AUGUSTA, Maine — The terrorist attacks in which the ringleader visited Portland and the great recession that rocked both Wall Street and Main Street serve as infamous bookends to a difficult first decade of the 21st century. They also stand out as the decade’s top stories in Maine.
Seven Mainers died at the World Trade Center’s twin towers and at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, in the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil. The next day, Mainers awoke to the startling revelation that Mohamed Atta and another terrorist had started that fateful day at the Portland International Jetport.
The decade ended with more bad news as a financial crisis caused a Wall Street meltdown and sent unemployment soaring in the biggest recession since World War II.
Other top stories selected by The Associated Press told of social change through gay rights legislation, the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station, and the birth of a renewable energy industry.
Former Gov. Angus King experienced the peak of the Internet bubble in early 2000 and the tragedy of the terrorist attacks a year later. Highs and lows punctuated the decade, with the economy soaring and then tumbling, energy prices spiking and then falling.
“I have a hard time characterizing this decade,” the two-term independent governor said. “It’s probably one of the few times you’ve found me speechless.”
Compounding the recession in the state’s Midcoast was the decision to close the Brunswick Naval Air Station, where 4,000 Navy personnel once were stationed. The base closure commission, meanwhile, added jobs to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and a defense finance center in Limestone.
A lengthy gay rights battle culminated with the Legislature’s passage in 2004 of an anti-discrimination law, which was upheld at the ballot box a year later. But state voters rejected gay marriage in 2009, setting aside a law passed by the Legislature recognizing same-sex marriage.
Virtually every person with a telephone in Maine was affected by FairPoint Communications’ $2.7 billion purchase of Verizon’s landline and Internet operations, which came over the objections of opponents who claimed the North Carolina-based telecom wasn’t up to the task.
Burdened by a heavy debt load and customer service problems that led to heavy criticism, FairPoint filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a year later in 2009.
Another top story during the decade was the emergence of wind power, which created hundreds of jobs, a promise of additional projects across the state, and a chance for Maine to establish a reputation as a national leader in offshore wind power research and development.
Shoreside, Maine became New England’s biggest wind-power producer in 2006 as the Mars Hill site went online. Two more wind farms began producing power in 2009, three are under construction and more are in earlier developmental stages.
Some of the decade’s most noteworthy stories involved tragedy — and outright horror.
Fourteen migrant workers from Central America died when the van they were riding in plunged off a one-lane bridge and into the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in September 2002. Only one occupant of the van survived. The contractor who hired the workers was later charged by the U.S. Department of Labor with failing to provide safe transportation for the workers and failing to properly register the van.
The nation’s attention turned to tiny New Sweden in northern Maine when a member of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church died of arsenic poisoning and 15 others fell violently ill in April 2003. A church member who was blamed for the poisonings shot himself to death six days later.
On Easter Sunday 2006, a Canadian killed two men whose names he selected randomly from Maine’s sex offender registry that brands offenders publicly. The killing prompted legislators to re-examine and make changes to the Internet registry.
Also in 2006, quadruple murders at a bed and breakfast in rural Newry around Labor Day weekend horrified the state as gruesome details of the victims’ killings and dismemberments became public. Christian Nielsen pleaded guilty to four counts of murder and is serving a life sentence.