Fire and rain; a tale of two cities

When I was 15, I was sent to live with my uncle Leonard in West Peru, Maine.

I would joke with people during my sophomore and junior years in high school that I lived in Peru but had to go through Mexico to attend my classes at Rumford High School.

If you have ever been to Rumford or driven past it, you know how bad the downtown paper mill smelled. The stench from that pulp and paper mill would make you gag. It was 10 times worse than the putrid smell generated by the MERC trash-to-energy plant in downtown Biddeford.

Closing MERC sparked an economic renaissance for Biddeford. Home values went up; the downtown area began to flourish with several new businesses; and young people from all over southern Maine decided to move here.

Back to Rumford.

One time, while driving through Mexico (Maine), I asked my uncle how he could tolerate the god-awful smell generated by the mill on the other side of the Androscoggin River. His answer was quick with a serious tone: “That is the smell of money,” he said.

I learned a lot from my uncle. He was the director of student teacher training at the University of Maine in Farmington, but he didn’t suffer fools lightly. He was an avid hunter, fisherman, snowmobiler, boater and camper, just like the tourists who visit western Maine every year.

But he always reminded me that most of the forest land in Maine is privately owned.

In Biddeford, we had the luxury of closing MERC. It proved to be a financial success for our city that is perched along the shores of Maine’s gold coast.

In Rumford, however, closing the pulp and paper mill would be like dropping an economic nuclear bomb on that town and its surrounding communities (Mexico, Dixfield, Peru, Roxbury and Byron). They would all feel the pain.

Each year, for the past 20 years, my family goes camping along the south shore of Rangeley Lake, roughly 90 minutes northwest from Lewiston. It’s a wonderful place to hear the cry of loons while sitting around a camp fire and staring at the brilliant array of stars on cloudless nights.

But some people worry that we may lose those opportunities if the NECEC (New England Clean Energy Connect) project is built.

More than 80 percent of Maine’s sustainable forest lands are privately owned. Large landowners, such as Weyerhauser and Irving have a long history of allowing public access on their privately-owned land.

While driving along Route 17 toward Rangeley, you will see logging trucks headed down the highway toward Rumford, Lincoln, Jay and other mill towns, providing economic stimulus in a region that knows its poverty rate is much more intense than in places like Portland, Freeport, Biddeford and Kennebunkport, where logging trucks are a rare sight.

Hey, kid! Get off my lawn!

Many Mainers consider access on private land as their birthright and they rarely think twice about using that land for their own enjoyment. And some of them – such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine -actively work to block any kind of development, including renewable energy projects (wind, solar and hydro).

That last one leaves me scratching my head. An environmental group lobbying to stop a renewable energy project???

As you continue your drive northwest on Route 17, you will see the Record Hill Wind project lining the ridgeline in Roxbury on your left side. That project features 22 wind turbines. The town of Roxbury was mainly in favor of the project, which not only generates new property taxes but also guarantees public access along that ridgeline for hunting, snowmobiling, hiking and ATV trails.

In a perfect world, we may not need more energy. But before people in southern Maine pontificate their opposition to the NECEC, maybe they should listen to the many voices of people who live and work on that land, including former State Rep. Larry Dunphy (R) of Emden.

In a recent letter to the editor of the Piscataquis Observer, Dunphy doesn’t pull any punches: “I believe that when Mainers learn the truth about the NECEC, they will support it as I do,” Dunphy wrote. “Please do your own research. Don’t base your opinion on the lies being paid for by the same oil and gas companies who profit handsomely from stopping clean energy from coming into Maine.”

The bulk of the NECEC project will run across private land and the remaining corridor will be adjacent to existing transmission corridors. The NECEC will preserve and create new snowmobiling/ATV trails, and other outdoor activities.

The project will also pump millions of dollars in economic activity into Maine’s economy while providing Maine and other New England states with a clean, sustainable source of energy that will meet current and future electricity demands.

It’s a no-brainer. Please join me in supporting the NECEC project.

Originally published on the Saco Bay News web site; July 29, 2021


I’m a boy and I’m a man

Ralph Waldo Emerson once quipped that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” This week, I offer a solid example in which society is best served from at least a little bit of consistency.

