Megan Doyle – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Wed, 22 Nov 2017 23:38:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 Father of Jacob Thompson grateful for outpouring of support for cancer-stricken son http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/21/dad-grateful-for-outpouring-of-support-for-cancer-stricken-son/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/21/dad-grateful-for-outpouring-of-support-for-cancer-stricken-son/#respond Wed, 22 Nov 2017 00:06:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/21/dad-grateful-for-outpouring-of-support-for-cancer-stricken-son/ When Jacob Thompson’s family made a plea for holiday cards for their 9-year-old son, they quietly hoped they would get a response from every New England state.

Jacob was diagnosed four years ago with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancerous tumor, his family said. When it became clear Jacob would not live until Christmas, his family decided to celebrate early. They invited people through social media to send cards to Jacob at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Before he died Sunday, Jacob received more than 66,000 cards, gifts and video messages from around the world.

“It made us feel good that his love went around the world,” said Roger Guay, Jacob’s father, in an interview Tuesday. “People who don’t even know him, he touched their lives.”

As the cards and Christmas wishes poured in, Guay said he used Google Maps to show his son how far the request had reached. They pointed to Germany and Sweden, Japan and China. They told him mail from Australia traveled 18 hours in an airplane to reach his bedside.

“He gave a smile and a nose scrunch, which means that was special for him,” Guay said. “Toward the end, he realized his nose scrunch said everything he wanted to. He used that more often than words.”

Jacob’s story made national headlines in The Washington Post, ABC News and other outlets. His well-wishers included a number of politicians and celebrities, among them former first lady Barbara Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maine native Anna Kendrick. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sent Jacob a personal letter along with the autographs of players. A convoy of more than 100 police cruisers and motorcycles that originated in Stoughton, Massachusetts, traveled to Portland to drive by Jacob’s hospital room. A local magician performed for Jacob and his family, and the boy got to pick the first song of the holiday season for radio station 94.9 WHOM. The Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut brought live penguins – Jacob’s favorite animal – to the hospital for a visit.

“We’re just overwhelmed with the love and support we’ve gotten from all over the world,” Guay said.

Jacob’s obituary, to be published in full on Wednesday, describes his passions as those of a normal 9 year old: “MineCraft, Legos, YouTuber TDM, Trolls, swimming and singing along to his favorite songs.”

“Jacob loved spending time with his Memere Claire, having Sunday dinner with his Memere and Pepere Guay; playing video games with his older brother, Christopher, and younger cousins, Joey and Alex, playing with matchbox cars with his younger brother Joel and going on adventures with cousins, Bella and Peter. Jacob was always accompanied by his entourage of stuffed animal supports, ‘Penguin’ and ‘Baby Penguin’ and his orange blanket,” the obituary says.

The little boy’s motto was “live life like a penguin,” which meant “be friendly, stand by each other, go the extra mile, jump into life and be cool,” said his mother, Michelle Thompson Simard.

Jacob attended St. Louis Child Development Center in Biddeford and Young School in Saco. He was in the second grade. On Tuesday, Simard visited Young School to give stuffed animal penguins to students there, according to WCSH-TV reporter Lee Goldberg.

“We’re all sad,” Guay said. “We all are comforting each other.”

A GoFundMe campaign to pay for Jacob’s funeral expenses had raised nearly $165,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. In his obituary, Jacob’s family suggested people who would like to make a donation in his honor to do so to the penguin department at New England Aquarium. On a Facebook page called Jacob Thompson’s Journey, the family has also suggested making donations to another penguin rescue operation or to Operation Gratitude.

Going forward, Guay said they want to find a way to honor Jacob’s memory but haven’t settled on anything specific.

“We want to pay it forward,” he said.

Public visitation for Jacob will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the Cote Funeral Home Chapel in Saco. The family has requested that the funeral service and burial be private.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/21/dad-grateful-for-outpouring-of-support-for-cancer-stricken-son/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1291337_923508-JACOB-THOMPSON.jpgJacob ThompsonWed, 22 Nov 2017 00:18:35 +0000
Maine’s 2nd Market Basket to anchor shopping plaza planned for Westbrook http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/market-basket-to-anchor-planned-shopping-plaza-in-westbrook/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/market-basket-to-anchor-planned-shopping-plaza-in-westbrook/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 17:33:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/market-basket-to-anchor-planned-shopping-plaza-in-westbrook/ Market Basket is coming to Westbrook.

The low-priced grocer will be the anchor tenant of a yet-to-be-built retail plaza at the former Pike Industries quarry on Main Street, the developer confirmed Thursday. A Walmart store initially planned for the anchor spot is no longer part of the project.

“I was able to negotiate to replace the Walmart Supercenter with Market Basket,” said Anton Melchionda, principal at Waterstone Properties Group. “We have a history with Market Basket. We’re biased, but we believe strongly that they are the premier grocery operator in the country, if not the world.”

The grocery chain operates 79 stores across New England, but only one of them is in Maine. It opened in Biddeford in 2013 and has been a hit among shoppers there. That strong customer response prompted Market Basket to consider building more stores in Maine. Early on, it was one of the rumored tenants at the Westbrook plaza. But a feud among Market Basket’s owners in 2014 possibly delayed those plans, and Walmart’s involvement in the development was announced in April 2016.

The Westbrook Planning Board approved the 500,000-square-foot shopping center in October 2016. The original developer, Jeffrey Gove, sold the project to Waterstone. Melchionda said his company will ultimately invest more than $150 million in the plaza.

Construction on traffic improvements near the site has already begun. Melchionda could not confirm any other tenants at this time, but said Market Basket and other business could open as soon as fall 2018 or spring 2019.

“Since we’ve opened our Biddeford store in 2013, we definitely have had a calling for more stores in Maine,” said Joe Schmidt, supervisor of operations at Market Basket. “It’s been on our radar screen. We’re happy that we’re able to bring our second location to Maine.”

Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant said Market Basket is the type of retailer he hoped would be part of that development.

“What we were hoping for were retailers that were not currently in Maine or that were underrepresented in Maine,” Bryant said. “That makes it more attractive and special. Certainly this fits that criteria.”

GROCERY CHAIN WRACKED BY FEUD

In 2014, a family feud almost destroyed Market Basket.

The Massachusetts-based grocery chain was long owned by the Demoulas family, who made up the company’s board of directors. That summer, the board fired CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who was beloved by many of the company’s 26,000 employees. A Demoulas cousin who controlled the board at the time led the push to remove “Artie T.” after a decades-long dispute over ownership rights and a difference of opinion about the company’s rapid expansion.

The board’s decision enraged Market Basket workers at all levels, from grocery baggers to district managers. They said they supported Demoulas for his personal touch, his vow to keep the chain family-owned and his commitment to support a company fund that pays annual bonuses to employees. They worried that the new leadership would cut pay and benefits, despite assurances that it remained committed to customers and workers.

