Monday, March 31, 2008

What was it?

Saturday morning at 5:30 I was awoken from my slumbers by a loud siren from I know not where. It went on and on so I called the NPD. An officer told me he had already received one report of the siren and they were sending a cruiser out to check on things.

The first thing I thought upon awakening was that it was a siren to alert residents that the island had been breached by the Atlantic Ocean. Not that things had gone haywire at the nuclear power plant in Seabrook, but that I was possibly about to be swept into the river, which is at the end of the street.

I don't think there is such a siren; but I realized I don't know what sirens there are to alert citizens of imminent disaster. Check that, I know there's one for a "problem" at the nuke plant, but I don't know what it sounds like. I only know the horn that goes off at 12:30 p.m. every day in Newbury and that also alerts to a fire.

I called NPD later in the day to find out what the siren was but the dispatcher claimed no knowledge of to what I was referring.

It was possibly a car alarm; but from my Boston experiences of many years, those don't usually go on for 16 minutes and this siren would be loud and then less so, giving the impression of a revolving mechanism.

We don't hear a lot of car alarms out here - in fact, I don't believe I've ever heard one go off in the 3+ years I've lived here. We've had an explosion, fires, floods - and I've got to tell you, there wasn't this much action in my immediate vicinity in the entire 20 years I lived in Boston.

But apparently the situation out here is lurking in my subconscious, no matter how much I might try to slough it off as potential over reacting.

Monday, Monday

Today, I have decided, is my day off from posting, except for this one, of course. I have a "newsy" one ready to go but I'm holding it. I can be arbitrary like that now.

My apologies to Michelle Curran; I forgot to link to her blogspot, Singuloso, in my previous post as I meant to.

The three women - Aine, Elisabeth and Michelle - are all part of the writer's group I wrote about previously. Read local. Hey, did I just start a campaign?

I fixed the previous post and am now going off to scrape my financial barrel so I can pay the rent!

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Speaking of Merrimack Valley Magazine, the cover on the March/April issue (available now at Fowle's) features a photograph by a local, nature photographer Jim Fenton. There's also a nice photo spread inside the issue.

There is also a personal essay by Port writer Aine Greaney, an Irish transplant to our region, and a review of resident Elisabeth Brink's novel, "Save Your Own," penned by another local, Michelle Xiarhos Curran, who was once, as was I, a freelancer with the Current.

Michelle, who also has a piece in the issue about shopping in Newburyport and Amesbury, has been a constant contributer since the first issue, again as have I and Lowell resident Andy Smith.


This needs no additional comment from me.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Interesting reading

I found this interesting column listed in, of all places, LinkedIn. Apparently it is what my former colleagues at Community Newspaper Company are reading. How the folks at LinkedIn know or even care what my former colleagues are reading is another subject altogether ...

I'm not particularly religious, so therefore religion is a topic I'm not prepared to tackle (unless it's my neighbor's former boyfriend, who for some reason I could not resist bickering with - in a good spirited way on both sides - at every opportunity).

I do, however, know some people who are switching from church to church, striving to find the "right" fit. In at least one case the search is a source of great anxiety.

Chat with the mayor about parking

Today a friend and I ventured forth to City Hall to meet with Mayor John Moak at his Saturday open house. Time was at a premium - people were filtering at a regular rate - so I only had a couple of minutes to chat about municipal matters. He did say, however, that he and I should sit down and discuss some issues I raised.

Today, I really wanted to know his response to Stephen Karp and his team saying publicly that parking and traffic issues were the city's problem and the city has to resolve them itself.

"I'm pushing back on that," the mayor said. "I'm going to need some justification for that. I'm not convinced there's a parking problem now."

Of course, he added, if "people" take (parking) off the waterfront, there will be a problem and "I'm not naive to the fact that we need public parking."

By "people," of course, he means the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA), the quasi-governmental entity that owns the two parking lots on the river.

Just to be clear, New England Development or Newburyport Development or whatever they are called here, has to provide parking for whatever they build at Waterfront West as part of the Waterfront West Overlay District (WWOD).

"He's taking care of his parking down there," Moak said. "He has pledged up to 400 spaces."

So basically we're talking a possible city parking garage and one serving Waterfront West. Two parking garages in our little city (more on this in another post).

On another note, I noticed while driving home that the space where Newburyport Lighting used to be has a "For Lease" sign hanging on the door. Wasn't that where Chico's was supposedly going in? Maybe I missed the report in the daily paper ... always a possibility.

