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.

Author:Waterman, Melissa
 
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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...

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