State Rep. Maggie O’Neil (D-Saco) has introduced a bill (LD 706) to lower the voting age in Maine from 18 to 16. No other state allows 16 year-olds to vote in general elections. In fairness, several states do allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register but those states also require voters in a general election to be at least 18 years of age.

In North Dakota, however, there is no need to register to vote.

Do you remember when you were 16? I do. I had black-light posters, a crush on Farrah Fawcett and I listened to AC/DC on an 8-track player. I was also a political junkie who watched Nixon resign and board a helicopter on the White House lawn when I was 10.

When I was 12, I got to shake President Carter’s hand when he made a campaign stop in Biddeford. When I was 16, my father volunteered for Ted Kennedy’s failed presidential run in 1980.

Subsequently, without thought or curiosity, I became an ardent and passionate Democrat.

Today, I have had the experience of raising two 16-year–old boys. I love my boys and they both turned into fine young men, but there was no way that they were ready to vote back then.

Old enough to die; old enough to vote

In 1971, Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18. That amendment was fueled in part by the Vietnam War and the compulsory draft of 18-year-old into military service.

The 26th Amendment set up its own range of inconsistencies. For example, at 18 you are old enough to join the military but not old enough to purchase alcohol.

O’Neil’s bill, however, is riddled with many more inconsistencies. 16-year-olds are rarely, if ever, tried in criminal court for a criminal offense; instead they are tried in juvenile court and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility if found guilty.

While 16 is the minimum age of consent, they cannot act in pornographic movies and are too young to buy a pack of cigarettes. At 16, society says that you cannot sign a legal and binding contract, including marriage without parental consent. I could keep going, but you probably get my point.

When it comes to minimum age requirements, Congress mandates that you must be at least 25 to serve in the House of Representatives; 30 to serve in the Senate and 35 to be elected president.

While O’Neil acknowledged those inconsistencies, she also says her bill is designed to address some other inconsistencies.

Reaching the age of 18 is a big milestone in all of our lives,” O’Neil says. “But the truth is [turning 18] does not signify some seismic shift in an individual’s ability to participate in society or civic life.  At the age of 16, young people are working under our employment laws, paying taxes, and driving on roads. They are attending school–there’s no one more in touch with our education system than students and educators who are in school every day.”

O’Neil says she was motivated to submit the bill after working with several juvenile supporters during her campaign for office, specifically pointing to her campaign manager, 16-year-old Cole Cochrane, a sophomore at Thornton Academy.

Cochrane says “we don’t need to just focus about current responsibilities for 16 year olds, but about how we contribute and the ultimate outcome.”

 According to Cochrane, lowering the voting age has proven to increase voter turnout rate in countries like Austria, and even in some American cities. “One must consider the contributions we make to society.  We are foundations of campaigns, go to schools that are run by the government, and take on jobs that support our economy. Although we may be considered children by law, it is time to consider us voters as well.”

While many scientists and neurologists say that a brain is not fully developed until one turns 25, both Cochrane and O’Neil point to other studies that say 16-year-olds are fully capable of making decisions and critical thinking.

I already consider this argument somewhat irrelevant given this data point.” Cochrane says. “Decision making capabilities are developed by 16 years of age, indicating that we are able to make decisions despite these concerns.”

Overall, there are multiple benefits to lowering the voting age, Cochrane says. “From validation of millions of voices, to strengthening our democracy. It is time to act now, for the betterment of our state.”

O’Neil readily admits that her bill (currently stuck in committee) faces a “steep hill to climb to send the bill out to voters.”

“No matter what the outcome is, these young people have led an important conversation in the legislature,” O’Neil said. “I’m proud of the work they have done. Their voices are so important, and the legislature needs their perspective.”

Advocacy: The power of testimonials

Sample of testimonial flyer
Sample of testimonial flyer

How do you build support for your project, business or campaign?

There are a lot of tools at your disposal, but one of the most effective tools is garnering support via third-party testimonials.

Third-party voices reinforce your own messaging and they build credibility for your project.

The most powerful persuader in the marketplace, apart from a customer’s own experience, is the opinion of someone they trust, according to Cutting Edge PR.