Employees protested by refusing to make deliveries, leaving many stores without produce or fresh meat for weeks. They posted signs and placed petitions inside Market Basket stores asking for Demoulas to be reinstated. Customers vowed to shop elsewhere until the ousted CEO returned.

The dispute was finally resolved in December 2014 when Demoulas announced he had completed a buyout of the 50.5 percent of the company he hadn’t previously owned. He returned to his old job and immediately issued a total of $49 million in bonuses to employees. The boycott ended.

Still, industry experts said that deal likely saddled Market Basket with a significant financial burden. A hoped-for second store in Maine did not materialize – until now.

“We’re doing exceptionally well,” Schmidt said. “We have to give the credit to the customers for their loyalty to our company. We’re in a very good position for the future.”

Westbrook has two other large supermarkets – a Hannaford and a Shaw’s.

The planned Market Basket will be 80,000 square feet. The store in Biddeford, which Market Basket officials have said is the largest supermarket in Maine, is in a 107,000-square-foot former Lowe’s building.

Schmidt said he anticipates the new store will need 375 to 400 new employees.

“The Westbrook store will be very much like our Biddeford store, with the Market’s Kitchen to the café to the large selection of quality produce,” Schmidt said.

DEVELOPMENT SLOWLY TAKES SHAPE

Redevelopment of the former Pike Industries quarry has been years in the making.

The 80-acre site is near the intersection of Main Street and Larrabee Road, between two Maine Turnpike exits and close to the Portland-Westbrook border. Across Main Street is another shopping center anchored by Kohl’s.

Gove first submitted plans for the retail center in 2015. Before the Walmart store was announced, residents speculated that the large warehouse buildings would be Market Basket, Costco or Hobby Lobby. Gove planned to turn the quarry into a lake that would be stocked with fish, open for ice skating in the winter and surrounded by a walking trail that would link to trail systems in Portland and its western suburbs.

Melchionda, who lives in Boston and Scarborough, said Gove approached him last year about taking over the development. Waterstone’s portfolio in Maine also includes the Kittery Outlets and the Scarborough Gallery.

“I’ve been looking to do a project in Portland for many, many years,” Melchionda said. “I jumped at the opportunity.”

Waterstone has agreed to complete about $10 million in offsite traffic improvements as part of the project, including improvements to the turnpike exits and nearby intersections. Melchionda said he intends to develop the quarry into a water feature in keeping with Gove’s plans. He said he might return to the Westbrook Planning Board to approve changes to the original plan, such as a new configuration for interior traffic flow or a residential component to the project.

“We have nothing but positive things to say about this development team and their responsiveness to comments they’ve been provided,” said Westbrook City Planner Jennie Franceschi.

NOT A TRADITIONAL RETAIL STRIP

In addition to national brands, Melchionda said, he also would like to see one of the high-end restaurants in Portland open a second location in the plaza, and he suggested other local businesses and brew pubs would be a good fit for the development.

“It’s not going to be a traditional strip retail center where people run in, buy a bag of dog food and go home,” he said.

Melchionda expects Market Basket to be a draw for potential tenants and shoppers. His relatives are devotees of Market Basket in Massachusetts.

“We drive 18 to 20 minutes and we pass six grocery stores so that we can shop at Market Basket,” he said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/16/market-basket-to-anchor-planned-shopping-plaza-in-westbrook/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1164583_485214-20170302_MarketBaske-e1510890216763.jpgWhile sales remain strong at Market Basket in Biddeford, the company has no specific plans to open another Maine store.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 16:55:27 +0000
Decades later, a brother hears a World War II soldier’s story http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/11/decades-later-brother-hears-a-soldiers-story/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/11/decades-later-brother-hears-a-soldiers-story/#respond Sat, 11 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1286315 The drive between southern Maine and eastern Canada is a long one, and Milton Scott had more questions for his older brother with each passing mile.

It was a few years back, when Barry Scott was still in his 80s. They were driving to visit relatives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, a five-hour trip from their homes in Scarborough and Gorham. Milt knew his brother had joined the Army after high school and fought in World War II. So the conversation, winding with Interstate 95, eventually turned to the war.

Milt was just a toddler when Barry sailed for Italy, and he never knew the details of his brother’s nine months as a German prisoner of war.

“When you sit in a car for 10 hours, five hours up and five hours back, you have a lot to talk about,” said Milt, now 78. “It’s a story that surprised me.”

Milt listened as his brother talked about fighting in the Battle of Anzio, a deadly and drawn-out siege that eventually led to the capture of Rome. He heard about the day Barry was captured by German soldiers in the south of France. He finally learned the meaning of the Bronze Star on the wall.

Barry had kept his stories mostly to himself for nearly seven decades.

“I always thought it was boasting,” said Barry, now 93. “I did not care for boasters or braggarts, period.”

HEAVY LOSSES AT ANZIO

Barry was born in 1924 in New Brunswick.

Shortly after he was born, the family moved to Houlton in northern Maine, where Barry’s three siblings were born. Milt is the youngest.

As Barry came of age, the family moved around New England, and war in Europe began to dominate the headlines. He was a teenager in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After his 18th birthday, he received a draft letter. He graduated high school in 1943 and entered the Army at Fort Devens in Massachusetts that summer.

“I think like all young fellows at that age, I anticipated and wanted to do something,” Barry said. “I was drafted, but I would have gone, anyway.”

Barry completed 17 weeks of basic training at Camp Campbell, now called Fort Campbell, in Kentucky. He found it grueling, but his experience on track and cross-country teams in high school helped prepare him.

Once, Barry said a corporal tried to chastise him for a mistake by ordering him to run with his pack and rifle. Five miles later, the corporal was winded and struggling, but Barry was still going strong.

At the end of basic training, the young private shipped overseas. He remembered the vessel with 6,000 troops, the feeling of seasickness, the zigzag travel pattern to avoid a German submarine.

“We were all shipped over as replacements,” Barry said. “They were losing a lot of men.”

The paperwork issued to Barry upon discharge shows he arrived in Northern Africa in March 1944. Within two weeks, he was sent to Italy to join the 180th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Division. Earlier in 1944, that regiment was among British and American troops that landed on Anzio Beach on the west coast of Italy. Their eventual goal was Rome, which was about 30 miles north. Accounts of the campaign show the Germans were largely surprised by the landing, but responded quickly. The Allied forces were soon trapped on the beachhead, surrounded by enemy forces in the hills.

“That was a real bad plan,” Barry quipped. “Not mine, by the way.”

Barry entered a battlefield in stalemate. A Life photographer with the Allied forces in Italy described it as “a slow, maddening, fruitless battle.” An Army history of the 180th Infantry Regiment described that time as “long weary months of incessant shelling and animal-like living.” On May 23, after four months of death and deadlock, the Allied soldiers at Anzio Beach finally broke out of the beachhead. They marched to Rome and took the city by June 4. British and American losses at Anzio Beach totaled 7,000 killed. Another 36,000 were wounded or missing in action. The German troops had 40,000 casualties, including 5,000 dead.

