Sep 122010

Some of the Maine Islands didn’t like the fact that they had no seat at the table. So they went to work and got their own tables and with it the tax base to run their islands.

In 2002,  Chebeague Island started talking about self governance:

On June 9, 2005 NPR filed this report:

“Many of Chebeague Island’s 350 year-round residents feel they pay more money in taxes then they get back in services. But those pushing for self-government say money is not their primary concern. Some worry that the mainland town government doesn’t take their needs into account sufficiently. Others note cultural differences.  Cumberland was once dominated by farmers. It’s now a Portland suburb, a bedroom community for urban professionals. The island remains rural and many of its residents are lobstermen.

Still others worry about schools. Last year, the mainland-based school district proposed eliminating the fourth and fifth grades in Chebeague’s school. Older students already ride the ferry to school. Many islanders worry that the move to transfer younger children to the mainland would lead to the shutdown of the island school.

Losing an island school is often the first step to losing an island’s year-round population. “If that happens, we’ll lose our community that everybody here just… cherishes,” says island mechanic Dave Stevens. “It’ll turn into a summer community. We’re just not about to let that happen.”

Though other islands have done it, secession won’t be easy. Both the town of Cumberland and the Maine legislature must approve before Chebeaguers get a chance at self-government.”


Years earlier, “…in 1993, Long Island seceded from the City of Portland to form its own independent town, comprising Long Island itself and several smaller islands. The secession process was unprecedented in Maine history at the time. The Town of Long Island maintains a high level of municipal services and amenities. Its mil rate, at less than $5.50 per thousand, is the lowest in Cumberland County and one of the lowest in the state.

“…since gaining sovereignty Long Island has improved its roads, refurbished the community hall, built a major library/school addition, purchased an emergency boat, and established a town hall where islanders can take care of all the business they previously did by way of a long ferry ride to Portland. All this, and taxes are a third lower than they would otherwise have been.”


Chebeague Island  “won independence from Cumberland after votes in the Maine Senate (31-3) and House of Representatives (131-1) on April 5, 2006. [1] The separation took effect on 1 July 2007.”

The Island Institute has this to say about Self-Governance and Secession:

Governance has changed significantly over the history of the islands; some islands incorporate as a municipality with neighboring islands, others become independent from mainland governance or other islands, some remain as plantations governed by the State’s Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC).

Today, of Maine’s 15 year-round island communities, eight are independent municipalities, two are part of one town, three are part of a mainland municipality and two are plantations.  Some island communities have decided that they would prefer to secede from their mainland municipality and establish self-governance.

Secession is a long, difficult process, but it does happen.   In 1992, Long Island in Casco Bay successfully seceded from the City of Portland to become an independent town.  In 2007, the Town of Chebeague Island was established after the island seceded from the Town of Cumberland.  Secession can, however, be an extremely controversial topic, dividing families and pitting neighbor against neighbor.  The Island Institute believes that all island communities have the right, if not the duty, to make the best decisions for their future sustainability.  We carefully and thoughtfully consider each discussion of secession based on an island’s needs and circumstances.

Here’s a link to an article from April 2009 on how things are going on Chebeague:


  One Response to “Self-Governance”

  1. A big obstacle to Lummi Island is Washington State law that currently requires an area to have 1500 or more residents to incorporate. Even adding Eliza Island (also of Whatcom County & with very different concerns, I suspect) we’re well shy of that — at least in terms of full-time islanders. I don’t know if part-time islanders would count — probably not, as I presume their primary residence is elsewhere.

    Another (though thorny) option would be the Coummunity Council option, which was discussed but went nowhere a few years ago. However, that’s not without it’s own problems, as those on Vashon & Maury Islands recently discovered ( For such a council to work, a lot of work would be needed upfront and after its creation to reduce potentially serious problems, even collapse, later.

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