Authentic testimonials can be produced in both traditional and non-traditional ways: from letters to the editor and op-eds in local newspapers to short videos that can be posted on social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Consider the following research:

  • 90 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations over traditional marketing efforts;
  • 81 percent of customers reach out to friends and family members on social networking sites for advice before purchasing products;
  • 59 percent of consumers say user-generated product reviews have a significant impact on their buying behavior.

These trends are just as important when trying to rally support for a community project or a political campaign.

People trust authentic, independent voices.

A campaign sign placed by the side of the road is one thing, but a campaign sign on a person’s lawn reinforces the candidate’s support in the community.

Advocacy works best when it’s delivered by people outside your project team. I have been helping a variety of clients find and recruit third-party endorsers for more than a decade.

Third-party voices are an effective tool with proven results.

I invite you to contact me to discuss how I can put my years of experience in building community support to work for you.


Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More


Public Relations: the good, the bad and the ugly

handsAsk one hundred different people to define “public relations” and you’ll probably receive nearly 100 different responses, many of them with negative connotations.

A lot of people view PR as some sort of shell game, something that is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Pay us enough and we’ll convince the world that your product, brand or reputation is infallible.

There is an old joke in the consulting industry: “If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.”

Even some PR pros think that a few “white lies” are often necessary to achieve success for their clients, as outlined in this story from USA Today.

I see things differently. I don’t think of PR as “public relations.” I think of PR as “public relationships,” and there is a distinct difference.

Take a moment and consider the relationships that are most important to you: your partner, your spouse, your friends, your boss or even your neighbors.

Good relationships are built on a solid foundation of trust. If you don’t trust your spouse, your marriage is likely doomed. It’s not different when it comes to public relationships.

The truth vs. The Narrative?

The public is more savvy than most PR pros give them credit for. The public yearns for truth and integrity, and will generally forgive a misstep, so as long as the offender is transparent and contrite about their mistake.

Sure you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can even fool all of the people some of the time. But you simply cannot fool all the people all of the time.

Developing a strong and compelling narrative for your client is essential, but that narrative must be rooted in truth and genuine honesty. This is how you build strong relationships. And there is nothing more important in the world of PR than having a strong relationship with your audience.

As an example, I point you to the popularity of two very different candidates vying to be the next president of the United States: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two very different men on completely different sides of the political spectrum.

Sanders, a self-described socialist; and Trump, a billionaire reality TV star, have defied the odds and speculation of the pundits. As the two men continue their campaigns, the pundits now say that the candidates have both tapped into the anger of a very cynical electorate.

I beg to differ.

I think those who passionately support Sanders or Trump view their respective candidates as “honest” This trait causes those supporters to overlook flaws in either candidate.

Sure, voters always like a candidate who tells them what they want to hear, but they become passionate when they believe the candidate is being honest.

A relationship without honesty is like a bicycle without tires. Neither one is of much use.

Building relationships takes time and hard work. But every good relationship must be built on the foundation of honesty.


Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More


Talking in your sleep

Angry-Computer-GuyOftentimes, it’s not so much what you say but rather how you say it.

It’s an important lesson for all of us, but especially important for those who aspire to be our leaders. Think: “Social Security is Welfare

Earlier today, I was interviewed for a locally produced talk show in my community. I was pitched for this idea several weeks ago, and my first instinct was to decline the invitation. But the host was persistent, and he wanted to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: strategic communication.

As I prepared for the 25-minute taping, I paused to think about some words that I routinely take for granted.  After all, I am a strategic communications consultant; my job makes sense to me but I wondered if it made sense to anyone else.

stra-te-gic \strƏ-tē-jik\ adj 1. of, relating to, or marked by strategy. 2. necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.

com-mu-ni-ca-tions\ kә-myὕ-nә-kā-shәns\ n. 1. an act or instance of transmitting; 2. process by which information is exchanged between individuals.

con-sul-tant \kәn-sәlt-nt\ n. 1. one who gives professional advice or services: expert

Thinking more deeply about those words led me to a basic conclusion: Despite the rapid and sometimes overwhelming advance of technology, the basic fundamentals of good communication skills haven’t changed much.

In fact, I quickly recalled a lesson that my late uncle drilled into my head during my teenage years: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.

