May 8,2020 (Week 1) Newsletter (COVID-19)

Bristol Notes - May 8,2020 (Week 1)

For the Bristol Selectmen:

Chris Hall, Town Administrator

Alewives are back!

Alewives are back! Let’s start with the good news. The ospreys patrolling the Pemaquid River and Pemaquid Harbor show that the annual alewife migration is about to get under way. The fish are in the harbor and soon, likely next week if the river water temperature rises enough, the fish will pass the Pemaquid Mill on the next to last leg of their return to spawn in the upper lakes of the river.

The Fish Committee – who manage the flow of water into the Bristol Mills fish ladder and the leader fence that steers fish into the ladder – are looking for volunteers to count the alewives at their final hurdle. If you’d like a pleasant, ‘socially distanced’ half-hour at the Bristol Mills dam, you can sign up online by clicking here. The count will start on May 18th and last as long as the fish are running (usually mid-June).

Coronavirus update

Lincoln County’s lucky streak of two weeks without any new cases has ended. As of Thursday, May 7th, we have had two more cases diagnosed since the last newsletter, for a total of 14. This is still incredibly low, especially considering the numbers of part-year residents who have returned to Bristol from winter sojourns to our south. That is a testimony to responsible behavior by our neighbors who have quarantined themselves on their return. Thank you!

Thursday May 7th saw Maine’s highest-yet daily jump in the number of new cases – 76. We are the first state in the northeast to begin to open up, and while the numbers of cases and deaths continue to mount in the greater Boston and New York City areas, the fastest growth in the spread of the virus is now in smaller cities and parts of rural America. So this is not the time to let up. Face masks seem to have been adopted and stoically accepted by the overwhelming number of people I see in grocery stores or out walking. Face covering and social distancing will have to remain the ‘new normal’ if we are to continue to open up the economy. 

Alfred Ajami’s graphs will be back in the next issue.

Miles, doctors’ offices open for business

Nick Bryant of Central Lincoln County Ambulance reports that calls for transportation to Miles Hospital are down by around a third compared to last year. People are avoiding getting medical attention – whether because of fear of contagion with the virus, or concern that they are using scarce medical resources best reserved for coronavirus patients.

Our ambulance and first responder crews beg people NOT to delay or avoid essential health care at this time. There are no patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Miles as of this date. The hospital has taken strict precautions to segregate any patient presenting with symptoms of the virus from those scheduled of any other type of care. There are plenty of beds, and plenty of staff, available and regular surgical and other procedures are now largely available once again. Effective May 1, all medical offices may reopen if they maintain strict distancing guidelines. So please, unless you are in quarantine, don’t put off that medical visit. Delay might make you a lot worse.

Central Lincoln County YMCA, Damariscotta – still serving during the COVID crisis

Like many other organizations in our area, the Y is closed to public access until June 1st. However it is working and serving the community in other ways. Bristol resident Martha Flanagan, a member of their board, reports that the Y is providing:

  • Child care for essential workers.
  • Every Tuesday, the weekly ‘Fill the Y Bus’ food & supplies drive: these items are distributed to our local food pantries.
  • Collaboration with Lincoln County Food Initiative to deliver meals and maintain the Help Line where older community members can request assistance. LCFI statistics to date:
    • $6,968.83 spent on food to date, the rest donated;
    • Averaging 33 homes and 75 people each delivery;
    • Because of donations, cost per meal is averaging just 76 cents per meal.
    • We have traveled 2,237 miles, and
    • Prepared and packaged 9,195 meals
  • Direct delivery of food & supplies to other individuals in need. 
  • On-site at the Y: Providing a food & supply donation drop-off service Monday through Friday. 
  • Hosting an active site for Healthy Lincoln County to supply youth with Free Summer Meals Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • American Red Cross Blood Drives: the next one is May 28th.

For more information, and to make a donation please click here.

Festivals and fairs cancelled

Recent cancellation announcements have included the Windsor Fair (beginning of September, our closest agricultural fair); the Common Ground Country Fair (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) at the end of September; and the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta (October).

In Bristol, the Pemaquid Beach Triathlon (August 23rd) has been cancelled for this year. The organizers of Olde Bristol Days (August 14-16) will announce their decision whether to go ahead, not later than Memorial Day. Saddest of all for many in Bristol, the Round Pond July 4th Parade will not take place. That hasn’t been announced, as there is never an official announcement – or organizer – of the parade; it mysteriously just happens! However I’m reliably told by the Sheriff’s Office and local informants that it is postponed to July 2021.

