Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lake Basebegone: Smoke, Mirrors, and Other Illusions from the MRRA

We may have dodged the blizzards, but there was plenty of snow in the air last week.

Jibber-jabber, Boston Legal style.

A ‘feature item’ in the local paper on Wednesday, Feb 10th may be the best (worst??) example of doublespeak, mixed tense, rhetorical hand-waving, time distortion, and assorted other forms of bureaucratic back-tracking and self-contradiction we’ve seen in many a moon.

It says oodles about the Authority in charge of BNAS Redevelopment, and what they think of us.  Even more interesting is what it says about the editors of our “government watchdog” press, who let this atrocious and mis-leading op-ed run as it did.  If I was the cynic readers think I am, I’d label the piece an embarrassment to both these institutions; but I’m too big for that.

This reporter knows from personal experience that if the editors, and publisher, for that matter, take issue with the premise of a submission, they will diligently challenge the facts, assertions, sources, and grammatical nuances.  One defining instance of their “healthy skepticism,” magnified by the reality of its highly selective application, led to the founding of Other Side.

Perhaps you read the recent item, perhaps you didn’t.  If the former, perhaps your reaction was similar to mine; perhaps it was not.

Mindful of the demands upon your time and interests, my purpose here is to ‘highlight’ some of the more egregious examples of balderdash, slight of word, and poppycock in the column.  Many readers may respond “so, you expected better?” 

They’d suggest this is what we should expect from politically appointed bureaucrats who hire consultants who hire even more consultants, and who almost always think more taxpayer money is the answer to everything.  And who are convinced that Oxford Aviation and F. Lee Bailey are the best hope for base redevelopment and reviving the local economy.

Alright class, let’s begin with the title:

Renewable energy center takes shape

So, we start with the premise than a tangible, physical “center” is under construction.  Make a note of that.

Oops; wait a second; maybe that was a hasty exaggeration, because

alternative energy R&D, high-tech manufacturing, clean-power generation and green jobs……are all part of the vision for the Brunswick Renewable Energy Center (BREC) and the growing energy technology cluster in Maine.

Now I understand; we’re discussing a “vision.”  Not the plan, not the reality.  The “vision,” which sounds a lot like a “dream” or an “apparition.”  Note the unsubstantiated claim that the “energy technology cluster” is growing.  When I made claims this strong, I was told to substantiate them.

Next, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a tremendous transformation going on at the base.  We already have

existing state-of-the-art facilities at the redeveloped Naval Air Station Brunswick,

leading to the potential

to build wind turbines and engines, generate clean power to the tenants of the redeveloped BNAS, test cutting-edge alternative energy technologies and create new high-wage, green jobs in Mid-coast Maine.

Wow; state of the art facilities are ‘existing,’ and the base is redeveloped already.  Vision is a great thing, isn’t it?  Unless it borders on hallucination; but I suppose I’m just being petty.

In short, the development of the BREC gives us the opportunity to transform the former BNAS into a national center of excellence in renewable energy technologies.

There we go again; the development of the BREC is a fait accompli.  How could we have missed this?  Did our watchful local press fail to report on such monumental achievement?  What’s next – finding out that Grand City has closed?

Moving on,

MRRA is planning to expand this base by creating an epicenter on the redeveloped Navy base that will strengthen and grow this emerging technology cluster in Maine.

Wait a minute; what’s going on here?  This is beginning to sound like it’s in the future.  But the title said it’s “taking shape” now.  At least the “emerging” claim is backed up, right?

Whoops!  It looks like the present is receding into the future; perhaps the “vision” was becoming just a little too real for comfort.

the BREC will be the home of a world-renowned energy complex for integrated research and development, manufacturing, testing, business incubation, and the productive operation of green energy technology products and services.

At the same time, it looks like certainty is receding:

We believe the BREC will attract high-tech businesses and stimulate synergistic collaborations with the educational and business entities established on base, including the Maine Advanced Technology and Engineering Center (a partnership project of the Southern Maine Community College and the University of Maine).

So far, I’ll point out, there are no “business entities” identified, at least in the pure private sector sense; just about every potential tenant is a non-profit, non-tax paying entity.

Now the coup de grace:

Is all of this possible? We think so.

So the foregoing was “vision,” or “hypothesis,” or possibility.  That’s a bit of a letdown from “taking shape,” at least as this reporter sees it.

But it gets even better:

With $200,000 grants each from the Economic Development Administration and the Maine Technology Institute, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority  recently began an in-depth study to develop a business case for the creation of the BREC.

Grants, in case you forgot, mean taxpayer funds.  Study means looking into something before you actually engage in it.  Developing a business case means deciding if it even makes sense.  So all the foregoing hype was exaggeration, projection, hypothetical. 

The more I think on this, the more disgusted I get with the overall tone and premise of this public report, which crumbles paragraph by paragraph as you work your way through it.

I’ll simply close with a series of passages that confirm just how amorphous and wishful the opening premise turns out to be:

  • is responsible for supervising and implementing the BREC Feasibility Study.
  • Several components of the feasibility study are now under way.
  • an assessment of the existing utility systems at BNAS and what changes may be required to support the proposed BREC is almost done.
  • begin identifying those renewable energy generation technologies that could be a good fit for the BREC.
  • The next step will be to start identifying potential technology partners in the development of the BREC and to develop strategies to encourage the location of energy businesses to BNAS.
  • the key to successful redevelopment is to consider the industries that will attract good quality jobs to the state.

“Feasibility; may be; begin; could be; start identifying; consider.”

Those are powerful words in the right context.  In the context of this essay, they are waffling words designed to avoid commitment of any sort while creating the illusion of substantive forward progress.

Some might even label their usage here pure poppycock, and this reporter would not object.

Or, if you’re a fan of Denny Crane, jibber-jabber, Boston Legal style.

If this keeps up, though, Brunswick may become the new “epicenter” for jibber-jabber.  At least it may be, or could be, or has the feasibility of becoming so.

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  1. If history is any teacher, then we may be about to witness a reorganization of the MRRA thus enabling a more precise focus on long term goals, while simultaneously extinguishing responsibility for attaining short term goals.

  2. You are delusinal when you start believing in your own hype.

  3. You are delusional when you start believing in your own hype.