Human beings have always had the need and desire to communicate. Our ancestors used hieroglyphics (an earlier version of SnapChat) before sharing stories around campfires and passing those tales and lessons from one generation to the next. From there, we moved on to the invention of the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, television  – – all the way into our brave new world of Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

But as the speed of our communication increases exponentially, it becomes increasingly important to remember my uncle’s Golden Rule of Communication: take the time to listen and think before you speak, post or tweet.

If you want to learn a little bit more about my professional life (how I feed my family): check out this relatively short video clip.

In the meantime, remember that social media tools are power tools and require caution and a firm understanding of the consequences of making one wrong move that can happen in an instant without warning.

As always, I encourage your feedback. You can contact me by clicking this link.





Sand in the Vaseline

the_internet_simplified1This blog is on equal footing with the New York Times.

No, I am not having a Richard Sherman moment. I am simply stating a fact. A fact that should give all of us pause as we contemplate the marvels of technology

What I write on these pages is instantly available to billions of people, anyone connected to the world-wide web. By virtue of nothing more than my registered domain, my silly and perfunctory blog is just as accessible as any other online media source.

The internet, virtually free of government regulation (at least in the United States), is the great equalizer, and it has fundamentally shifted the way we live our lives. Today, we can do things that would have seemed impossible or the stuff of science fiction just 20 years ago.

Medical records can be transmitted at lightning speed, sometimes helping doctors save a life; you can now renew your driver’s license while wearing only boxer shorts at 3 a.m. from the comfort of your own home; 12-year-old boys no longer have to suffer the humiliation of sneaking a peek at a Playboy magazine perched on the top shelf at the local drug store. There are millions of funny cat videos to watch; and you can argue politics with absolute strangers (today they are called Facebook “friends” or “followers”) 24 hours a day.

I think we can all agree that the internet is pretty cool. Thank you, Al Gore!

I write this because of a recent court decision that is considered by some as a victory for free markets and by others as a threat to humanity.

The issue is known as “network neutrality,” a terrifying concept with a very appealing name. Thank you, public relations professionals! (You’re welcome)

Those who favor net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.” Those who oppose net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.”

Enter the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals, which sided with Verizon and other telecom giants over the schizophrenic rulemaking proposed by the FCC.

According to Reuters, the Court rejected federal rules that required Internet providers to treat all web traffic equally, a decision that could allow mobile carriers and other broadband providers to charge content providers for faster access to websites and services.

The Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet rules, also known as net neutrality, required Internet service providers to give consumers equal access to all lawful content without restrictions or tiered charges.

Which side of the net neutrality debate is right?

The sad fact is that both sides are a little bit right, and we can all agree that the internet should continue being cool and delivering porn or funny cat videos at blazing fast speeds, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not really the issue at hand. Let’s pause for a moment and watch a video:

Clash of the Titans

At the center of the net neutrality debate is a sad truth. This is not some humanistic battle on the wild frontier of technology. This is a race to the bank by two sets of very large corporations.

On one side, you have internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. On the other side are huge internet users like Netflix, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and YouTube.

The late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was roundly chastised for describing the internet as a “series of tubes,” but he was not that far off the mark.

The bottom line? It costs money to make the internet work. It requires infrastructure that is in constant need of upgrades and repairs to meet the challenges of an exploding market and skyrocketing volume demands. The world has a big appetite for cat videos and pornography.

Netflix, Amazon and others want to use the internet just like you and me. Equal access for all, they scream.

But does that make sense? Net neutrality opponents argue that the internet is a public domain and should thus have equal access for all users. Let’s think about that.

AA001879Can we apply that logic to other public domains? How about the post office? Should it cost as much to mail a post card as it does an air conditioner? Is that discrimination?

Or how about the Turnpike, a quasi-public piece of infrastructure subsidized by tax dollars? Tractor trailer trucks have to pay a bigger toll than someone driving a Prius. And that is fair because the truck creates more wear and tear on the road.

Proponents of net neutrality say that consumers may have to pay more for faster services or special tiered packages. Oh my!

Their rallying cry, as demonstrated by a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Susan Crawford is that the internet could end up being like (gasp) pay TV.

