We do not usually think of it until the opportunity has passed, but it sometimes pays to notice what is happening in the town next door. Case in point:
Six miles away from my immediately previous home town, the elected leaders were dealing with efforts to close the town dump. Since the town’s beginning, the dump had been a place to dispose of trash for which the owners had run out of uses. Most food waste became garden mulch or animal feed, and many homes kept burn piles to dispose of combustible trash.
Some waste found its way to the dump, which on weekends became a gathering site for residents who traded information about recent social and government events while they searched the waste piles for useful materials.
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
But in the 1990s, the state’s demographics were changing. folks from the big cities as far away as Pennsylvania, were buying property and moving to Maine. Mostly, they thought of the state as a bucolic region of farms interspersed in the wilderness.
“Why do you want to move to Maine,” was a commonly posed question by those who were not making the move. “There’s nothing there.”
“Exactly,” was the common reply.
The new residents brought with them experiences they thought they were leaving behind: heavy rush-hour traffic, stop-and-go traffic lights, and leaking landfills with their attendant lawsuits over who was going to clean up the resulting mess.
Our neighboring town, population less than 1,000 men, women, kids and dogs – six miles away on the other side of the mountain – was facing pressure from state lawmakers, themselves under pressure from the state’s growing population of folks “from away” to close the landfill at the edge of town where kids had been shooting rats for target practice longer than residents still alive could remember. I’ll call it Millville for the woodworking mills that provided most of the municipality’s living.
Meanwhile, in my town – let’s call it Peaktown for the mountains where the town’s founders had settled at the end of the Revolutionary war, and which bordered the valley into which those founders’ early descendants had physically moved the town to take advantage of the stream that ran through it. Peaktown boasted a population of about 400 souls, a few of which, in the early 1990s, had noticed the pressure and expense imposed on Millville to close and seal its dump.
“Oh, pshaw,” said Peaktown’s elected leaders. “That’s their problem, but we have no pollution problems from our dump.”
The cost to close their dump, residents of Peaktown learned within a few years, was nearly double their town’s existing budget. They fought it, but the state legislature overruled the tiny burg. The dump became a transfer station.
Now, near my current home, several hundred homes have recently been built and a few hundred more are planned or under construction. The township is pressured to change its building height restrictions to allow for a nearly 200-foot tall water tower to fill the needs of the new residents. Some current residents object to the eyesore and its attendant monthly fees, but the new residents need the water many of them thought would come with their new homes.
Meanwhile, in an adjacent township, there is a plan to pipe in a few million gallons a day from a river 30 miles away. California’s trouble with the waning Colorado River should give us reason to pay close attention to the potential for similar problems closer to home. Sometimes it pays to notice what is happening in the town next door.