Thursday, October 31, 2013

Maine lawmakers seek oversight of troubled DEP dam relicensing

One story I've been closely covering is the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's handling of dam relicensing. Under Gov. Paul LePage, the department has managed to miss a key deadline for each of three separate dam projects -- and came within hours of missing a fourth -- the effect of which was to irrevocably waive the state's authority over the terms of the new 25-30 year license, including having a say over water levels, fish passage, and recreational opportunities. Prior to this administration, the state has never missed such a deadline.

The first failure -- at Flagstaff Lake -- is hard to understand, though many think the fact that DEP commissioner Patricia Aho worked for the law firm that has represented the respective dam owners in each of the four proceedings may be relevant. The immediate cause of the later failures -- which I first reported in the Portland Press Herald this summer -- appear to be the result of nearly a year of confusion and disarray at the DEP.

In tomorrow's Press Herald, I report on a new development: a move by leading Democratic legislators to force accountability by introducing a bill that would force the department to report to legislators as each dam deadline approaches. I also spoke to key DEP officials recently, who offer additional details and explanations for their administrative failures, but say they have taken steps to ensure a fourth repeat does not occur.

The next dam deadline: Feb. 13 at Brassua Lake, west of Moosehead.

Friday, October 25, 2013

My Life as a Pirate Guru (continued)

Ubisoft is less than a week away from releasing Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, and the pirate-related media blitz is underway. I'm pleased The Republic of Pirates -- and the intriguing era it explains -- is getting so much reflected attention.

As I noted last week, I've been in demand as a pirate consultant of late, and this week has been no exception. Viz:

VICE Media has released the third and final installment of their pirate mini-documentary, Rum, Guns, and Gallows, this one focusing on Calico Jack Rackham. Yes, I return in my cameo roles as "pirate guru" to the project. (You can see parts I and II here.)

Earlier today, the German site released this video wherein I can be seen discussing early 18th century diving technology next to a tank of sharks in (dubbed) German. Can't miss television there. There's also this piece from Italy's EveryEye.It. [Update: 10/28/2013: And this from Stern, the German weekly magazine.]

This morning, I decreed that pirates are back in a big way in the Calgary Sun, Toronto Sun, and sister papers. (You read it there first.)

And, finally, there's this from Latin Times on how Republic of Pirates is boosting the economy of Puerto Rico (with a little assist from NBC's Crossbones.)

Pirates. They're everywhere. There's no escape.

[Update, 10/31/13: Some more of my interviews are out now:

* Here in the U.S., this enjoyable discussion with Kill Screen.

* From Finland, an extensive print-and-video interview with (in Finnish).

* From  France, my feature article on the early founding of the Nassau pirate republic in this special pirates issue of Historia, the monthly Paris-based history magazine. (There's a paywall for the article, alas.) ]

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New York, Delaware oppose Maine proposal to weaken smog rules

This summer, I wrote about a proposal by the LePage administration here in Maine to remove the state from key anti-smog rules, a proposal that had almost passed unnoticed on the Department of Environmental Protection's website. The DEP defends the move, saying it will foster industrial investment without adverse effect on the environment. Paper companies, it soon was shown, were major supporters of the measure.

As a result of these reports, the DEP agreed to hold public hearings, while the federal Environmetal Protection Agency -- which must approve the measure -- extended the official comment period by a month. That comment period ended Oct. 3, right in the midst of the shutdown, complicating efforts to determine what stakeholders had to say.

Now the dust has cleared, and in today's Portland Press Herald I have an update based on interviews, a public records request, and the official comments. The headline: that two states are opposing Maine's move, saying it is technically flawed and amounts to bad policy. The DEP defends their position. Details herein.

Friday, October 18, 2013

My life as a pirate guru

With both NBC's forthcoming drama "Crossbones" and videogame publisher Ubisoft's soon-to-be-released Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag being set among the Golden Age Pirates, I've found myself in demand as a pirate expert of late, which has been a nice counter-point to investigative reporting, working on the next book, and writing about American political geography.

Before traveling to Italian castles and the decks of Spanish galleons to speak with the European press about the real world of the early 18th century pirates, a film crew from VICE Media came up here to Maine to talk to me about Charles Vane, Blackbeard, and Calico Jack Rackham. After traveling on to Nassau (with fellow pirate expert Mike Daniel) and Kingston, they've released the first part of their three part pirate documentary Rum, Guns & Gallows online. I'm the project's "pirate guru", which I plan to add to my business card.

Parts II and III will post soon. Have a look -- it's a fun introduction to AC4, and has even gotten some press in and of itself. [Update, 10/20/13: Here's Part II, on Blackbeard.] [Update, 10/25/13: And Part III on Calico Jack Rackham.]

Meanwhile, down in Puerto Rico, filming has reportedly gotten underway on "Crossbones." John Malkovich, who plays Blackbeard in the series, spoke briefly with reporters there. The series -- which airs this winter on NBC and is written by Neil Cross of BBC "Luther" fame -- is based on my book, The Republic of Pirates. (A UK edition of the book will be out in January from PanMacmillan.) I'm a consultant on this project too, but everything's hush-hush.

There are more interviews on the pirates in the pipeline, for the minority of you who haven't yet had enough. [Update, 10/25/13: Links to more from here.]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Maine PUC chair recuses himself in Nestle Waters case

For those who have been following the strange case of Nestle Waters and the family controlled water utility in Fryeburg, Maine -- and remarkable conflicts of interest among the relevant regulators -- there was a new development I reported on in yesterday's Portland Press Herald.

