TOURISM

Australian developer buys Saddleback ski resort

An Australian developer has agreed to purchase the Saddleback ski area, which has sat idle for two years, saying he plans investments that will make it “the premier ski resort in North America.”

Sebastian Monsour, CEO of the Majella Group, was introduced as the buyer of Maine’s third-largest ski area at a news conference at Saddleback last Wednesday. The resort’s sellers, Bill and Irene Berry, and representatives from Maine’s congressional delegation were among the more than 100 people who attended the news conference. Officials would not disclose the sale price. The company’s purchase of the resort is expected to be finalized this summer, representatives said. An opening date for Saddleback has not been set, said Fred LaMontagne, the former Portland fire chief who will be the CEO of the resort, which previously employed about 300 people during peak times. Read the story.

ENERGY

Solar-credits bill passes, with veto-proof margins

A bill that would tweak Maine’s solar “net metering” credits and direct utility regulators to further study the policy appears headed to Gov. Paul LePage with veto-proof margins – at least for now.

Last week, the Maine House voted 105-40 and the Senate voted 29-6 in support of a bill, L.D. 1504, that aims to forestall controversial changes made to the policy that allows owners of solar energy systems to receive credit for excess electricity they generate. While a final vote is still required in the Senate, the margins in both chambers, if they hold, are above the two-thirds threshold needed to overcome an expected veto from LePage, a vocal net metering opponent. Under the current policy, owners of solar energy panels can receive credit for 100 percent of the full retail value of excess electricity they feed back into the grid. The bill would reduce that credit to 90 percent for new customers applying between Dec. 31, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018, and then to 80 percent the following year. The bill also would allow the Public Utilities Commission to further reduce the credit amount for future net metering customers, but allow customers to keep receiving credits for up to 15 years. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Prices fall for lobster bait

Maine lobstermen are hitting the water late this year because of cold weather, but without the cloud of a looming bait crisis hanging over them.

Bait freezers along the coast are full of herring and pogies, and even alewives, which means that bait is not only available, it is also much less expensive than last year when herring cost as much as 60 cents a pound, according to the Department of Marine Resources. This year the lobstermen’s go-to bait costs about half as much.

Fishermen caught herring in the deep waters off Georges Bank earlier this year than they did in 2016. Although they’ve landed a little more than last year – about 19.9 percent of their quota, compared with 19.1 percent at the same time last year, according to federal landing reports – this year’s catch came early enough in the season to keep prices low. Read the story.

 Portland seafood company fined for illegal imports

A Portland seafood company has been fined more than $550,000 for violating import laws.

ISF Trading Co., located on Hobsons Wharf at 390 Commercial St., also was ordered to forfeit nearly $300,000 and was put on probation for a year by federal District Court Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. for violating the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act prohibits trading in wildlife that has been illegally caught, owned, transported or sold.

According to federal prosecutors, ISF bought sea urchins from a supplier in Canada that wasn’t allowed, under Canadian law, to export seafood. ISF then brought the urchins into the U.S., using labels from another Canadian supplier that, at times, was allowed to export the urchins, prosecutors said.

ISF was charged with illegally importing about 48,000 pounds of sea urchins between Dec. 31, 2010, and Feb. 1, 2011. Prosecutors said the processed roe from the urchins was worth at least $172,800. Read the story.

Maine blueberry prices reached a 10-year low of 27 cents per pound last year. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

AGRICULTURE

Maine blueberry prices sink to 10-year low

Wild blueberries are one of Maine’s most recognized agriculture products. Production of the blueberries has been high in recent years, and crept up a little less than one percent to almost 102 million pounds last year. But prices have sunk to a 10-year low. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says growers received 27 cents per pound for the blueberries last year, down 19 cents from 2015 and 33 cents from 2014. The berries sold for more than a dollar a pound as recently as 2007. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Elite Airways delays Canada passenger service

The first international flight from the Portland International Jetport in three years was postponed last week as Elite Airways dealt with a computer glitch. The airline canceled its inaugural flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia on Friday at the last minute because of a technical issue between U.S. and Canadian reservation systems, according to the airline.

All passengers were contacted and refunded or booked for a later date. The airline hopes to work out the problems and launch its new service on July. The 50-seat jet is scheduled to fly between Portland and Halifax twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays, with connecting flights to Sarasota, Florida. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE AND CONSTRUCTION

Groups pitch development ideas for city land in Portland

The City Council Economic Development Committee last week weighed the merits of proposals from 10 groups that want to purchase and develop city-owned land on the western end of the Bayside neighborhood. Portland wants to sell six parcels of land on Portland Street, Hanover Street, Parris Street and Kennebec Street that were once used by the city’s Public Works Department, which is making the transition to a new facility on Canco Road. Some developers are vying for the same parcels. The proposed uses also vary widely – from apartments and condos to business incubators and artist space, along with commercial, retail, office and food studio uses. The Economic Development Committee plans to hold a second hearing before making a recommendation to the full City Council, which has final say. Read the story.

Cianbro gets $23 million Navy contract

Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield has been awarded a $23 million contract from the U.S. Navy to make improvements to a dry dock at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. The contract provides for the fabrication and installation of several enclosures and passageway sections for a new defueling complex that will support reactor servicing. The work is scheduled to be completed by July 2019. Read the story.