“We saw quite a bit of action, and that’s all I can say on it, really,” Barry said.

His family, however, has coaxed more detail out of him over the years.

He told them about the day he decided to crawl to the neighboring foxhole where his buddy had a coveted Hershey’s bar. Soon after, the foxhole he had just left was hit with a shell, and the men who had been crouched in it with Barry died.

And he told them about the night he took out the Hohner Marine Band harmonica of his boyhood and played the popular love song “Lili Marlene.”

“Somebody from the German side joined in with a harmonica,” Barry said.

PRISONER OF WAR

In August 1944, the 180th Infantry Regiment landed in southern France.

Barry wrote a letter home to his family in Portland a few days later. He asked for news of the outside world and told them about his friend’s 20th birthday. He asked for Necco Wafers and called his youngest brother “Miltie.”

“I wrote a letter to Jim Ott today and made him jealous at how much of the world I am seeing while he is salted away in Louisiana,” Barry wrote. “This is sort of valuable, although I prefer a quiet place in Maine.”

Soon after he arrived in France, however, Barry was driving in a convoy of trucks when they were ambushed by German troops. He estimates only half of the 30 American soldiers in the group survived, and he said he was shot in the left leg during the fighting. Barry and the other survivors were taken prisoner.

Back home, the Scott family published a notice in the newspaper, saying they received notice Barry had been missing in action since Sept. 10. Barry learned later that his father considered enlisting himself, in a wild attempt to search for his son in Europe. Milt was just a young boy, but he remembered his parents as somber and anxious during that time.

The young American soldiers knew they would be put to work as prisoners of war. They told the Germans they were farmers, hoping to avoid labor in a factory making weapons to be used against their own countrymen. Eventually, Barry was sent to a town called Vilshofen and then a little village called Hilgartsberg. He and 11 other men lived on the upper floor of a former beer hall and worked the plows on local farms. Barry liked the German people he met there. He later told his son Steven about a young boy who was sent to fight with the German army against the Soviet Union at the very end of the war; years later, he still wondered what the boy’s fate had been.

Barry said they received decent treatment as prisoners, although they were forced to sleep naked through the cold winter nights to discourage them from running away. Barry did try to escape once as they marched to another stalag – the German term for a prisoner-of-war camp. He was caught – “quite quickly,” he said with a laugh – and warned he would be shot if he tried again. Barry said he received treatment for blood poisoning from his injury, and the men received boxes of necessities from the American Red Cross.

“In the Red Cross boxes were cigarettes,” Barry said. “I didn’t smoke, but I had a pack. One of the German guards, I said I’d give him three cigarettes if he’d get me a piece of bread. And he did it. How about that?”

Nine months passed like that. But by 1945, the tide of the war was changing. One day in May, Barry said the group of prisoners took over the dwindling group of German soldiers. They knew generally which direction to travel in order to reach the nearest Allied troops, and eventually they found the U.S. 13th Armored Division. Their one-time German captors surrendered, and on June 3, 1945, Barry returned to American soil.

When he got home, Barry said he volunteered to go to the Pacific Theater. But in August, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, ending the war in the Pacific.

THE BRONZE STAR

When World War II ended, Barry went to Bentley University in Boston and became an accountant.

He joined the Maine National Guard, married and had two sons. Mary, his first wife, had two brothers who had served in the military as well. She didn’t like to talk about the war, their son Steven said, which suited Barry just fine. He received a record of his military service and honorable discharge, but he never took much time to review it.

“Making a living became more important than to have something to put on the wall,” Barry said.

He retired on his 80th birthday; his son Steven took over his CPA business in Portland. Barry and his wife had been married 54 years when she passed away. He remarried in 2008, and it was Lorraine who got him talking about his time in the war.

“He said naively one day, ‘During the veterans parades, I see all these soldiers wearing all these ribbons, but I don’t have any,'” said Lorraine, 73. “I said, well, that doesn’t make any sense.”

So she wrote to the Army to inquire about his service record and any medals Barry had been awarded. She got back a Bronze Star, awarded for heroic or meritorious service.

“I was shocked,” Barry said.

Barry and Lorraine also received four medals commemorating his service, including a Prisoner of War medal. They are now proudly framed on the wall in Lorraine’s house. She has also tried to get Barry a Purple Heart, which recognizes service members who have been wounded in action. But by the time Barry was in his 80s, he struggled to find living witnesses to attest to his wound, and their request has been denied three times. Still, Barry doesn’t have much to say when asked about his medals.

“At the time I went in, I wanted to get in that action,” he said. “Most of the guys were like me.”

‘WORLD WAR II VETERAN’

Barry is 15 years older than Milt, and the younger brother tried to emulate the older.

It was peacetime when Milt was graduating from high school, but he also joined the National Guard. He considered a career in business like Barry, although he eventually worked in education instead. Still, the two frequent Harmon’s Lunch for hamburgers and talk every day.

“Scotty idolizes his older brother,” Lorraine said, using a nickname for Milt. “I think his socks were knocked off when he saw all the medals.”

In 2015, Steven and his father went on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Barry, who occasionally uses a cane but mostly walks on his own, was annoyed that he was required to use a wheelchair for travel. But everywhere he goes, Barry wears the “World War II Veteran” hat he got on that trip.

Since that first road trip to Canada, Milt said he and other relatives have encouraged Barry to create a more detailed record of his service. It took some coaxing.

“We tried to get him to write his memoirs,” Steven said. “He would write down a sentence.”

He finally wrote a personal account to be shared with family members. But they continue to ask him questions, and he continues to give them deadpan responses.

“It was quite a time,” Barry said. “I wouldn’t have missed it.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/11/decades-later-brother-hears-a-soldiers-story/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/1286315_487875-20171110_veteran_009.jpgBarry Scott is a 93-year-old Army veteran who was a prisoner of war during World War II and earned a Bronze Star for his service. Despite the honors, he kept quiet about his wartime experiences for decades. His family has only recently learned his stories from the war in Europe.Sat, 11 Nov 2017 09:30:34 +0000
Close vote kills plan to allow Portland residents to block zoning changes http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/early-vote-count-goes-against-zoning-proposal-in-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/early-vote-count-goes-against-zoning-proposal-in-portland/#respond Wed, 08 Nov 2017 02:19:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/early-vote-count-goes-against-zoning-proposal-in-portland/ Portland voters narrowly rejected a proposal that would have allowed residents to block rezoning in their neighborhoods.

The final tally on Question 2 came down to a difference of fewer than 1,200 ballots. Residents voted 53 percent to 47 percent, or 10,887 to 9,747, against the proposal.

