Saturday, February 26, 2011

Secession Talk on Peaks Island is Nothing New

Kim MacIsaac authored "The Casco Bay Islands"
Guest Blog by Kimberly Erico MacIsaac, Peaks Island (hotlinks added by P. Erikson)

As a fourth generation Peaks Islander, life-long resident, and sometime Peaks Island historian, my research into the history of secession movements on the Island has uncovered six secession movements prior to the current effort.  Each attempt was precipitated by real or perceived injustices reaped on the island by the City of Portland.  To briefly summarize:
·      1883 – Islanders were scrambling to meet the demands of a burgeoning summer tourist trade, but inadequate municipal services hindered their efforts.  Some residents felt that they were being taxed for services they were due but not receiving.  The issue of secession was raised, but was dropped when the group realized they could not afford the costs of self-government.

·      1922 - Peaks had developed into a full-fledged summer resort with hundreds of cottages, hotels, boarding houses, summer theatres, and an amusement park.  The fresh water aquifer had all but dried up; electric power was supplied to just a small part of the Island in the summer; the dirt roads hadn't been maintained.  The possibility of secession was raised (again, inadequate services for taxes paid), but faded away when Sebago Lake water was piped to the island and year-round electric service began.

  • 1948 - Due to a manpower shortage during WWII, the City closed the Island fire station and protection was provided by the Peaks Island Military Reservation.  The base was closed in 1947 but the city was slow to reopen Engine 12.  After a couple of woods fires had to be extinguished by islanders, the specter of secession arose but was dropped as soon as the City reopened Engine 12.

·      1955 - Post-war prosperity brought many young families to the Island.  The small island school was severely overcrowded.  Some Islanders felt that the City wasn't responding to the educational needs of our children; secession talk once again surfaced.  Mainland schools were also overcrowded with baby boomers at this point.  By 1956, several new classrooms and a gymnasium were added.  Talk of secession stopped.

·      1992 - Portland's 1990 property revaluation resulted in taxes being doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in some cases.  Talk of secession again reared its head, the perception being that the Island was not receiving its fair share of municipal services, given the high taxes assessed.  The Legislature killed the secession bill that had been submitted on behalf of the secession group.

·      2006-7 - This secession movement was triggered by another huge tax increase.  The Island Independence Committee believed they could do a better job of providing services while decreasing taxes.  They did not produce a real plan or budget that took into account the true costs of services or the cost of compensating the City for the large amount of City-owned property on Peaks.  The Legislature did kill the bill as submitted, but then created a PROCESS by which a secession bill should be submitted. 

  • 2011 - It is not clear to most Peaks Islanders, including our many seasonal property owners, what is motivating the current secession group.  High taxes?  Expecting more City services?  Something else?  Their efforts to bypass the legislative process by putting forth the same bill submitted in 2007 with no updated information and the "straw poll," which they claim showed a majority support of secession, was organized in such a hasty and secretive fashion that many islanders did not know it was happening

Like all communities, Peaks Island has changed and evolved.  Most changes have been due to changes in American society and/or global events.  The most notable is the high turnover in population.  People come and go, many staying a few years at best.  Most, regardless of how long they stay, are drawn to Peaks Island because it offers the amenities of the City and the tranquility of a rural-like community.
Previous calls for separating from Portland were precipitated by changes in American society – changes beyond the control of Islanders or Portlanders.  Such outside influences sometimes resulted in problems on the Island.  Problems were most often resolved by working with City officials.

In the last two secession attempts, Peaks Islanders NEVER had the opportunity to vote Yea or Nay on secession.  Perhaps the time has come for an “official” election to put this issue to rest once and for all.  Failure to do so will surely result in future calls for secession whenever changes beyond Portland’s control affect the island.  Yet I hope that such a vote will be part of the statutory PROCESS created by the Legislature the last time around.



  1. I think the reason the secession issue rears it's head again now is primarily because the Island Council format hasn't been successful, it hasn't been given enough authority. For example, I think a lot of people were turned off by what happened with the so-called "affordable housing" initiative, where the island council opposed it together with opposed neighbors, but the city ignored the island council recommendation. Also the City cut back public safety patrols, the school has gone through much upheaval, with special education, gifted and talented program cut..etc

  2. There was a secession movement in1984/85 that was printed in bold letters in the old Evening Express....Peaks To Secede From Portland!