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History-rich Maine island goes green

A string of islands off of the coast of both Maine and New Hampshire is grabbing the world's attention for its nod to the past and its embrace of forward-thinking, green practices.

Seven miles out in the Atlantic, the Isles of Shoals comprises a chain of 9 islands. One of those is Star Island which straddles both Maine and New Hampshire. Transportation to the islands is via Star Island’s Utopia, the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company on the steamship-replica Thomas Laighton, or by private boat.

Star Island was the playground for the rich of Boston and New York, seeking to escape the heat and grime of the city in the summertime. It was also during the heyday of the grand hotels of the 1800's. One still stands on Star Island while the grand hotel on nearby Appledore Island burned to the ground in 1914. But the rich history of the Isles of Shoals goes back three hundred years to 1614 when Captain John Smith discovered it. He named it Smith Isles.

Archeological digs have uncovered the islands were used as major fishing outposts -- by Native Americans and then European explorers --- who turned ample cod populations-back then called "dun fish" into cash.

"They would bring in their catch and they would basically fillet the fish and put it out to dry. So we kind of joke around that it was like our first solar array. It's like we're harvesting the sun in a different way as they did. So they would dry the fish and then package it and send it off," explained Lisa Santilli, who coordinates communications and development at Star Island.

Fast forward several hundred years and these days Star Island itself has gone solar.

“It is the largest off grid solar array in the northeast." Kristen Simard serves as the island’s Environmental Services Manager. She stands in front of the 420 solar panel farm that hugs the back side of the island. The solar farm produces 60 percent of the island's summer energy needs, 100 percent in the off season. Part of a move, they say, toward self-reliance.

"We really see ourselves sort of as a model or a microcosm of the rest of the world, we're a tiny slice and the issues that we're facing here, having to get power and having really limited water,” Simard says. “A lot of what we're doing is what the mainland and communities on the mainland are going to have to be looking towards."

Star Island is so serious about its green ambitions that it’s set a goal of using every item, every piece of food, every liquid that makes its way on land in a way so there is no waste.

“Everything here on the island that we have to take in, also has to leave if we don't find a use for it off island so things like we separate out our glass, and we crush that so we can use that as fill and we compost all of our food waste and we're actually working on a water reclamation project right now.”
What’s more, Simard says they're hoping to get permission from federal and state officials to use their clean, treated wastewater to flush toilets on the island and for irrigation projects.

It's an island embracing green, with strong roots embedded in this country's past.

If you'd like to check it out, Star Island is open to visitors through mid-September. For more information, go to starisland.org.

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