The referendum comes as Maine’s largest city experiences a boom of development, including market-rate housing, hotels and office buildings. The question was a citizens’ initiative from neighbors who opposed a large housing project on the outskirts of the city. If approved, the change could have affected that planned subdivision and other projects, such as a cold storage warehouse planned for the city’s waterfront.

The Stroudwater neighborhood, where the ballot question was born, ultimately rejected it. Neighborhoods on the peninsula were more favorable, however.

The City Council currently makes decisions about changing zoning rules for land use – such as building heights and housing density – based on recommendations from the Planning Board, community meetings and public hearings.

The proposed ordinance would have allowed neighbors of a property targeted for rezoning to block it if enough of them signed a petition to do so. The applicant would then have had the opportunity to reinstate the zoning change by gathering signatures in support of it.

The ballot question came from neighbors of Camelot Farm, 45 acres of fields that the city has rezoned to allow a greater density of homes to be built there. Give Neighborhoods a Voice, the group that wrote the ordinance proposal and collected signatures to get it on the ballot, had said it would give Portland residents more leverage during the planning process. “If you have no power, no one bothers to negotiate with you,” Mary Davis, a founding member of Give Neighborhoods a Voice, said before Election Day. “If you have power, there is an incentive for people to negotiate with you.”

Davis did not return a call for comment Tuesday evening.

One Portland, which opposed Question 2, had argued it would give a small number of residents the power to stop development that would benefit the entire city. Heather Sanborn, the group’s spokeswoman, said she felt the planning process could be improved in Portland, but this proposal was not the best solution.

“We’re feeling really relieved,” said Sanborn, who is also a state representative and co-owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co. “We feel like this will allow our city to continue moving forward with our collective vision for a vibrant Portland.”

If approved, the ordinance would have blocked changes to zoning land use rules from moving forward if 25 percent of the registered voters who reside or own property within 500 feet of the zone change sign a petition in opposition. Developers could have overcome that opposition by collecting signatures from a majority of registered voters living within 1,000 feet of the proposed zone change in a 45-day period. It would have been retroactive to May 15, 2017.

Other questions on the Portland ballot, like a rent-control proposal, drew more comment from voters at the polls. But Kristina Bartlett, 32, said she came out in particular to vote no on Question 2.

“A small number of people can essentially stonewall a project that needs to happen,” Bartlett said outside the Portland Exposition Building.

The ballot question’s opponents were far more organized and well-funded than its backers.

Give Neighborhoods a Voice had not reported any financial activity before the Oct. 24 deadline for the most recent reports.

One Portland raised more than $58,000 to go along with the roughly $31,400 it had on hand going into October. Opponents included a coalition of business owners and developers, affordable housing advocates and fishermen, who support the development of a cold storage warehouse on the waterfront.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/07/early-vote-count-goes-against-zoning-proposal-in-portland/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1233470_348901_camelotaerial.jpgThe Camelot Farm subdivision, with 25 acres of recreational open space preserved for public use, would be built on what had been the city's last working pastureland – 45 acres at 1700 Westbrook St. Last week the Portland City Council approved a rezoning request, paving the way for a 95-home development.Wed, 08 Nov 2017 00:06:19 +0000
York County casino, Medicaid expansion at stake as Maine heads to polls http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/york-county-casino-medicaid-expansion-at-stake-when-maine-heads-to-the-polls/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/york-county-casino-medicaid-expansion-at-stake-when-maine-heads-to-the-polls/#respond Tue, 07 Nov 2017 01:42:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/york-county-casino-medicaid-expansion-at-stake-when-maine-heads-to-the-polls/ Mainers are heading to the polls Tuesday to decide whether Maine expands Medicaid health coverage to an estimated 70,000 residents and whether the state should allow an international businessman to build a new casino in York County.

Voters in Lewiston and Auburn are deciding whether to merge their cities, and voters in Portland are having their say on rent limits, zoning reform, school renovations and a hotly contested City Council race.

And around the state, voters will decide on local ballot questions and races for town councils, select boards and school boards.

Most polling places in Maine open at 7 or 8 a.m., but times vary by community. All Maine polls close at 8 p.m.

It’s still not too late to register to vote. Mainers who are 18 or older can register at polling places on Election Day.

Residents in towns and cities across Maine can look up the location of their polling place and the candidates on their local ballots on Maine.gov.

Results of the state and local elections, as well as elections of note in other part of the country, will be updated and posted at pressherald.com as the numbers come in after the polls close. The website also will feature interactive maps showing town-by-town voting results statewide. Results also will be published Wednesday morning in the Portland Press Herald.

Here is a guide to some of the big decisions voters are making.

CASINO LEADS STATE BALLOT

Question 1 on the state ballot is seeking voter approval for a third casino in Maine, which would be built somewhere in York County.

The referendum is written to allow only one person, Shawn Scott, to apply for a permit to build the casino. Supporters have argued a casino in York County would create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and generate $45 million in annual tax revenue, projections that have been dismissed by critics of gambling as an economic development tool.

The controversial campaign was the subject of a probe by the Maine Ethics Commission for violating state campaign finance laws by failing to disclose the true source of its funds and by missing deadlines to file reports; on Friday, the commission levied $500,000 in fines against the four committees behind the referendum for those violations.

MEDICAID EXPANSION

Expanding eligibility for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid health insurance program, is Question 2 on the state ballot.

Maine will be the first state in the nation to weigh in on Medicaid expansion by referendum. It is among 19 states whose legislators or governors have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed Medicaid expansion five times, which led to the effort by supporters to put the issue on the ballot.

Supporters of expansion have said it would give health care coverage to about 70,000 low-income Mainers and help struggling rural hospitals gain better financial footing. About 265,000 Mainers currently have Medicaid. Opponents argue that hospitals would benefit at the expense of Maine taxpayers.

BOND ISSUE AND PENSION REFORM

Question 3 on the state ballot seeks approval for a $105 million bond to fund repairs and improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure. The bulk of the money would be directed to repair priority roads and bridges. Dollars would also be allocated for the state’s sea and air ports, freight and passenger railroads and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

Question 4 is a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with amortization of losses to the state’s pension fund. Currently, the state has 10 years to pay back any unfunded liability that was created by investment losses. Question 4 would increase that timeline to 20 years, which the state says would insulate the system from shifts in the economy.

Portland RENT LIMITS

Question 1 on the Portland city ballot would limit annual rent increases to the rate of inflation and create a rent board to oversee rent increases and evictions; mediate disputes between renters and landlords; and assess fines for ordinance violations, among other things.

Supporters claim the proposal would preserve affordable housing and economic diversity in Portland’s tight rental market. But local landlords warn the proposal would stymie development, and affordable housing agencies worry the changes would make it more difficult for low-income and homeless people to find a landlord willing to rent to them.

