Though Nashville is Tennessee’s capital and home to Vanderbilt University, its claim to fame is country music, the Grand Old Opry and the live bands that play the all-day bars along Broadway Avenue. But the country music aura of Nashville is being overshadowed by the city’s building boom, fueled by large companies like Amazon. Nashville’s skyline is filled with skyscrapers, with another 20 rising, and many more permitted. Construction is happening so fast that residents refer to the state bird as the “crane.”

This is not to imply that growth is bad, but if you imagine Nashville as a small city or as homespun as an old country ballad, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Picture the reality – the Grand Old Opry is now in the suburbs, adjacent to a shopping mall.

Times change, but the cool vibe that is transforming Nashville into a corporate mecca is being lost in the process. It’s hard to see why city leaders don’t slow down a bit, manage growth more carefully and guard the city’s country music charm.

Which brings us to Maine. Our cultural identity is connected to the land and water, the wilderness and quality of life. This is the allure for many residents and millions of vacationers each year.

Last year, our identity was on the ballot with the Central Maine Power corridor. Voters rejected the proposal for various reasons, some wilderness-related, some process-related. Regarding the latter, federal officials refused to do an environmental impact study, and the project sponsors, CMP and Hydro-Quebec, refused to do more analysis. The public begged both parties to reconsider, but to no avail. The message was loud and clear: The state needs greater authority when it comes to large and highly controversial projects.

Concerns about growth are often about scale. If a proposed development is big or introduces something entirely new, it follows that a careful look at the potential environmental and community impacts is important. Better safe than sorry is wise policy.


The next test might be spaceports. Launching rockets is a promising new industry for Maine and test launches have already happened. But the licensing process shouldn’t be rushed. The public needs to know where this is headed. What is the long-term outlook for rocket sizes and launch frequencies? Does booster fuel chemistry change with rocket size? What are the likely noise effects on communities and wildlife?

A procedural roadmap for us exists in 19 other states, which have established an option to conduct their own environmental analysis of big projects. The options are rarely triggered, but they provide a state insurance policy, available when federal agencies are recalcitrant, developers are uncooperative or legislators are too eager to grease the skids.

Obviously, if big projects receive more scrutiny, project sponsors face greater risk. They might have to scale back, mitigate or even abandon their effort. But the typical outcome would be better project design, informed by early public input, disclosure of planning assumptions and a look at reasonable alternatives.

An example of how it might work is the pharmaceutical industry. Drugmakers pay to do the scientific product research and then submit their findings to the Food and Drug Administration before the agency approves a new drug. For Maine, a developer would file an impact analysis, whereupon the state would approve it, ask for supplemental information or decide to do independent analysis.

If Maine wants to protect its future and what makes it special, it needs a way to define large projects on the basis of significant impact and public controversy and to issue standards for how these projects must be evaluated.

It may be too late for Nashville to preserve the laid-back country music scene, but Maine still has time to protect its future against big developments that deliver financial benefits to some, but socialize the costs in general. For projects that could alter the landscape forever, asking for the facts is not asking too much.

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