Check it out

Read all about Earth Hour on Ari's blog, Newburport Report.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Shut 'em off

Ari Herzog, on his blog Newburyport Report (sorry, Ari, didn't realize how similar the names are), has challenged the city to go dark for one hour tomorrow, Saturday, March 29, starting at 8 p.m.

Ari quoted statistics on how much energy was saved in other participating cities in previous years by everyone turning off lights for just one hour. I don't have these, of course, but maybe Ari will elaborate, either here or on his own blog.

Not trying to give anyone any ideas, mind you

One of my buddies from said writing group sent this to me this morning (obviously from a UK news source):

Man tries to pay water bill with toilet paper cheque

A US man, disgruntled by a hike in the cost of his water rates, yesterday tried to pay off his outstanding bill with a cheque written on toilet paper.

According to local press reports, Ron Borgna, from Binghamton, NY, was escorted from the county office building after he presented the cheque for $2509.66 written on three squares of floral print toilet paper.

Borgna has been in dispute with city authorities for 17 months after receiving a $422.90 water bill - around four times his normal amount - in September 2006. His anger has since been exacerbated by a recently proposed 42% hike in city water rates.

Borgna told reporters he eventually decided to pay the charge - which now includes subsequent bills and late fees - to avoid property tax problems.

He took the home-made cheque and a bank statement proving he had the money in his account to the county office on Wednesday but officials refused to accept the cheque and after a confrontation he was escorted from the building.

Borgna told reporters he may now try and pay the $2509.66 bill with loose change.

My friend said when she saw the headline, she thought he might be from Newburyport. I don't know what she means ...

Writing and the nature of nature

I love the meetings of our writer's group. It's a diverse group of people of all ages and genre and every time we get together there is at least one new person to meet. We share leads and tips via email and warn each other about potential pratfalls when we get together. Thanks, guys.

At our meeting last night I was talking with Jean Foley Doyle, who is researching the followup to her wildly successful "Life in Newburyport 1900-1950," which she self-published last year.

As I'm sure a lot of people know, the issues that are "hot" today have been so episodically for a century, at least. She told me about the putting in of parking meters and the taking out of parking meters,hotels, Plum Island being breached at the location of the (now former) church, etc.

I'm certain that someday, something will happen out here on this island that is of a dramatic, if not catastrophic, nature. It's a barrier island, and from what I understand barrier islands were formed by nature to bear the brunt of a storm for the mainland. At least that's the theory; it's rather complex and involves the salt marsh as part of the ecosystem of the barrier island.

All I know is, this business of messing with nature started back in the 1600s when colonists began the slow process of disturbing the delicate balance by farming and grazing animals on the island and the marsh. So, no, it's not a recent problem - although I think building huge houses that block the wind does not help the dune structure any. Those colonists did not have access to the information that we of today have - although they could have taken a cue from the natives.

This all reminds me of that old movie, "Elephant Walk." A woman (Elizabeth Taylor) comes to live with her husband (Peter Finch) at his family's tea plantation in Ceylon. The patriarch of the family had previously decided to build his house over the ancient way the elephants walked on their migration, because he wanted the view or something like that. Maybe just because he owned the property and felt he had the right; I don't recall why. But he sure dissed the poor elephants.

His servants regularly chased the beasts away from their ancient right of passage. This worked for years, until the elephants decided they'd had enough of the bullshit, stormed the house, wrecked it, and took a few people out in the process.

There was some romantic plot in there, too, but all I remember well is the stuff about the elephants and how they took particular vengeance on the old man as he faced them in the end.

Those were just a bunch of pissed off elephants in a movie - this is the ocean.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Looks like I might need that boat in the photo ...?

Read the story in today's Daily News about the "imminent threat" to Plum Island. I am sitting in my miniscule cottage on PI right now, typing this. Yikes.

Even the Port Planet has joined in the general alarm, with the headline "Say Good-Bye to Plum Island!" in what I believe is the latest issue. Yikes!