I don’t know about Susan Crawford, but television when I was growing up sucked. We had three channels, and I was my father’s remote control. Television today is much better. I have a huge TV and about a zillion channels that all show the same seven movies over and over. I pay through the teeth for that kick-ass, high-definition, Dolby surround-sound, 60-inch, power sucking thing of beauty, and I can pause live television. Imagine telling that to someone watching Archie Bunker in 1972.

Net neutrality is a solution desperately in search of a problem. Your internet today is better than it was five years ago. I guarantee it will be even better five years from now, . . . unless, the “Save the Internet” crowd opts for a second bite at the apple.

A hard day’s night

This evening, a 30-year saga in Biddeford may finally come to a close. The Biddeford City Council will vote in just a couple of hours on a proposal that calls for purchasing and closing the MERC facility, a trash-to-energy facility located in our downtown area.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be held at the Biddeford Middle School.

Before I go any further, you probably already know, but it bears repeating that I provide professional consulting services to MERC’s parent company, Casella Waste Systems.

But  I am also a Biddeford taxpayer who grew up in this community, and I have been vocal about this issue for a long time, years before I provided consulting services to MERC’s parent company.

With that bit of disclosure out of the way, I am hoping that regardless of how you feel about the pending agreements, you will participate vigorously in the public process.

As the editor of the Biddeford-Saco Courier, I reluctantly encouraged a YES vote on the 2005 referendum that called for Biddeford and Saco to enter into an agreement to buy and eventually close MERC for $30 million, contingent on the state providing $10 million of funding.

Today, the proposed purchase price is considerably lower, but that does NOT mean there will be no tax impacts. As a taxpayer, I am acutely aware of the difficult economy and the struggles our community faces in the days, weeks and years ahead.

But please allow me to be clear, there will be a tax impact because of MERC, whether these agreements are signed or rejected.

For example, according to analysis provided by the city of Biddeford, the tax impact of this deal would represent a $77/year tax increase for a homeowner with a property valued at $200,000. If this deal is rejected, the same homeowner would see an annual tax increase of roughly $66/year, when considering the fact that we would still need a new waste handling contract and higher tipping fees.

The city’s financial data and more information about this proposal can be found on the city’s website and lots more information, including downloadable copies of the agreements and a recent media archive about the proposal can be found at a website hosted by the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce at

Is getting rid of MERC, its stigma, the lingering concerns about potential health and environmental impacts and the opportunity for vigorous and robust downtown development worth $11/year (91 cents a month)? I say YES.

It’s the middle of July, and we all have things we would rather be doing than attending a public hearing, but this is our fourth bite at this apple. The state is watching; our neighbors are watching. It is now time for us to ask ourselves, what are we going to do to solve our problem?

The loss of tax revenue will be significantly offset (not completely) by increases from state revenue sharing, increase in state education subsidies and decreases in our county taxes.

We will still have a tipping rate well below (roughly 50%) what is paid by our neighbors and many other communities.

The purchase is being offered at zero interest over 20 years; and the tax impacts are significantly reduced in the first few years as our community works to redevelop the area and attract new businesses. The purchase price will be buffered by cell phone tower contracts and TIF revenues.

The recycling contract that is part of this deal is less than what our neighbors across the river are paying for the same service.

Financially speaking, it’s difficult to imagine us getting a better deal, but I encourage you to do your own research and make up your own mind.

During last week’s council workshop meeting, members of the city’s negotiating team made one point that everyone should consider: Casella intends to get out of the incineration business, with or without this deal. Their business model focuses on recycling.

Biddeford is being given first offer. Another operator could decide to use the facility as a biomass plant (construction and demolition debris), or as a waste plant; but will they have the financial capacity and resources that Casella has? Will they seek a property tax abatement, considering a bargain selling price?

Make no mistake, I am also worried about MERC’s employees, but we have seen this community rebound before; and are we prepared to sacrifice our future and potential for roughly 75 jobs that will soon be ending, one way or another?

The bottom line? Will  Biddeford be better off with or without MERC operating in the heart of our downtown? Answer that question for yourself, and please take an active role in this hugely important issue for our community and its future.

I hope to see you on Tuesday, July 17, and I invite your questions or feedback.

Related: Fear and loathing in Biddeford