BLUE HILL, Maine — Blue Hill Peninsula towns are increasingly looking past their individual municipal borders and working together as a region to take on issues such as climate change, housing and slow internet.
“Towns that work together to reduce climate impacts on their community members will be more efficient, effective and fiscally prudent than they would be if they were to tackle this challenge on their own,” said Allen Kratz, a Brooksville resident and one of the people spearheading Peninsula Tomorrow, a peninsula-wide climate change group. “Protecting individual parts of the peninsula will not be as effective as reducing risk throughout the area.”
Peninsula Tomorrow, which formed last year, is among several multi-town groups that have emerged. This past fall, leaders from eight towns around the peninsula began meeting in a league of towns-esque gathering to talk about their collective problems, something they’ve done twice so far. Several towns have also banded together to work on bringing faster internet to their small, rural communities in western Hancock County.
While regional cooperation isn’t unheard of in the area — there have been long standing interlocal agreements for the transfer station in Blue Hill and first responders — the scale of the recent efforts is new, several peninsula officials said. Brooklin Select Board Chair William Cohen chalked the change up to a shift in attitude by local leaders.
“I think 25 years ago, the communities felt very strongly that they were just going to take care of themselves,” he said. “Historically, the peninsula towns have attempted to just go it alone but that’s changing.”
The new development has been welcomed by James Fisher, the town manager of Deer Isle, as the area takes on massive issues such as climate change and the lack of affordable housing. Both of these issues cross town boundaries and would be heavy lifts for any individual municipality.
“It’s difficult for me to see how we’ll solve the problems we are facing if each [town] does it alone,” he said.
The potential to pool resources between towns, many of which have minimal town hall staff and no town managers, could help make the area more competitive when it comes to grants and other funding opportunities.
While the area hasn’t come up with the answers to these big questions yet, several peninsula officials said it’s been nice to just get the towns together to talk. The peninsula-wide meeting of select boards is planned to happen quarterly and Peninsula Tomorrow has been meeting monthly.
“I thought it was helpful just to hear what other towns were up to,” said Michael Sheahan, a selectman in Sedgwick.
Everyone has similar issues and these meetings have been great to think of possible collaborations. But at some point action will be needed, Sheahan pointed out. “It’s nice to start talking but the hard part is actually doing something.”