NEW REZONING RULES

Question 2 on the Portland ballot would give residents the power to block changes to land-use rules if 25 percent of the registered voters who reside or own property within 500 feet of the zoning change sign a petition in opposition.

Supporters believe the ordinance is needed to give neighborhood residents more power to negotiate with real estate developers and city officials. Opponents say it would undermine the public process and give a small group of people the power to stop developments that could benefit the city as a whole.

RENOVATING SCHOOLS

In Portland’s Questions 3 and 4, voters will have a choice in how to move forward with renovations in the city’s aging elementary schools.

Question 3 is a $64 million bond that would use local tax dollars to renovate four schools. Question 4 is a $32 million bond to renovate two schools while seeking state funding for the other two.

If both questions receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the question with more “yes” votes will win. If both get a majority and the same number of “yes” votes, the question with fewer “no” votes will be enacted.

LEWISTON-AUBURN MERGER

Voters in Lewiston and Auburn are voting whether to merge their two cities, something they have discussed for years. If passed by both cities, the measure would initiate a two-year transition process and lead to a new city starting on Jan. 2, 2020.

Supporters argue it would save money for residents of both cities, and the unified city could attract more young professionals to fill a workforce shortage. Opponents worry about losing a sense of identity and question whether the savings would be as promised.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/06/york-county-casino-medicaid-expansion-at-stake-when-maine-heads-to-the-polls/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/yorkcasino-e1509452270839.jpgTue, 07 Nov 2017 10:46:27 +0000
Maine’s off-year election Tuesday is busier than usual http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/05/maines-off-year-election-tuesday-is-busier-than-usual/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/05/maines-off-year-election-tuesday-is-busier-than-usual/#respond Sun, 05 Nov 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1282834 Mainers will enter the ballot box Tuesday to answer a host of referendum questions.

Voters won’t find races for Congress, governor or the Legislature on their ballots, except to fill a vacant seat in Maine House District 56. But they will decide whether Maine expands Medicaid health coverage and whether a casino can be built in York County.

In Lewiston and Auburn, they will decide whether two cities become one. In Portland, they will decide whether to limit rent increases. In many towns, they will decide key public projects and who will serve in elected offices.

“This is a busier-than-usual off-year election,” Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said.

Still, voter turnout was already not expected to be high, according to state and local election officials and a review of previous election year results. Dunlap said widespread power outages caused by a storm last week could also discourage people from voting, and he will be working with local clerks in case their polling places don’t have power Tuesday. In some towns, turnout could be below 20 percent this year, but Dunlap predicted it would be higher in areas with hot-button local issues.

“You have very contested City Council races in Portland,” Dunlap said. “You have the merger referendum in Lewiston and Auburn. You have your two highest population areas that have stuff for people to vote on.”

CASINO LEADS STATE BALLOT

The state ballot alone will include four referendum questions, including two citizen initiatives.

Question 1 is seeking voter approval for a third casino in Maine, which would be built somewhere in York County.

The referendum is written to allow only one person, Shawn Scott, to apply for a permit to build the casino. Scott won authorization for the state’s first gambling facility in Bangor in 2003.

Supporters have argued a casino in York County would create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and generate $45 million in annual tax revenue, projections that have been dismissed by critics of gambling as an economic development tool. The controversial campaign was the subject of a probe by the Maine Ethics Commission for violating state campaign finance laws by failing to disclose the true source of its funds and by missing deadlines to file reports; on Friday, the commission levied $500,000 in fines against the four committees behind the referendum for those violations.

MEDICAID EXPANSION

Expanding eligibility for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid health insurance program, is Question 2 on the state ballot.

Maine will be the first state in the nation to weigh in on Medicaid expansion by referendum. It is among 19 states whose legislators or governors have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed Medicaid expansion five times, which led to the effort by supporters to put the issue on the ballot.

Conservatives like LePage have opposed expansion, while liberals and all major health care groups, such as groups representing hospitals, doctors and nurses, are in favor of it.

Supporters of expansion have said it would give health care coverage to about 70,000 low-income Mainers and help struggling rural hospitals gain better financial footing because they would have to provide less free care. About 265,000 Mainers currently have Medicaid. Opponents argue that hospitals would benefit at the expense of Maine taxpayers, and expanding public health coverage would not help lower health care costs.

A BOND AND PENSION REFORM

The remaining two questions on the state ballot have drawn less interest ahead of Election Day.

Question 3 on the state ballot seeks approval for a $105 million bond to fund repairs and improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure. The bulk of the money would be directed to repair priority roads and bridges. Dollars would also be allocated for the state’s sea and air ports, freight and passenger railroads and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. This is the second of three consecutive years of borrowing planned by the Maine Department of Transportation to fill gaps in annual highway funding.

Question 4 is a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with amortization of pension losses. The pension system to support retired state employees and teachers is in the state’s Constitution, so any changes require a constitutional amendment approved by referendum. The funding ratio of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System hit an all-time high of 83.6 percent in 2016, making it one of the best-funded public retirement systems in the nation. Currently, the state has 10 years to pay back any unfunded liability that was created by investment losses. Question 4 would increase that timeline to 20 years, which the state says would insulate the system from shifts in the economy.

LEWISTON-AUBURN MERGER

For residents in some cities, the referendums don’t stop at the state ballot.

A merger for Lewiston and Auburn in on the ballot in both cities, and each city must vote “Yes” for the union to move forward.

Consolidation has been discussed for years. If passed this year, the measure would initiate a two-year transition process and lead to a new city starting on Jan. 2, 2020.

Supporters argue it would save money for residents of both cities, and the unified city could attract more young professionals to fill a workforce shortage. Opponents worry about losing a sense of identity and question whether the savings would be as promised.

RENTS, SCHOOLS

And in Portland, voters will consider four more questions.

Question 1 would enact rent control for the first time in Maine’s largest city. The proposed ordinance would limit annual rent increases to the rate of inflation and create a rent board to oversee rent increases and evictions; mediate disputes between renters and landlords; and assess fines for ordinance violations, among other things.

Supporters claim the proposal would preserve affordable housing and economic diversity in Portland’s tight rental market. But local landlords warn the proposal would stymie development, and affordable housing agencies worry the changes would make it more difficult for low-income and homeless people to find a landlord willing to rent to them.

Question 2 could give residents the power to block zoning changes and unwanted projects near their homes. The proposed ordinance would block changes to zoning land-use rules from moving forward if 25 percent of the registered voters who reside or own property within 500 feet of the zone change sign a petition in opposition.

Supporters believe the ordinance is needed to give neighborhood residents more power to negotiate with real estate developers and city officials. Opponents say it would undermine the public process and give a small group of people the power to stop developments that could benefit the city as a whole.

In Questions 3 and 4, voters will have a choice in how to move forward with renovations in the city’s aging elementary schools.