What will the post-COVID regional economy look like? An ‘Op-Ed’ article

Like the rest of the country and the world, in Bristol we will need time to adjust to new patterns of travel, spending and social behavior. We will not return to the status quo before the virus, whether businesses reopen immediately or not. The following thoughts are a personal reflection by the Town Administrator, who studied and taught economics and politics a long time ago at Oxford University: they do not reflect the views of the Selectmen or the Town.

Bristol’s economy can be thought of as divided between businesses that bring money into the town, and those that circulate that money by providing the services we depend on. In the first category is fishing (mostly for lobster, with some clam harvesting and oyster aquaculture), and the overlapping categories of tourism, second homes and retirement. We also have one remarkable manufacturing business in Bristol, Masters Machine, which employs around 100 people. Other money comes into Bristol from people working in Damariscotta or further afield, for example at Bath Iron Works, or (increasingly) online. By far the biggest contributions to this category, though, come from tourism, second homes and retirement: incomes that have been earned and saved somewhere else, and are then spent in Bristol.

In the second category, sectors such as education, health care, retailing, financial services, government, restaurants, construction and maintenance services depend on and support the first category and circulate money within the community. In total, these sectors employ more people than the first category, especially when we consider health care, retail and financial jobs in Damariscotta; but all these jobs depend, directly or indirectly, on what happens in fishing, tourism, second homes and retirement.

The fishing community has been nervously watching the lobster population move slowly but inexorably northwards as the Gulf of Maine warms. Pemaquid was in the ‘sweet spot’ for lobster catches a few years ago; now that seems to be moving north of Penobscot Bay. Lobster catches will likely stagnate then decline, just as they have in ports to our south. While we can be sure that restaurants will reopen sooner or later, it remains to be seen how the lobster price will rebound as major buyers of lobster such as the cruise ship business look set to take a long-term hit. The key to a healthy fishing sector is diversification, including aquaculture. In terms of the broader local economy, a shift into specialty farming and artisanal foods may also be warranted to keep up with demographic trends. There will be some painful adjustments as these changes take place.

Tourism jobs in Bristol are tied to campgrounds, rental cottages, bed-and-breakfast inns and historic hotels such as the Hotel Pemaquid, Gosnold Arms and Bradley Inn. Bookings have been reported as largely cancelled at least through July; people who depend on seasonal jobs such as cleaning cottages will lose a significant portion of their annual income if this trend continues through the summer. In the long term, I expect tourism will recover strongly: many more people will choose a vacation within driving distance rather than getting on a crowded airplane.

Tourism is the ‘lead-in’ to the second home and retirement sector. Visitors discover the Pemaquid peninsula as tourists, decide to return – and eventually settle here. This pattern supports our healthy construction & maintenance trades, restaurants, and retail stores. One expected outcome of the coronavirus is likely to be increasing numbers of people working from home and ‘telecommuting’. In those parts of Bristol with good internet service – both fiber lines and cell signals – we may see property prices rise as more people seek safe and spacious homes away from the crowds, while I expect house prices to fall where internet access is a problem.

Bristol has a record as a friendly and welcoming community. The line between ‘tourists’ and ‘locals’ that is so sharp in some communities is blurred here by the very high percentage of people who are part-year residents, whether they were raised here or elsewhere. Bristol is also the heir to traditions of seafaring and military service, plus a respect for travel and education, that means Bristol natives are likely to have seen as much of the world as most tourists. We also have a legacy of families who return to Bristol for the summer, generation after generation, who love this place as much as those who have lived here all their lives.

Looking into a cloudy crystal ball, this mingling of Bristol’s part-year and year-round residents looks like a key to continued economic health. The ability to attract retirees and younger creative people – especially those who can work from home – may be Bristol’s greatest strength. This will increasingly depend on fast two-way internet service (thus the importance of Bristol’s Broadband Committee) as well as on conserving the parks, historic villages, and access to the shore that both residents and visitors value. The latter may necessitate a new blueprint for coordinating zoning by-laws, recreation sites, byways and collaborations with our neighboring land conservation trusts.

Part of Town government’s job is to help prepare a community for change while preserving what we value most. Bristol’s Selectman Kristine Poland, who served as Town Administrator for fifteen years, has called for consideration of a new Comprehensive Plan for the Town. It is now 18 years since the last Comprehensive Plan was adopted, but not implemented due to concerns by the State Planning Office. (A copy of the plan can be viewed by clicking here.) The change COVID-19 is bringing to our economy makes such a Town-wide conversation about the future very timely.

Bristol Selectmen are continuing to meet in person, widely spaced apart. Members of the public may attend but the limit of ten people in any gathering means that once that number is reached, people will be turned away. The next meeting will be on Wednesday, May 13th, at 7 pm.

For more information on any of the matters touched on in this report, please email Chris Hall at [email protected]. Stay home and stay safe!