I’ve been reporting on the goings-on in the Midcoast for the past five years. 2017 felt different.

Up and down my coverage area, in almost every town, there’s been an issue (or two) that sharply divided communities and brought out some serious rancor. I’ve seen people who I know are normally pleasant and friendly screaming at each other across parking lots and swearing at each other on Facebook.

I have, personally, banned some people from commenting on the Coastal Journal Facebook page after they couldn’t help throwing slurs at others over seemingly innocuous issues. I’ve heard people shouting, “Sit down you a$$hole,” at public meetings where people have every right to speak.

What in the heck is going on? What exactly is it that’s driving people to be so uncivil. Is it our political climate? Is it social media’s influence?

It hit me like a bolt of lighting while talking it over with Raye Leonard, my editor. There’s a common thread through every one of the issues I’ve heard people get the most angry about: Old vs. new.

I’m not talking age of people. I’m talking the Midcoast itself, and the changes and growing pains it’s facing as increasing attention on how great a place the Midcoast is to live is drawing more people and activity to the area.

Wiscasset’s ongoing conflict over the Maine Department of Transportation proposal is a great example. Traffic jams are increasing, and more people are trying to visit the town and points north. Something needs to be done, as almost everyone agrees. What it is that needs doing, exactly, is a source of some of the most vicious conflict I’ve seen. There are now lawsuits working their way through the courts, and every select board meeting is packed with people for and against the proposal, divided down the middle.

In Brunswick, two separate ongoing issues are drawing hostility. Neighbors of the Brunswick train layover facility, while not stooping to slurs and insults, are facing frustration over increased noise in their community due to the Amtrak Downeaster.

On the other side of town, Pine Street neighbors affected by Bowdoin College’s proposal to discontinue the street are dredging up long-held prejudices about the college’s relationship with the town. Just recently a letter to the editor in the Coastal Journal levied accusations that the college is not paying its fair share.

In both those instances, it’s either a new construction or new activity driven by increased population changing the fabric of a neighborhood in some way.

In Damariscotta, an at-times bitter conflict over development culminated in a vote to put a moratorium on all development whatsoever. Once again, it’s a proposal for increased activity as a result of more interest in the Midcoast. While the proposal went through, there was dogged opposition every step of the way.

Down at Popham, the Phippsburg community reacted with anger and at times open hostility to a proposal to remove a set of pier pilings. I’ve seen any number of accusations in covering this issue, including people claiming it was corruption in our government that led to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection’s decision on Dec. 7 to allow Jack Parker to take the pilings out.

Again, a change to the community. Again, divisions over that change.

In Bath, neighbors of the RiverWalk condominum project are frustrated because it blocks the view from their homes of the Kennebec River. The project also highlighted flaws in Bath’s Historic Overlay ordinance.

Down in Freeport, ongoing conflict over the building of the ship, Island Rover, has continued. One of the few long-time residents of Flying Point Road I spoke to said they had no problem with it. I bet, in 1976 when the project was started, few people objected. But now, in 2017, with dozens more houses and people occupying the area, the landscape surrounding the Island Rover has changed, and it no longer fits.

The Midcoast, it seems, is changing. At first it was a slow leak, a trickle down the side of the dam. Now, that trickle is starting to wear at the concrete, and it seems like the rain isn’t stopping any time soon. The pressure is building, but it’s far from too late. I’m not saying residents should dig in their heels and try and keep everything the same forever. Development is important and should be welcomed, but there are ways to make change fit with a long-standing community.

From my experience, all of those ways involve public participation. I applaud those residents who I see going to nearly every meeting held in their towns, and who comment on issues. I sometimes disagree with lots of people (I always try hard to keep it from affecting my reporting on a story) who are commenting on something. But I admire them for speaking up, and encourage them to continue to do so. Our democracy functions on public participation.

Hopefully, in the next year, even more people will show up at public hearings to raise their hands and make their feelings known.

But a word of advice, if I may?

Be nice.