July 25, 2021

When it first surfaced last weekend, the idea of using a Navy ship to power up the stricken Downeast region was intriguing, innovative, maybe just crazy enough to work.

Not crazy enough, apparently. After getting shuffled from one bureau to another, utility officials learned the entire Atlantic fleet consists of vessels either too big or too far away. Can do, Navy said. Just not right away.

Pardon the provincial griping, but Maine does have something that could have helped put the awesome resources of the armed forces — generators, heavy equipment, personnel — on the front lines of this catastrophe. They’re called airports. Bangor, in fact, has an airport that can accommodate the largest military aircraft going. It was built precisely for that purpose.

Actually, this isn’t provincial griping at all. Natural disasters strike this nation regularly. At any given time, one region of the country or another is dealing with calamity — earthquake, tornado, hurricane, fire, flood or horrendous storm. And the sequence of events is pretty much the same every time: The locals mount a heroic recovery effort; neighbors help neighbors; businesses, community agencies, service organizations and state governments pitch in. Finally, a week or so after the crisis started, someone who works in the White House flies over in a helicopter, frowns in deep concern and declares the devastation below a disaster area.

This, of course, results in a furious flurry of paperwork and, some months later, a modest level of reimbursement for select public-sector expenses. The private sector — that is, people — are on their own. Let them burn forms in triplicate to keep warm.

Here in Maine, at virtually every diner with enough juice to run a coffee pot, locals are saying pretty much the same thing: The country that can put a man on the moon should do better. More to the point, the country that can set up fully powered, fully equipped military outposts on any remote patch of jungle, desert or tundra anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice should do better.

While natural disasters come in many forms, the aftermaths share a common element — the immediate need for electricity. It is electricity that powers the cleanup, that provides heat, that pumps water, that keeps hospitals and shelters open. The military has the generators, it has the equipment — helicopters and all-terrain vehicles — to deliver them wherever needed, it has the trained personnel to carry out the mission. No doubt, current rules, regulations, policies and procedures prevent the Pentagon from jumping right in to help. If so, Congress must change that, if for no other reason than self interest. Those lawmakers who have not experienced a crisis in the home district already eventually will.

New England now is well into a second week of shivering in the dark. Folks are still pulling together, the National Guard is doing its part, individual regular military personnel, acting on their own, are front and center, but the best the mighty federal government has come up with so far is a disaster area declaration. That’s not even enough to get the wood stove going.

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