For a small island, Monhegan has faced some big challenges in recent years: the prospect of floating wind turbines just off its shore; a freshwater aquifer threatened by saltwater incursion; an aging diesel-generator powered electric grid; the lack of high-speed internet.
But that small island—whose year-round population numbers under 50—has responded in a big way. The community’s leaders, who work collaboratively in the face of these challenges, were honored with the Island Institute’s Community Champion award at the Institute’s Waypoints Forum in Portland on Feb. 7.
Emily Lane, chairwoman of the Institute’s board of trustees, cited Monhegan’s leaders for the way in which they worked.
“These community leaders on Monhegan embody exemplary leadership, not only by what they have accomplished but also by how they have accomplished it,” she said.
“While the passion and commitment of individuals cannot be underestimated, it is often the case that striking the balance between preserving what we currently love about our communities and obtaining what we need for our future requires multiple perspectives and sectors to work together,” Lane said.
Monhegan’s collaborative approach has inspired and served as a model for other small coastal and island communities, she added.
“As island residents, people are asked to wear many hats and to step up and lead,” said Lane, who lives on Vinalhaven and has served in multiple leadership roles. “In this tiny community, residents have formed numerous committees and practiced shared leadership to tackle issues that challenge even the largest and most resourced communities.”
Among the highlights are:
- The Monhegan Plantation Power District spent years researching alternatives to its diesel power system and engaging the community about the island’s energy future, which resulted in attracting national expertise and funding to replace its power plant, incorporating solar power generation and heat-recovery technology.
- When a controversial offshore wind project was proposed, the Monhegan Board of Assessors and community leaders worked to amplify island concerns and priorities and used community process to create its own vision, communicating across differences, and through conflict and high emotion.
- The Community Benefits Advisory Committee found a partner internet service provider, engaged businesses and voters, and successfully secured substantial federal funding and support from the offshore wind project to buildout broadband to the whole community.
- The Monhegan Water Company involved assessors and community members on the Monhegan Island Harbor and Water Supply Protection Project which is assessing the risks, gathering information from elsewhere, inviting in experts, and investigating options to ensure resilience to sea level rise.
“Through all of these accomplishments and the many hiccups along the way,” Lane said, “the community leaders on Monhegan were committed to learn from other communities, and to share their learning with other places.”
The Community Champion award recognizes Monhegan Island’s leaders for pivoting from tackling problems reactively to meeting challenges proactively.
In comments responding to the award, Marian Chioffi, one of the island’s leaders, noted that when she moved to Monhegan 30-plus years ago, it was a very different place.
“There were over 100 people living there year-round. There were 75 household generators. Not everyone had running water in the winter months.
Now we number less than 50,” she observed.
With fewer people to do the work, she concludes that “it comes down to belief in community and love of place. It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve come to see that it’s about each of us and all of us. We’re in this together for the long haul.”
Needs like affordable housing, reliable power, fresh water, and better internet remain, but islanders are working on those matters, Chioffi said.
“The Island Institute has been an amazing partner as we found our unified voice and our confidence to go after solutions that we believe will keep us viable in a rapidly changing world,” she added. “On behalf of Monhegan, thank you for recognizing our effort and hard work with this Community Champion award as we struggle to preserve our community.”
Andrew Dalrymple, left, Monhegan Plantation’s second assessor, as well as president of the Monhegan Water Company and project manager for Monhegan sea level rise planning efforts, and Tara Hire, former Monhegan Plantation first assessor and current Community Benefits Advisory Committee co-chairwoman, pose with the plaque. PHOTO: DAN DEBORD