ROCKLAND — The more things change, the more the news stays the same.

In the first issue of The Working Waterfront, published in April 1993, the cover story examined the possibility of an oil spill along Maine’s coast. On July 6 of this year, crude oil in railroad tank cars ignited, causing a horrific explosion and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just a dozen miles from the Maine border.

The accident also fueled the ongoing debate about so-called tar sands oil being transported to this or the other coast by pipeline. Is a similar explosion and fire likely with a pipeline carrying even larger volumes of oil?

Then, and now, our energy demands and the compromises we make to ensure we have heat and light pose hard questions. The cover story in the inaugural issue of the newspaper—then a quarterly publication—answers one question with its headline: “OIL TANKER ROULETTE: Despite everyone’s best efforts, the worst could happen here.”

The story detailed the amount of oil landed at ports in Maine, New Hampshire and New Brunswick.

Using 1992 statistics, it reported that 8.65 billion gallons of oil moved through the Gulf of Maine each year; 3.36 billion gallons offloaded in Portland, 302 million gallons in Searsport, 265 million gallons in Bucksport, 118 million gallons in Bangor/Brewer and 1.8 million gallons in Eastport.

Those numbers could have been used on either sides of the debate earlier this year about a liquefied propane tank proposed for Searsport. On the one hand, the 23 million gallons of propane would have posed a threat of accident or terrorism. But on the other hand, the fact that so much fuel moves—safely—through our ports bolsters the developer’s position.

That first issue’s editorial considered the possibility of a major oil spill and concluded that “It can happen here, and if it does and we are not prepared, we will have only ourselves to blame.”  

David Platt, a former Bangor Daily News environmental writer and Maine Times editor, was hired by the Island Institute to launch the paper. He would serve as its editor for 18 years. The non-profit already was publishing the annual Island Journal and a small newspaper, The Island News. The Working Waterfront was conceived as a way of expanding the Institute’s reach beyond the islands, Platt said.

“The oil story seemed like a natural — we needed to differentiate this new paper from the Institute’s two other publications,” he wrote in an email, “and we wanted to establish ourselves as a newspaper concerned with Maine’s ‘working’ coast. A lot of oil moves across this coast during all seasons of the year.”

As the Quebec oil fire illustrates, “Oil transport and how it’s regulated have life-or-death implications,” Platt noted, especially “for fisheries, tourism and the coastal environment in general. No better story for a brand-new newspaper focusing on the coast and how everyone along it makes his or her living.”

The first issue also carried a story about Portland’s changing waterfront: “Union Wharf changes by adapting.” The July 2013 issue of the paper included a story that is a direct link to the issues raised in 1993, examining the city’s efforts to retain its working waterfront while allowing commercial growth.

Platt noted that in 1993, “the city’s historic working waterfront was under siege by developers intent on gentrifying it, in the process forcing fishermen and other commercial interests to sell out and move elsewhere.”

The Working Waterfront eventually merged with the Island News (later, Inter-Island News), and now publishes ten times a year, averaging over 50,000 copies which are circulated on islands and along the coast, both by mail to islanders and some coastal residents and at newsstands.

In a statement under the heading “What we’re up to”¦” in that first issue, the paper’s modus operandi is explained: “‘Working’ waterfronts in Maine are bruised and battered places”¦ What we often fail to appreciate about working waterfronts is that they’re in short supply”¦ If The Working Waterfront helps Maine people appreciate what they’ve got to lose, it will have achieved its purpose.”