Thomas Welch, chair of the PUC, has recused himself, effectively suspending proceedings on a proposed 25-to-40-year contract between the world's largest food and beverage company and the privately-held water utility. Welch had represented Nestle Waters in Fryeburg and other matters while an attorney at Pierce Atwood. Both of his fellow commissioners also had ties to the company, including fellow Pierce Atwood alum David Littell. The public advocate, who represents rate payers before the PUC, also worked at Pierce Atwood until earlier this year, and represented Nestle in the very proceedings at hand. (He and one commissioner had already recused themselves.)

This story has received some national attention, including a full segment on Al Jazeera America's prime time show "The Stream", in which I was an in-studio guest.The Stream followed up on the latest developments at their blog.

Enjoy the story.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On the shutdown, the Tea Party, and American regionalism

On the eve of the end of the world, I offer this analysis on the regional origins of the U.S. House's "shutdown caucus" and what it means for the future of the Tea Party on the national stage, all over at Washington Monthly.

The comments are informed by my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, which describes the locations, historical origins and fundamental characteristics of our rival regions and their effect on our history, institutions, and politics over the past four centuries. A full map of the cultures today is available here at World Wide Woodard.

For additional context, there's been a small outpouring of writing on the effect of regionalism and the old Confederacy on the (hopefully soon to be ended) federal shutdown and the (at this writing) looming threat of default. John Judis at the New Republic offered this, and was countered by Seth Ackerman at Jacobin. Gary Wills had this to say at the New York Review of Books, and Michael Lind joined the fray as well (distinguishing, I'm happy to see, between Appalachia and the Deep South.)

And now, let us hope the federal Congress is able to overcome its regional schisms before midnight.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Speaking on watchdog journalism, Bowdoin College, Oct. 16

Tomorrow night, October 16, I'll be speaking on the importance of (and challenges facing) watchdog journalism at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. It's free and open to the public.

The talk is entitled "Watchdog Journalism: The Vital Role of a Threatened Discipline" and kicks off at 7:30 pm in the Throne Hall's Daggett Lounge in Thorne Hall. Come by if you can.

My next public talk is on American Nations at the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust annual meeting -- support the Trust, however -- and I'll be talking about Lobster Coast at the University of Maine Farmington in November. Details, as always, from my book tour page.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Maine DEP dam relicensing in disarray

Since former industry lobbyist Patricia Aho took over the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine has missed critical deadlines related to the once-in-a-quarter-century federal re-licensing of three separate dam projects.  By dropping the ball -- and, thus, removing Maine from the court of play -- Aho's DEP allowed the owners of the Flagstaff, West Branch, and Forest City dam projects to make easy layups, avoiding possible concessions on water levels, recreation, fish habitat protection and other issues. Maine has never before missed such a deadline.

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I report on the results of a public records request we submitted in an effort to figure out what's been going on. Amazingly, the DEP came within hours of missing a fourth deadline -- for the Brassua dam in western Maine -- which would have been a boon to Florida Power and Light, which was closing the sale of it and the Flagstaff dam to another company. Emails and other documents show the department relicensing effort in disarray.

The department's failure at Flagstaff featured prominently in my five-part, three-day series on the Aho's DEP.

DEP officials have been unavailable for comment on this issue since Oct. 9, a day after I reviewed the public records request. We'll try again Tuesday.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Indian tribal finance director unmasked as ex-con embezzler

I've been remiss in posting last week's story on the curious case of Charles Fourcloud, the recently hired finance director at the Passamaquoddy tribe's Pleasant Point reservation here in Maine. As I reported in the Portland Press Herald, Fourcloud turns out to have had multiple aliases, moved from tribal position to tribal position across the country, and failed to mention he'd gone to prison for embezzling $2.6 million from the Ogala Sioux.

I was hoping to have an update for all of you World Wide Woodard readers, but thus far the police, Fourcloud's attorney, and the courts aren't providing any further information. More information soon, one hopes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Talking pirates in Italy

"World Wide Woodard" hasn't been bounding from continent to continent as much in recent years, but last week did have me in Italy, talking about the golden age pirates with European media aboard a full-scale replica Spanish galleon and from the inside of the dungeon of a Piedmontian castle.

I'm the author of The Republic of Pirates, a history of the pirate gang that is responsible for nine-tenths of our pop culture pirate imagery, and media have been wanting to hear from me of late because of the forthcoming release of a major video game. Ubisoft's Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is set among the same pirates -- who included Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, and Ann Bonny -- and I was a script consultant, helping improve the historical accuracy of details and dialogue in the game.

My first interviews were held in Genoa aboard the Neptune Galleon, a replica galleon built in Tunisia for Roman Polankski's unsuccessful 1986 film, Pirates. Rogert Ebert said the ship was the best thing in the production, which he introduced thusly: "There hasn't been a pirate movie in a long time, and after Roman Polanski's "Pirates," there may not be another one for a very long time." As a backdrop to a pirate video game launch event, however, it can't be beat.

Later, I found myself in front of rival Spanish television crews, explaining the unusual staying power of the Bahamas-based pirate gang in the dungeon of the Castello di Tagliolo Monferrato, still the residence of the Marquis of Tagliolo and his family. (The Marquis, who was on hand to welcome our polygot group, told me his ancestors invested in Christopher Columbus' voyages.) In a wonderful collision of history and historical fiction, the castle was festooned with flags and multi-story banners bearing the Assassins Creed IV logo. Arrr.

In any case, some of the first interviews have begun to surface, and I'll post links to others as they come. For now, Italian speakers can enjoy this piece in Corriere della Sera, the Milan-based paper that is Italy's second largest.

More on pirates to come....

[Update, 10/25/13: Additional coverage and interviews from this and other events linked to here.]