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A man "from away" makes a difference: Peter Shelley wasn't born in Maine, but even rock-ribbed natives acknowledge that his tireless advocacy is slowing the advance of sprawl, asphalt, and pollution in New England's most insular state.

Along coastal Route 1 in Warren, Maine lies an expanse of farmland that gives way to a panoramic view of the Hills, a range of glacially formed mountains dropping into Penobscot Bay. The St. George River cuts through the undulating fields; in winter and summer, bald eagles soar the river's length. On a fine day last July, Peter Shelley stood just off the roadway in Gary Beckwith's field of summer squash, waving his arms toward the distant mountains and decrying Americans' obsession with speed. Shelley is director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Maine Advocacy Center in nearby Rockland, and a CLF vice-president. He deplores much of what is happening in his backyard, and now, as he glares towards the traffic, he exclaims, "We want to trade the qualities that drew people to Maine in order to get here faster? The state must look at this Route 1 corridor comprehensively, and then choose: speed, or our towns and landscape."

His words are lost in the roar of 18-wheeler trucks, SUVs, Winnebagos, dented F 150 Ford pickups, and minivans whipping past him on this two-lane, pockmarked stretch of coastal Route 1 that the Maine Department of Transportation wants to widen significantly. The farmers and residents along the road have organized against the department's plan, arguing that it will destroy the landscape and rural qualities of the area. Shelley and his advocacy center, working with the protesters, are in the thick of yet another coastal battle.

In 1820, Maine parted ways with its parent, Massachusetts, and became a new state. Huge, singular, tucked into the country's northeast corner on the chilly North Atlantic, Maine soon crafted a distinct identity among the New England states. Vigorously independent, peopled by rugged men and women drawing their living from the forests, rivers, and sea, by turns provincial and worldly, Maine embodied the bedrock qualities of New England. Even today, Maine citizens look askance at people from the other states, all of whom are categorized as "from away."

Which is where Peter Shelley comes in.

A native of Pennsylvania, Shelley has been with CLF for 20 years, cutting his advocacy teeth on the foundation's famous 1978 suit against the Department of the Interior that halted oil and gas exploration on Georges Bank. He is a relaxed man with slightly melancholy eyes and a thinning crop of silver hair. He wears khakis and neat, collared shirts. To a squinty-eyed Mainer, he is the quintessential person "from away": a lawyer, god forbid, and from Boston, no less. Yet despite this handicap, Shelley has, for the last five years, successfully shepherded CLF's efforts in Maine, assisting fishermen, farmers, and small town communities throughout the state.

The Maine Advocacy Center is located in a two-story brick office building nestled among several marinas, windjammer docks, the Coast Guard station, municipal fish pier, and an ice plant on Rockland's Tillson Avenue. Shelley's office looks north, over Journey's End Marina and the old O'Hara dock. Swallows dip and swoop just outside his window, fashioning their summer nests in the eaves of the building. In the winter, eider ducks raft up along the piers. Rockland's is still a working harbor, and CLF's perch in the middle of its most active portion is symbolic of the center's approach in the state.

* Peter Shelley Speaks

Shelley's desk faces his door, on which a sign, "The Road to Hell is Paved," figures prominently. On this day, choosing his words carefully, he's saying, "Advocacy ... means to speak to something, to have a perspective on how things should be, and to work for that." Since its establishment in 1991, the advocacy center has taken a stance on how things should be in the state, and worked to make them come to pass. Shelley recalls, "CLF first got involved in Maine as a response to several critical issues, projects like the proposed Big A hydrolectric dam on the West Branch of the Penobscot River [it would have inundated a wild and scenic stretch of river and valley]; the Dickey-Lincoln dam [on the St. John River]; and the proposed Pittston Company oil refinery, in Eastport." Each project was ultimately defeated.

The center moved to its Rockland home in 1994. Former CLF lawyers Dan Soslund and Jennifer Atkinson staffed the office until 1998 and 1999, respectively; Shelley became director in 1996, a time when, he says, "We were still concentrating on big cases, such as the Sears Island cargo port, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's relicensing of Maine hydro-dams. But in the mid-1990s, CLF as an organization decided to focus not only on big cases reflecting regional policy questions, using those issues to help shape key policies, but on smaller problems on the ground, communicating those issues back to regional policy makers." In Maine, that meant becoming involved in what Shelley calls "small injuries," which cumulatively take their toll on the state, its resources, and its inhabitants.

Shelley came to Maine via a circuitous path. Born in Bedminster, Pa., he spent his childhood on his parents' dairy farm. As he says, "After World War II, my father was attracted to the romance of going back to the land. My mother had grown up on a dairy farm. I had two brothers and a sister, and we all worked on the farm." Shelley recalls spending his entire childhood outside. He laughs when he says, "Believe it or not, we went to a one-room school house. All six grades were taught by one teacher. The school let us out in the fall for hay season."