But wait, I remember a certain City Councillor telling me a couple of weeks ago that he was warned by a science teacher in middle or high school about the high potential for a breach of the PI dunes.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Latest installment of landfill news

I received Wednesday evening, from Ron Klodenski of the citizen's ad hoc committee on the landfill, a presentation given to the City Council on Monday. David Chatfield, another committee member, put together a terrific update. This is just one slide in the presentation:

NV (New Ventures, LLC, the landfill owner) has an atrocious operating record at this site:
􀂆 Not mixing soil with the C&D (construction & demolition) fines
􀂆 Low ratio of soil to C&D fines
􀂆 Not operating the mitigation equipment
􀂆 Not maintaining the mitigation equipment
􀂆 Mitigation system has never been validated
􀂆 High turnover of staff
􀂆 High turnover of contractors
􀂆 Poor relations with the community members
􀂆 Poor relations with City staff
􀂆 Not meeting odor complaint protocols
􀂆 Not meeting traffic clauses in host community agreement
􀂆 Littering
􀂆 Timeliness of responses regarding design, etc
􀂆 Not meeting schedule
􀂆 Continuing hydrogen sulfide emissions into the community
􀂆 Not manning the site 24/7
􀂆 Deliberate shutdown of mitigation equipment

I am on the email list of people who get the reports of complaints about the landfill. It's a relatively small group of people - BUT if you think this is a localized issue, consider this: no one knows how far the hydrogen sulfide blows on the wind. The monitors are all in the Crow Lane area. Paul Healey, chairman of the Conservation Commission, said at a recent meeting that he has smelled the distinctive odor of hyrogen sulfide (burnt matches) all the way out on Plum Island.

Early last month I sat with city Director of Public Health Jack Morris in his office. He showed me how much paper he had in his office relating to the landfill - not to mention all the files that were stored elsewhere in the department. This issue has taken up a lot of his time, and his time is taxpayers' money.

Lastly, for now (this situation shows no sign of going away anytime soon):

"Proximity to landfills and hazardous waste sites can severely affect property values. Any property close to an active landfill will probably be devalued as a matter of course. Depending on how close the property lies to the site, whether the site is still active, and (if not active) if the waste has been properly encapsulated or removed, the value of a tract of land or home could be affected in many different ways. For example, if an active landfill is declared "closed" and proper measures are taken to ensure that there is no risk of contamination from the waste therein, the value of a nearby property may rise from the low value it had from being located near an active waste site. Devalued property may further regain some of its previous value if the former waste site is improved or developed commercially. However, if the waste site is not properly closed and encapsulated, or if waste leaks into the surrounding properties while or after it is active, property values may be irreversibly lowered." [source:]

LinkedIn: what can it do for ME?

OK, so my neighbor woman convinced me to join LinkedIn, which in case you don't know is a website where you establish connections with people you don't know through people you do know. Like seven degrees of separation. By the time I'm done, I should be corresponding with Sidney Poitier.

I asked some people to be my connections, they agreed, and there we all are. I asked my neighbor today, "Now what?"

She assured me that through the 81,000+ connections I am just three degrees separated from (according to LinkedIn) is someone who will employ me to write for them or give me money to set up some sort of writing venture. Hmmm, is billionaire developer Stephen Karp on LinkedIn?

Well I'm off to a running start - my newest connection has graced me with his 305 connections (none of which is Karp). I have only 15 of my own, so far, including a fair number of family members. For a reporter, I sure haven't racked up those connections, have I? Stay tuned.

Should we be alarmed?

I covered the latest monthly meeting of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce this week for Merrimack Valley Magazine and came away from it - well, amazed. State Treasurer Timothy Cahill told the group that the per capita, per person average spent on lottery tickets per year in MA is $700. The national average is $170 per person and the next highest amount nationally was $300 per person. There is one lottery machine for every 175 people in this state.

"It's just a fact," Cahill said to me later. "People in Massachusetts love the lottery."

Well I guess so.

When he announced the figures, there was an audible gasp from the audience.

At a previous meeting I attended, the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, State Sen. Susan Tucker said that there are a disproportionate number of lottery machines in places such as the less affluent sections of Lowell.

I don't know where I stand on the state-sanctioned gambling issue. Where does everyone else stand?

On another note, Cahill also said - and I don't think this has been reported anywhere - that he is looking to borrow against future federal funds to repair 10 bridges that need high-cost repairs, including our own Whittier Bridge on I-95. If anyone recalls, there was a story in the Newburyport Current and Amesbury News when Cahill ruffled feathers with his (perhaps) implication that the bridge was about to collapse. (The bridge is of the same design as the one that collapsed in Minnesota last year.)

"I think it's a great way to access federal money and not impact the budget right now," Cahill said. "It's vital to get these projects done."

The state, Cahill said, gets 80% reimbursement from the feds but would not be able to access the money until 2015.