Question 3 is a $64 million bond that would use local tax dollars to renovate four schools. Question 4 is a $32 million bond to renovate two schools while seeking state funding for the other two.

If both questions receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the question with more “yes” votes will win. If both get a majority and the same number of “yes” votes, the question with fewer “no” votes will be enacted.

LOCAL SEATS UP FOR ELECTION

Other municipalities across the state face a variety of choices, from bonds to pay for public buildings to races for local seats on councils, select boards and school boards.

For example, voters will decide a contested race for mayor in Saco, and Scarborough will weigh a proposal to borrow $19.5 million for a new public safety building.

THE DETAILS

Residents in towns and cities across Maine can look up the location of their polling place and the candidates on their local ballots on Maine.gov.

Results will be posted online at pressherald.com as the numbers come in after the polls close Tuesday, and published Wednesday morning in the Portland Press Herald.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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Maine officials prepare for possibility of Election Day without power http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/04/officials-prepare-for-possibility-of-election-day-without-power/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/04/officials-prepare-for-possibility-of-election-day-without-power/#respond Sat, 04 Nov 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1282325 State officials and local clerks are preparing for some Mainers to vote in the dark Tuesday.

A powerful wind and rainstorm Monday morning knocked out power to 484,000 customers, according to officials from the state’s two largest power companies. Central Maine Power and Emera Maine reported that a total of about 50,000 customers still were without power Friday night.

Crews are working around the clock to restore electricity, and both companies expect the majority of customers will have power back by Saturday night. So town halls and community centers and schools should be lit up for voters come Election Day.

But Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is taking no chances.

“This is the beauty of using paper ballots,” Dunlap said. “If there’s no power in the town and they have to vote in the fire station and they have to use a flashlight and a wooden ballot box, well, we can do that.”

Dunlap said he receives hourly updates on restoration efforts across the state. Should any towns be without power Tuesday, their ballots will be counted by hand, which could delay results but would still be valid. He couldn’t say how many polling places were still without power Friday afternoon, but he said his worry has somewhat subsided.

“I’m less worried about that than I was on Wednesday,” Dunlap said.

Still, the power outage has local officials scrambling to prepare the polls. The state prints ballots, but town and city clerks print their own voter lists. The Secretary of State’s Office is trying to connect clerks who don’t have power with clerks who do.

Bath City Clerk Mary White said her office was out of power for three days. The staff went back to work Thursday, only to lose electricity for 30 minutes that afternoon.

“It was panicville here for a good half hour,” said White, who is president of the Maine Town and City Clerk’s Association.

But she was breathing easier Friday because she was able to finish her election preparation. She also opened her doors to her colleagues in other communities who needed WiFi and a working printer. The clerk from nearby Arrowsic took her up on the offer, White said.

“She felt much better, much calmer when she left,” White said. “Those who are up have been offering their help to those in outlying areas who might not be up and running yet.”

In nearly 18 years as a clerk, White said she has never been worried she wouldn’t have power on Election Day.

“This is the first time,” she said.

Voters can find contact information for local officials, polling places and ballot information on Maine.gov.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/04/officials-prepare-for-possibility-of-election-day-without-power/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/11/539082_454679-voting-9-e1477020127490.jpgStaff Photo by John Patriquin, Tue, Jun 11, 2002: A old ballot box used in the town of Cornish.Fri, 03 Nov 2017 22:53:11 +0000
Westbrook police arrest Saco man in stabbing http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/03/westbrook-police-arrest-saco-man-in-stabbing/ Fri, 03 Nov 2017 17:16:12 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1281942 A teenager from Auburn is recovering from stab wounds he suffered in downtown Westbrook in the early hours of Friday morning.

Justin Neves Photo by Westbrook Police

Capt. Sean Lally said in a statement that the Westbrook Police Department responded at 3:47 a.m. to a disturbance near the intersection of Main and Haskell streets. Officers found a 17-year-old male who had been stabbed multiple times. The suspect fled before the police arrived on scene.

The victim was transported to Maine Medical Center. He was seriously injured but is expected to survive.

At 8:40 a.m., Westbrook detectives arrested 19-year-old Justin Neves, of Saco. He was charged with elevated aggravated assault and violation of a condition of release. Lally said Neves was out on bail, but did not elaborate on his previous charges.

Police departments in Portland and Gorham assisted with the investigation.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

PressHerald.com disables reader comments on certain news stories, including those dealing with sexual assaults and other violent crimes, personal tragedy, racism and other forms of discrimination.

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/11/Justin-Neves_1509729967717_CROP.jpgFri, 03 Nov 2017 14:55:35 +0000
Don’s Lunch Van in Westbrook looking for a new home http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/02/dons-lunch-van-is-looking-for-a-new-home/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/02/dons-lunch-van-is-looking-for-a-new-home/#respond Thu, 02 Nov 2017 18:13:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1281234 Don’s Lunch Van in Westbrook has closed while the owner looks for a new location for his iconic burger joint.

Craig Bernier has been operating the red-and-yellow van out of the parking lot at Friendly Gas and Redemption at 925 Main St. But the truck closed Tuesday, and a message on the Don’s Lunch Van Facebook page said the kitchen-on-wheels needs a new spot to park.

“We have 2 potential locations, both in Westbrook, of which we should have answers on within a week or two,” it said.

The Facebook post went on to thank loyal customers and promised an update as soon as possible. In response to a question from a customer, Don’s Lunch Van said they could not come to an agreement on rental costs with owners of the building. A message to Bernier through the Facebook page was not immediately returned.

“We hope to reopen within a few months and are hoping to continue serving tasty treats to all of you!” it said.

Don’s Lunch Van has a long history in Westbrook.

“It is an institution,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said.

Original owners Don and Yvonne Richards first opened Don’s Lunch Van in 1976. They operated in the parking lot of The Muffler Shop at 959 Main St.

They sold the business in 2001 to Bill and Nancy Bombard, who moved it to 517 Main St.

Jim Richards, the son of the original owners, bought the business from the Bombards in 2012.

The state shut down the food truck in 2015 for nonpayment of sales taxes. Later that year, Bernier bought the van. He moved the business to the Friendly Gas parking lot, just down the road from its original home. A former customer, Bernier promised to strip the menu down to basics — hamburgers, hot dogs, clam cakes, french fries, onion rings and chicken nuggets.

As the end of his lease approached at Friendly Gas, Bernier approached the city of Westbrook for help. He wanted to lease a vacant city-owned property on Mechanic Street. Bryant said the Westbrook City Council had concerns about that location, but he is working with Bernier to identify another spot for the van.

“The whole litany of first, second and third choices haven’t worked out,” Bryant said. “We’re trying to find something.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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Three years after deadly Noyes St. fire, renters must labor to access Portland’s inspection data http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/01/portlands-apartment-inspection-data-is-not-posted-online-for-easy-access-by-renters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/01/portlands-apartment-inspection-data-is-not-posted-online-for-easy-access-by-renters/#respond Wed, 01 Nov 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1280365 Three years after an apartment building fire killed six people, Portland is now inspecting thousands of apartments a year, including many that had not been subject to routine safety checks in the past.