At age 16, he was shipped off to boarding school, to catch up on his education, and in 1964 he entered Hobart College, in Geneva, N.Y. He developed an interest in politics, found that the study of economics came easily to him, and in 1969 he graduated with a B.A. in that field. He'd been enrolled in the marine officers training program at Hobart, but in boot camp, after graduation, decided that he couldn't participate in the Vietnam war. He chose conscientious objector status, worked in a juvenile justice residential program outside New York City for two years, then traveled around the country for a few more years with his wife, Stephanie. They lived in Boulder, Co. for a time, but in 1973 returned to Boston for the birth of their first child. Shelley was working as a branch office manager at the Atlantic Savings Bank in nearby Chelsea when a coworker mentioned that her husband was attending Boston's Suffolk University law school at night, and that Shelley might also want to consider doing so. He did. He enrolled at Suffolk, and found that he had a talent for the law.

But as graduation approached he felt uncomfortable with the path that seemed to lie inexorably before him. As he says, "I felt a sort of disconnect with what I saw as the law school route, with becoming a rich, big-firm lawyer. I was looking for a social application of my law skills." In those years, the Conservation Law Foundation office lay just around the corner from Suffolk, on Joy Street. One day Shelley dropped in, had a chat with Doug Foy, and ended up working as a CLF intern for two years. "For free!" he points out.

* Shelley Comes to CLF

Shelley recalls that time with amazement: "There I was, an evening law school student writing the brief on the Georges Bank oil and gas [drilling] suit, a case that ended up at the Supreme Court!" Jumping into the David-and-Goliath battle against dozens of seasoned government, and oil and gas company, lawyers, Shelley, Foy and then attorney and development staff person Sarah Bates won the first successful challenge to the U.S. offshore oil drilling program. "That experience was a watershed event for me," Shelley says. "I had found my professional and personal home in environmental advocacy." After graduating from law school, encouraged by Foy to gain more trial experience, Shelley left CLF and spent five years as Assistant Attorney General for Pennsylvania, concentrating on environmental law cases, particularly those involving water pollution issues.

In 1983, CLF lined itself up for another big legal case, this time to compel federal and state officials to enforce the Clean Water Act in Boston Harbor, then one of the nation's most polluted harbors. Foy urged Shelley to return to CLF, where he was involved in the suit that first went to Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Paul Garrity's court, and, later, to Federal District Judge David Mazzone's. (It was a major battle that wasn't finally won until last year, when the Boston Harbor Project's treatment facilities finally came on line.) Shelley also worked on other municipal coastal pollution cases, then on fisheries management, and, finally, on marine habitat protection. From 1983 to 1995, in Boston, he developed and headed CLF's Marine Resources Project.

On any given day, the Maine Advocacy Center hums with activity. Three staff attorneys stand ready to provide information, technical assistance, and legal strategies to CLF's Maine members, as well as to be plaintiff in lawsuits on their behalf. But Shelley cautions, "Most of our work comes from people calling us. We're not ambulance chasers." Topics range from fisheries regulation and reviewing proposals for finfish aquaculture farms, to transportation planning and battling coastal development.

In July of this year, the center kicked off its new Maine Coastal Defense Project, an ambitious undertaking designed to restore and protect the state's marine resources, improve its coastal transportation system, combat development sprawl, and restore coastal estuaries. The project took its inspiration from work done by the Maine State Planning Office in the late 1990s. A build-out map created by that office alarmed many people, including Shelley. It showed the Maine coast quickly changing from predominately green in color, meaning undeveloped, to red, meaning highly developed. Which is why, on that day last July, Shelley found himself surrounded by summer squash.

CLF is working with local Route 1 communities to block plans that the state claims will increase traffic capacity and speed, but Shelley says, "We feel that the coast is under assault, and needs a defender ... we're developing a strategy to concentrate on issues most important to [it]."

* The Munroe Field Case

Munroe Field, in the small Penobscot Bay town of Lincolnville, is a prime example of what Shelley and his colleagues are tackling. Once part of an active farm, and now simply hayed each summer by the original farmer's descendant, it offers passersby an unobstructed view of the bay and its islands. As part of its comprehensive plan, the town fathers of Lincolnville had passed a subdivision ordinance restricting development that would have an adverse impact on scenic views and natural areas. The field was identified as an essential element of the landscape.

Then its owner decided to subdivide, and to build. Lincolnville's planning board found that the proposed subdivision would have an adverse impact on the town's character. Tumult erupted. Some townspeople believed the board had overstepped its authority. Others felt relieved that an integral piece of the landscape would be saved. In response to the public controversy, the town held a referendum on whether the subdivision should be allowed. The vote was in favor. The planning board then reversed its previous decision, and voted for the subdivision. On behalf of a local member, CLF filed suit against the town. To complicate matters further, the developer joined the suit, challenging the board's power to protect scenic resources in the first place. In July, while holding that scenic protection was valid, a Maine Superior Court Justice upheld the board's final decision in favor of the subdivision. CLF has appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Court, an action that typifies the advocacy center's intent to take on all sorts of issues, large and small.

Shelley says, "The Lincolnville planning board is ducking its responsibility to implement its own zoning regulations. If CLF has only one function, it's to keep government honest, be it Congress, the state legislature, or local town boards. The law isn't a matter of popularity. You don't take a poll to decide whether to enforce it. If you don't like the law, then change it if you can, but don't gut it by not enforcing it."

