TRANSPORTATION: Cold and snowy weather delays rail freight

Severe winter weather has delayed deliveries of freight throughout Maine. Some executives say their deliveries are taking twice as long as before a record month of frigid temperatures and snowfall took its toll on Maine’s network of freight rails. The problem is exacerbated by a backlog at a yard in Ayers, Massachusetts, where freight is offloaded from trains and loaded onto trucks for final delivery. Read story here.

REAL ESTATE AND DEVELOPMENT: Maine home sales trended up in January

Maine home sales were up in January compared with a year ago, but prices dipped 3.9 percent. A quarter-to-quarter comparison fared better though. According to the Maine Real Estate Information System, sales of single family homes in from November 2014 through January were up 1.61 percent over the same quarter a year ago, and sale prices were up 2.06 percent to a median of $173,500. Realtors credited the rise with second-home buyers and consistently low interest rates. Read story here.

Administration refuses to support housing bond

Gov. Paul LePage and the head of the Maine State Housing Authority oppose a $65 million bond intended to finance the construction of 1,000 units of senior housing. They announced their position via an official statement Thursday following news that a coalition of 159 companies and organizations pledges their support to the bipartisan initiative. The governor and housing chief said they believe the report on which the bond is based inflates the number of units needed to address a growing senior population because it counts people 55 and older, rather than 65 and older. The report estimates 15,000 affordable senior housing units will be needed by 2022 while a MSHA report puts the number at 8,200 by 2015. Read story here.

Developer gets land for Bayside Bowl expansion

The Portland City Council voted 8-1 Monday to sell less than a quarter-acre in the Bayside neighborhood to Justin Alfond, a state senator who owns Bayside Bowl. Alfond will pay the city $340,018 for land at 71 Hanover St., which is now used to store the city’s road sand and salt supply for the downtown area. City officials are planning to move the sand and salt shed to a temporary location nearby to make way for a $2.4 million expansion to Bayside Bowl and new squash courts. Read story here.

Portland Co. complex heads to council vote

The Portland Planning Board unanimously recommended rezoning the former Portland Co. complex on Tuesday night, putting developers one step closer to winning approval of a massive, long-term project to reshape the 10-acre site. The vote after more than two hours of public testimony and queries from the board fielded by Portland-based developer CPB2 LLC capped a contentious public process, in which Munjoy Hill residents raised objections to the potential interruption of sweeping views of Portland Harbor from Fore Street by taller buildings, among other concerns. The zoning recommendation now will go before the Portland City Council for a final vote. Read story here.

New ordinance under review in Portland

Portland City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee will review an ordinance that would require developers of residential projects with 10 or more units to make at least 10 percent of those units affordable to median-income households. The city does not require developers to include affordable housing in their projects. The proposed ordinance would broaden the definition of “affordable” to include households with earnings up to the median income – $75,000 for a family of four. The ordinance is part of a package of proposals to encourage and ensure more housing development in Portland. Read story here.

McDonald’s on Route 1 in Yarmouth closes

The McDonald’s restaurant on Route 1 in Yarmouth closed Tuesday afternoon. The fast-food restaurant had operated at that location for almost 18 years. Owners Ron and Cyndi Lydick said they opted not to renew the lease and couldn’t find a new location to build a restaurant with a drive-through. Yarmouth employees were offered positions at their other McDonald’s restaurants in Freeport and Gray. Read story here.

LABOR: Wal-Mart raises wages and others follow suit

Wal-Mart’s announcement that it intends to hike the minimum wage it pays its workers to $9 an hour in April is expected to create some ripple effect in Maine. Retail officials say the move will likely cause other employers of minimum wage earners to adjust their wages to compete for workers, especially among seasonal and teen workers. Days later, other retailers, including T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s, said they were raising minimum wages to match Wal-Mart’s floor. Two of Maine’s nearly 600,000 workers about 20,000 earn a minimum wage of $7.50 an hour. Read story here.

ENERGY: PUC reconsiders wind agreements

In a controversial vote, the Maine Public Utilities Commission voted 2-1 Wednesday to reconsider two agreements it previously struck with wind power companies. New Commissioner Carlie McLean voted with Mark Vannoy to reopen the proposals over the objections of Commissioner David Littell. The Weaver and Highland wind projects, which won initial approval in December, can now be renegotiated. Littell, a former Gov. John Baldacci appointee, said the reversal sets a bad precedent. The other two commissioners, both appointees of Gov. Paul LePage, said they wanted to re-examine the proposal to ensure ratepayers are getting the best deal. Read story here.

Solar project seeks homeowners in Freeport

A national movement aimed at cutting the high cost of solar-electric panels through community bulk purchasing is kicking off in Freeport. Solarize Freeport hopes to sign up enough residents between now and May 2 to knock 10 percent off the price of an average home system, or roughly $1,500. Insource Renewables is partnering with Assured Solar Energy of North Yarmouth to launch Solarize Freeport. The two companies hope a 30 percent federal tax credit that can help offset the cost of a solar installation will help attract homeowners. The tax credit expires at the end of 2016. Read story here.

Iberdrola buys southern New England utility

Iberdrola USA, the parent company of Central Maine Power Co., is buying a utility that has 725,000 customers in Connecticut and western Massachusetts. The deal is valued at about $3 billion and will produce a new publicly traded company led by James P. Torgerson, chief executive officer of UIL, the utility that Iberdrola is acquiring. UIL provides electricity and gas transmission in the two states where it operates. Iberdrola will give UIL stockholders a share in the newly formed company for each share they held in UIL stock, plus $10.50 per share. That represents a premium on UIL stock of about 25 percent, the company said. The deal has been approved by the boards of both companies. Read story here.

Gas prices expected to rise for several weeks

Gasoline prices in Maine have begun a sharp increase that is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks, according to a national gas-price analysis firm. The average price per gallon for regular unleaded gas in Maine was about $2.36 a gallon as of Friday, up 6 cents from the previous day and 22 cents more than the average price in January, according to Brooklyn Park, Minnesota-based GasBuddy.com. The ongoing price increase is expected to mean increases of roughly 10 cents per gallon each week for the coming two to three weeks, a result of delays in refineries and the annual reformulation of gas for summer driving. Read story here.