Friday, September 25, 2009

Now, now, children, there's no reason to panic

Those of you who follow the editorial page in the local daily paper know just how seriously the editors take their role as a "watchdog" of government and our public servants. Why sometimes, they're downright nasty in speaking "truth to power," that favorite ploy of would-be benefactors.

I've tried time and time again to get them to soften their approach, but when bulldog journalists get a grip on someone's ankle, or something worse, it's best to let them gnaw away. They win awards for these things, and its all done in the public interest.

Why just today they carried another thoughtful and hard-hitting piece about the goings on with BNAS redevelopment. The editorial follows in the huge foot steps of a guest commentary some months ago by a pillar of our community, who similarly pulled no punches.

But before I get to the heart of this discussion, I have something else exciting to tell you about. We all know the lobster fishing this year has not been yielding the kind of income the very hard working lobstermen should make for all the risks and back-breaking work they put in.

So Side has a plan to fix things. Here's how it works.

We got out some nautical charts and a calculator, and after several hours of detailed computations, came up with the number of square miles of ocean bottom that local fisherman can cover as they chase the much sought after "bugs." Then, using accepted consultants' figures for the lobsters per square mile that the best fishing grounds provide, we came up with a maximum total catch by pounds. Using the highest and best prices we could find for lobsters in the global marketplace, we figured out the total value of the catch, allowing for the higher prices for the larger bugs.

After burning up a roll of adding machine tape, Side's conclusion is that this plan will yield total lobsterman income roughly 5 times that of the best years in the last decade or so.

Now THAT's a plan, don't you think? What an outlook; what promise; what a bright future to look forward to. It's enough to make one go out and buy a boat and 1,000 traps or so and get fishing. Or to ask for someone else to buy it for you.

Wait a minute; who's that grumbling over in the corner? Speak up say what? You don't think what I described is a plan with a capital P?

Why not? Oh...because all I did was run some numbers, and you don't think that's a PLAN???

Well that may be what you think, sir, but it's exactly the same kind of PLAN our trusty friends over at MRRA have come out with for redeveloping our base. At least as I read about it in the paper, and if you read about it in the paper, it must be so, right? You remember that young girl Virginia and Santa Claus, don't you?

Let me read you what the paper said:

We all need to work together to achieve the BNAS reuse master plan’s 20-year goals of 13,800 workers, $732 million in annual wages, an annual average wage of roughly $53,000, total annual income taxes of $40.8 million, total annual commercial and residential property taxes of $19 million.

Why they've got not just a plan, but a master plan! Doesn't that just beat all?


Ok, enough of Other Side's trademark silliness. Even though the silliness has a real point.

Some months ago, this blog reported on the "Field of Dreams" approach to base redevelopment and the exceptional projections that flowed from the consultants to the consultants who used it.

The relevant thoughts from that post are these:
These wildly optimistic figures are not based on a detailed assessment of global, national, state, or local economic conditions; they are not founded on local or regional demands for business space; they do not consider Maine’s and Brunswick’s anti-business attitudes and policies; nor do they factor in what has occurred in nearby base closures, like Loring, Pease, or Dow. And it’s safe to say the figures reflect primarily private sector activities, instead of government agencies and non-profits like colleges, homeless shelters, etc.

Instead, and I quote, “the methodology they used is standard build-out analyses for comprehensive planning purposes.”

Let me be very clear what this response from the MRRA means. One computes the square footage of the various facilities that could be reused or built anew, and assumes specific uses for them. The available space is then divided by assumed space per type of employee to arrive at a maximum employment estimate. Those employment counts are multiplied by assumed annual incomes to arrive at maximum annual wage estimates.

To reiterate: the projections of employment, economic impact, and tax revenues are based entirely on square footage that could someday be available, and an array of assumptions derived from it. In other words, the “if you build it they will come” theory.

Now, let's get to the punch line. Neither the lobster fantasy that opened this post or the consultants' wildly optimistic figures, repeated in the current editorial, have anything to do with a "plan." They are simply computations with no tactics, strategy, or other definitive and robust actions and execution behind them.

You might as well calculate how many ping pong balls would fit inside your house, and when you come up with the number, advertise that you're gonna save the economy in Brunswick with ping pong balls. Even though you don't have a clue as to how you make them.

At the risk of boring you beyond what you deserve, let me say it once again: a calculation is not a plan. A plan, generally speaking, is the design for a desirable future, as we used to say. It is a series of specific actions, metrics, and achievements that set you on a course to the desired objectives.

It is not the computation of how many clerical workers can fit in a given building. Which is largely the extent of the figures cited in the recent editorial, which are the same figures issued many months ago in an attempt to put on a pair of communal rose colored glasses.

I'm not sure what real plans MRRA has for long term base redevelopment, other than keeping lots of consultants at work. But I'm pretty sure that what ever ones they have fall under the "confidentiality is king" rule.

Oh hell, in the end, it doesn't make much sense to get cranky with the damn newspaper editors; chances are they didn't even write the editorial.

I think I'll take two protocols and hit the hay. I suggest you do the same, and I'll call you in the morning to see how you're doing.

And be sure to check your email for the 23 page full disclosure document for those "protocols." I hate to bother you with all those messy details and fine print, but the government requires full disclosure. They say the only way to protect the public is to make sure they're fully informed.

Who'd argue with that?

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