CLF's fisheries management activities operate on an entirely different scale from those on local issues. The region-wide crisis in Gulf of Maine fisheries hit Maine hard. After CLF's successful 1991 suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to prevent the overfishing of cod, haddock, and flounder stocks, Shelley's interest turned from strict fisheries regulation to the dilemma of managing common property re sources. "I believe that there is more common ground between the fishing community and the environmental community than many suspect," he says. In 1995, when his CLF marine advocacy work won him a prestigious fellowship in conservation and the environment from the Pew Charitable Trust, Shelley found himself with $150,000 to use over a three-year period, and professional latitude to explore his interests. The money helped him to join in the design and launch of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), which, he explains, is "a consortium of fishermen, scientists, environmental managers, and nonprofit organizations that focuses on developing better institutional arrangements for common property resource management."

Those are dry words for a dynamic and innovative organization. Drawing on experts in the field of self-governance and consensus-building, NAMA has developed a degree of communality new in the field of natural resource management. Learning to understand the differing time scales, perspectives, and goals of its members has taken time, but six years after its inception, NAMA is fostering collaborative research projects and alternative approaches to fisheries management. These approaches, Shelley says, "allow the users to participate in governance of the resources. The approach requires a lot of patience and face-to-face time, which, happily, is still possible in Maine."

* Restoring Our Estuaries

Six years ago, through Shelley's efforts, CLF became a founding member of the national Restore Our Estuaries Project. In 1998, it co-organized -- with the Island Institute and the Conservation Law Council of New Brunswick -- a 196-page report entitled Rim of the Gulf: Restoring Estuaries in the Gulf of Maine. The report reviewed the health of the region's coastal estuaries, and found cause for concern. Many of these astoundingly fertile coastal areas were blocked from tidal flow, or were succumbing to the cumulative effects of pollution and land development. During the course of a year, the Maine Advocacy Center inventoried the state's estuaries and produced another report, Return the Tides, which identified 983 tidal marshes impaired by man-made constructions. One-third of these areas suffer from reduced tidal flows, greatly diminishing their biological productivity. Shelley worked with national environmental organizations to secure passage of the federal Estuaries Restoration Act of 2000, which authorized $50 million for restoring the nation's estuary systems to health. As a result of his and the advocacy center's efforts, and in partnership with the southern Maine town of Wells and its Wells National Estuarine Reserve, restoration of a 125-acre Wells wetland called Drakes Island Marsh is now underway. Other, similar projects will be undertaken, in Wells, on Penobscot Bay's Vinalhaven Island, and elsewhere on the coast -- when funding becomes available.

One of the tasks that Shelley and the Maine Advocacy Center always take seriously is their duty to provide information to the people of the state. Shelley says, "One fascinating thing about Maine is that people are prepared to do their own advocacy. They want information, to learn how to fight, and then they want to go do it themselves. It's a sense that `it's our problem, and we need to address it.'"

Shelley wants the advocacy center to grow, but without losing its connection to Maine communities. "Ultimately, we're all about working with people," he says. "We could take a more strident, ideological point of view -- protect the fish, the marsh, the environment first and foremost. But that would miss our mission, helping Maine to stay Maine. We have to work with the people of the state. They're stubborn, independent, often land-rich, and cash-poor."

The long-held perspective of Maine residents, that the state's natural resources are abundant and inexhaustible, is one that Shelley would like to see altered. He says, "There has to be a change in how people think, and the sooner the better. The state is losing its heritage and its resource base. People have a choice in shaping their future. The [free] market works 24 hours a day, making choices in favor of development and consumption. Some folks in Maine tend to be very hesitant about interfering, but that's dangerous in these times. More people need to recognize that when they choose not to act, when they choose not to participate, they are supporting [inappropriate] development. Doing nothing is still a decision."

While discussing some of the Center's projects, Shelley tilts back in his office chair. A Northwest Native American print of a northern Kwaguilth bear hangs to one side of the desk. A photo of a scallop dragger, similar to one on which he spent 14 days in August 1994, hangs on the other side. "We were on the far edge of Georges Bank," he recalls, "and the experience deepened my appreciation for how difficult, complicated, and dangerous commercial fishing is." The desk is strewn with papers and files, for some people an indication of overwork or stress, yet Shelley seems undisturbed by the demands of his job. A gently grave person, he clearly enjoys his work.

After 20 years with CLF, Shelley reflects on some of what he's learned. "You need to be patient," he muses. "Change requires time." He takes much satisfaction from successes with which he has been involved. He grins when he observes: "Harbor porpoises are back in Boston Harbor, because the water is clean, and because the fish they feed on can survive there. It can't get better than that. I go to places that are not shopping centers because of things I did. It's really a thrill for a lawyer to point at things in the world, tangible things, as accomplishments. In the legal field, lawyers' battles are often found only in big, dry casebooks. In my case, I have the professional satisfaction of my legal accomplishments, but also the pleasure of looking at a wetland, or a stretch of river, that I helped to preserve."
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Author:Waterman, Melissa
Publication:Conservation Matters
Geographic Code:1U1ME
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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