email protected]

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