But despite another recommendation that came out of the tragedy, details about those inspections are not online where renters can see them.

Beefed-up inspections and a database of rental housing were two of the changes ushered in by the Housing Safety Office, which was created in response to the fatal Nov. 1, 2014, fire on Noyes Street. The task force that shaped the Housing Safety Office envisioned the database as a tool for current and prospective tenants to learn about violations that might make their apartments unsafe. Meeting minutes show they hoped to include copies of actual inspection reports and communications to landlords.

None of those records is available online.

The existing database includes basic information about each property and reveals whether or not the landlord has registered with the city, a requirement that also resulted from the Noyes Street fire. But the database includes only vague descriptors about its last inspection. Some units have no inspection history posted. Others include a reference to an inspection that dates back more than two decades, but doesn’t say what problems were found and if they were fixed.

The entry for a building at 41 Chestnut St., for example, says it was last inspected in 1997 and that “Violations Exist.” It does not say what the violations were or whether they were corrected.

Inspection records obtained from the city show that building has been inspected several times more recently and has had ongoing violations, including pest infestations and safety issues. An inspection in June 2017 found that exterior fire escapes were in disrepair and appeared to be structurally unsound, among other things. The landlord was ordered to fix the problems before a reinspection later in the summer, but none of the more recent inspections or problems are reported on the city’s database.

People who view the database and want more information are encouraged to contact the Housing Safety Office via email or phone. Callers are encouraged to go to City Hall to look up the public inspection reports.

City of Portland spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said inspection reports and other details are not published in the online database because they change too quickly. People might access outdated documents and not understand what the status of a property was “in real time,” she said.

“We were fearful it could do some damage,” Grondin said.

Katie McGovern, a staff attorney at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, served on the housing safety task force and often works with low-income tenants. She has never heard of any renters using the database, and said key information is missing for the database to be useful.

“From the point of view of the tenant, it would be useful to know, were those things corrected?” McGovern said. “And how serious were those things?”

Edward Suslovic, a former city councilor who was chairman of the committee that brought forward the task force recommendations, said the council’s intent was to have inspection results more accessible to the public as a way to notify tenants of possible problems, encourage landlords to maintain their properties and allow residents to monitor the city’s inspection program. The city now posts restaurant inspection reports online for similar reasons, he pointed out. “If food service inspection reports can be made available, why can’t the housing safety inspection reports be made available online?” Suslovic said.

The apartment building at 20-24 Noyes St. caught fire in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2014. Investigators said the blaze started on the front porch in a plastic receptacle for cigarette butts and spread quickly through the building. There were no working smoke detectors, and flames blocked a stairwell that might have allowed the people trapped on the third floor to escape.

The victims were Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26; David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham; Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland; and Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland. Bragdon, Finlay and Thomas were tenants. Jackson, Summers and Conlee were visiting the house for a Halloween party.

The fire was the deadliest in Portland in four decades.

In October 2016, a Superior Court judge acquitted Nisbet on six charges of manslaughter in their deaths. Nisbet was found guilty of a misdemeanor fire code violation for the lack of a secondary exit from the third-floor bedrooms. He was sentenced to three months in jail but has yet to serve them pending appeals.

The fire revealed a gap in the city’s inspections program. Buildings that contained only one or two rental units, like the Noyes Street building, were not subject to routine periodic inspections the way larger apartment buildings were. An investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram also found that inspections that were conducted by the city were inconsistent, communication between departments was hit-or-miss, record-keeping was poor and violations often went uncorrected.

In July 2015, the City Council adopted an ordinance that created the Housing Safety Office, which included a new team of inspectors, an administrative assistant who would maintain a registry of landlords and an online database of inspections and a director who would report directly to the city manager. The city eliminated the director’s position in March of this year and merged the Housing Safety Office into the inspections division.

Landlords were required to register their units annually and pay a $35-per-unit fee to help pay for the new office. The city reported more than 18,000 units were registered in 2016. Landlord fees amounted to $501,650 that year.

While the fire department continues to inspect residential apartment buildings with more than three units, the Housing Safety Office inspects one- and two-family rental units. It reported more than 1,383 inspections from May 2016 to May 2017, including 972 two-family, 238 one-family home and 86 condos. The fire department completed 3,060 in 2016 and 1,422 through July 2017.

The online database of apartments launched in the summer of 2016.

Carleton Winslow, a Portland landlord who served on the task force, said other recommendations, such as educational outreach, also aren’t being acted upon the way the task force recommended. He said he wants the office to be audited, so the public can see how its money is being spent.

“I’m not frankly surprised that the database is probably incomplete,” he said.

Grondin said the database might look different in the future. But it is unclear whether more information will be accessible online.

“We are in the process of implementing Tyler Technologies for our database systems and our team working on implementation will be discussing ways in which we can offer a more user friendly experience for this database,” she said in an email. “I can’t say for sure right now how it will be different, but it’s fair to say it is likely to change.”

Staff Writer John Richardson contributed to this report.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/01/portlands-apartment-inspection-data-is-not-posted-online-for-easy-access-by-renters/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1237045_149867-housing-e1502271387833.jpgFair Rent Portland hoped to get its rent stabilization measure on the ballot, in an effort to address soaring rents that have occurred in places like Munjoy Hill, above.Wed, 01 Nov 2017 07:02:00 +0000
High school expansion, pace of growth are key issues in Gorham council election http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/high-school-expansion-pace-of-growth-are-key-issues-in-gorham-council-election/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/high-school-expansion-pace-of-growth-are-key-issues-in-gorham-council-election/#respond Thu, 26 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1276888 Four candidates are running for two open seats on the Gorham Town Council.

Voters will decide Nov. 7 between Mark Faulkner, Suzanne Phillips, Lee Pratt and Ronald Shepard. Only Shepard is an incumbent, although Phillips previously served one term on the council.

Michael Phinney, the council’s current chairman, decided not to seek re-election. The term for each seat is three years.

Top of mind for the council is a possible expansion at Gorham High School. The current council approved $150,000 to begin planning the multimillion-dollar project. The next council will decide whether to send the proposal to referendum as soon as fall 2018.

Faulkner, the former owner of M.C. Faulkner & Sons Inc., a metal fabricator company based in Buxton, is making his first bid for public office. He said his experience running his own business for more than three decades has given him ideas on how to improve municipal operations.

“I want to look at it from a businessman’s standpoint,” he said.

Faulkner said he would support projects like the high school expansion if there is a demonstrated need. In order to pay for the project, he said, he wants to help Gorham be more friendly to business. For example, when his company was looking to expand years ago, Faulkner said he found Gorham’s regulations to be restrictive and rigid. By comparison, Buxton was more willing to work with him to find a way to host his business.

