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2 towns in Maine are squabbling over ‘first light’ bragging rights

SHARE 2 towns in Maine are squabbling over ‘first light’ bragging rights

LUBEC, Maine -- Even before the dawn of the new millennium, they're already squabbling over who will see it first.

In Lubec, a blue-collar town of 1,800 people, the sign greeting visitors says "Easternmost town in America," and the local newspaper calls itself the "Most Easterly Newspaper Published in the United States."So when the U.S. Naval Observatory declared that the summit of Cadillac Mountain, just outside Bar Harbor, would be the first place in the nation to see dawn on Jan. 1, 2000, folks here were taken aback.

"Some people can get quite bent out of shape over it," said John Smith, manager of Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, home of a candy-striped lighthouse that stands sentry over the rocky coast.

In Bar Harbor, a renowned summer playground for the rich and famous, the desire for "first light" bragging rights is no less intense than in Lubec.

"Everybody wants to lay claim to this," said Jim Campbell, a Bar Harbor town official. "Some people think it's great, a thrill, an honor, all that kind of stuff."

Lubec residents didn't take defeat lying down. If Bar Harbor could use Cadillac Mountain's 1,530-foot elevation in its calculation, they asked, what about their own Porcupine Mountain, which is only 210-feet high -- but 60 miles east?

Claiming a 30-second advantage, they asked the U.S. Naval Observatory to redo its calculations. The observatory's sunrise guru, James Hilton, went back to the drawing board.

Last week, Hilton revealed his findings: The first glimmer of sunlight on Jan. 1, 2000, will hit Porcupine Mountain and Cadillac Mountain at the same time, 7:04 a.m. EST.

Geoff Chester, an observatory spokesman, says the time cannot be figured more precisely because of the refraction -- bending -- of light in the atmosphere, which can cause fluctuations of 20 to 30 seconds in its arrival at a given point.

Chester denied the tie was a compromise designed to let both towns save face.

"We have no political interest in either location," he said.

For the record, the observatory figures the first rays of sunlight of the millennium will reach the eastern tip of Nantucket, off Massachusetts, two minutes later, at 7:06 a.m. At 7:07 a.m., the light will reach the first large U.S. city, Miami.

While Lubec and Bar Harbor sparred, Lubec's neighbor, Eastport, claimed the honor of "first light of the millennium for a city in the United States." No one has challenged the claim, though some think calling a community of 2,000 a city is using the term loosely.

Those eager to join in the festivities will have to brave Maine's harsh winter weather and will face sparse accommodations, because most inns and bed and breakfasts shut down in the winter.

None of that is putting a damper on planned celebrations.

Gov. Angus King will be in Eastport for its millennium party. Bar Harbor will have fireworks. And Lubec's festivities include a flag-raising ceremony at sunrise at the lighthouse and a "polar bear" dip into the ocean for the daring.

Only a determined few will personally greet the sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain. The road to the summit will be closed so the mountain will be accessible only to skiers, snowmobilers or hikers, said David Buccello, chief ranger at Acadia National Park.

"We can't prevent people from going up there. The best we can do is to emphasize the need to be prepared with expedition winter equipment and to have experience in winter hiking," he said.