EDITORIALS

Lights, camera … action! Flip the switch on Jonesport foghorn

Andrea Reny of Round Pond paddles past Moose Peak Light on Mistake Island. The 72-foot lighthouse marks the entrance to Main Channel Way and Eastern Passage near Beals Island.
Courtesy of Karen Francoeur, Castine Kayak Adventures
Andrea Reny of Round Pond paddles past Moose Peak Light on Mistake Island. The 72-foot lighthouse marks the entrance to Main Channel Way and Eastern Passage near Beals Island.
Posted March 19, 2014, at 1:12 p.m.
Last modified March 19, 2014, at 4:53 p.m.

As fishermen and regular boaters know well, it’s important to be prepared to adapt to changing conditions. The weather on the open sea can shift quickly.

That flexibility doesn’t tend to exist with rules governing ocean navigation, however, and often for good reason. Boaters rely on buoys, beacons and audible signals to know what waters to seek or avoid. Altering those devices could add another element of uncertainty and endanger people’s safety.

But sometimes there’s good reason to refine the rules. Such is the case in Jonesport, where a film crew would like to make a movie — just not with a background track of a foghorn on Mistake Island blasting every 30 seconds. The crew asked the U.S. Coast Guard to turn off the foghorn temporarily during filming, and for awhile it seemed as if the Coast Guard might not grant the request.

On Wednesday, however, Lt. Joe Klinker, a public affairs officer with the Coast Guard’s first district, said the agency is willing to replace the fog signal with a mariner radio-activated sound signal. That means boaters would be able to click their marine VHF radios to activate the foghorn when they need it. The foghorn would then send out its blasts for 45 minutes. Pending feedback from boaters on the idea, the Coast Guard would replace the foghorn in eight weeks.

The foghorn currently blasts all day, every day, regardless of whether it’s sunny or overcast. Obviously you don’t need a foghorn when the coast is literally clear. But by granting one request to turn off the foghorn, the Coast Guard had risked the chance of setting a precedent. That’s why it makes sense to change the system itself and accommodate everyone’s different needs.

Regulations may be made with good intentions, but a one-size-fits-all approach rarely makes sense in practice. Government agencies need to be able to revise their rules for worthy exceptions, as the Coast Guard did, because they exist for the public benefit. In this case, it’s not just the film production that stands to gain from turning off the foghorn but an area of Washington County that needs the local business and attention. The film presents an opportunity to help market the town and draw people east of Bar Harbor.

Now the task will be to spread the word about the new system. The Coast Guard already has an easy way to inform people about changes through the publication Local Notice to Mariners. It’s updated weekly with reports of missing, discontinued or sinking navigational buoys or beacons. Next week readers will also see a notice about the proposed foghorn switch.

For awhile it looked like the Coast Guard might let bureaucracy get in the way of common sense. Film director Erica Fae wasn’t the only one to intervene. Jonesport officials, the private owner of the lighthouse and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, did, too. We’re glad everyone found a solution to the foghorn predicament before it was too late and the movie deal sailed south.

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