“They fell all over themselves to get us to come to Buxton,” he said. “Gorham really didn’t care if we were there or not. … We need to bring more business into Gorham to support that tax base.”

Phillips is at the end of a term on the Gorham School Committee; she previously served one term on the council. She described herself as a fiscal conservative, saying she has voted against school budgets in the past when she doesn’t think a spending plan is based on need.

Phillips said she encouraged a number of Gorham parents to run for open School Committee seats, so she decided to switch her own focus back to the Town Council. She said her experience in both bodies could help her make decisions.

“When the Town Council and the School Committee have not really planned together in the past, I think that’s a problem,” Phillips said.

In her current position, Phillips serves on the committee that is planning the high school expansion. She said she will only put the plan forward to referendum if she could vote yes on it herself.

“That high school building is really, really important, and (the plan) really needs to be vetted,” she said. “It’s not a state project. It’s solely on the taxpayers.”

Pratt has been on the Gorham Planning Board for two years. If elected to the council, he would have to resign that post.

“I’ve lived in the town my whole life, and I’ve seen the changes that have happened with it,” Pratt said. “I decided it was time to have a little more say, a little more interest in the community.”

Pratt said Gorham is growing too quickly, and he would like to see changes that would manage that. For example, he wants to explore increasing acreage required for house lots and attracting more businesses to town. He said he hopes the town can add on to the existing high school rather than build new.

“I consider myself moderate on the financial level,” he said. “I understand, with two kids in the school system, our schools need to continue to improve. … On the flip side of that, with minor changes, I think we can stabilize our budgets.”

Shepard spent his career in the Gorham Police Department and retired as chief in 2014. He was then elected to the Town Council and now serves as vice chairman. He said he is running for re-election to continue working on issues such as the high school expansion, property tax relief for senior citizens and a connector road between Gorham and the turnpike.

“I do support (the high school expansion),” Shepard said. “We just have to make sure that what is put into the building is necessary, not cosmetic things that don’t have much to do with education. I just want to make sure that what we do for renovation is going to handle the needs of the students.”

He said the town needs to be “pro-business and open-minded” in order to build the tax base and accommodate the growing town’s needs.

“If you don’t grow, you’re going to start going backwards,” he said. “As long as the growth is manageable and it’s not just residential growth.”

The 2017 council election comes three years after Gorham voters passed a referendum that would force sitting town councilors to step down if they are convicted of certain crimes, including drunken driving, while in office.

That question first came up in 2012 when then-councilor Phillips was convicted of operating under the influence. Then in 2014, Councilor Benjamin Hartwell pleaded guilty to OUI. While voters overwhelmingly supported the specific standards of conduct, the outcome did not apply to either of the sitting councilors. Phillips ran for and won a seat on the School Committee that year. Hartwell ran unopposed for re-election to the Town Council in 2016.

Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said he believes that rule in the charter only applies to new convictions while a person is in office. It does not preclude someone with a prior conviction from seeking election or holding a seat on the Town Council, he said.

Polling places in Gorham open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Depending on street address, residents of Ward 1 vote at either Gorham Middle School at 106 Weeks Road or Little Falls Activity Center at 40 Acorn St. Ward 2 residents vote at the Gorham Municipal Center at 75 South St.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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Gorham School Committee candidates face growth challenge http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/gorham-school-committee-candidates-face-growth-challenge/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/gorham-school-committee-candidates-face-growth-challenge/#respond Thu, 26 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1277015 Four of seven seats on the Gorham School Committee are up for election on Nov. 7.

Five people are running for three three-year positions. None are incumbents. The candidates are Bill Benson, Billie Capozza, Michael Lewin, Kate Livingston and Jen Whitehead.

Two candidates are also on the ballot for a one-year vacancy. The position has been open since Tim Burns resigned in April. Voters will choose between Aaron Carlson and Dennis Libby for the seat.

The most pressing issue will be rapid growth in Gorham’s public schools.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Gorham is one of the fastest-growing towns in Maine. Its estimated population in 2016 was 17,381 – up 1,000 from six years prior.

As a result of rising enrollments, the school committee has been studying the configuration of Gorham’s three elementary schools. The Gorham Town Council also approved $150,000 to begin planning an expansion at the high school. That multimillion-dollar project would ultimately be funded by taxpayers and decided by a referendum as early as fall 2018.

Those initiatives, along with growing class sizes and crowded schools, are hot topics.

Benson said his priority is making sure Gorham recruits the best teachers. He isn’t ruling out projects like a high school expansion, but said it is a secondary concern.

“I’m more fiscally conservative,” Benson said. “My going-in position is that exceptional teachers are much more important than the cost of a building.”

Benson, who owns a manufacturing business, said he also would take a special interest in vocational programs in Gorham. He would be open to reconfiguring the elementary schools and said he wants to make sure the school committee is transparent in its decision-making.

“I think the school committee needs some new blood and new ways of looking at things,” he said.

Capozza, whose daughter is in first grade at Narragansett Elementary, said she was alarmed last year by talk of moving students to different schools. While her daughter didn’t relocate, she wanted to learn more about what was going on in the district.

“It was a sign that a small community was growing a little faster than we expected five years ago,” Capozza said.

Capozza hasn’t yet taken a position on a high school expansion, but she said she wants to make sure taxpayer money is spent wisely. She works as the corporate relations and special events director at Cheverus High School in Portland, and also has a real estate license. She said her experience could help her strike a balance between attracting new residents to Gorham and managing their impact on the town.

“I have kids that are going to be going through the Gorham system for the next 18 years or so,” Capozza said. “This is my first stab trying to get involved.”

Lewin also decided to run because of his young child.

“With a daughter in kindergarten, the thought came to my mind, how can I serve better and serve more?” Lewin said.

Lewin is a supporter of proficiency-based learning and wanted to help with its implementation in Gorham schools. He is open to changes in school configuration, but he said he doesn’t want kids to have to take long bus rides across the sprawling town. He also said he considers high school expansion to be a good and timely investment.

“Now (is) the time,” Lewin said. “By involving the community now, we’re going to get a better sense of what the community wants.”

Livingston began attending school committee meetings when she noticed her daughter’s class sizes getting bigger. She also started a Facebook group about Gorham schools.

“Our three elementary schools aren’t quite equal with the programs they offer or the class sizes they offer,” she said. “I felt like I needed to just stop complaining to my friends about it and do something about it and be an agent of change.”

Livingston said she wants to make sure all students have similar class sizes and facilities, even if it means reconfiguring the schools. She also said she wants to see a closer relationship between the Town Council and the School Committee.

“There’s a big disconnect right now,” she said. “That’s why we’re having some of these issues with growth.”

Whitehead, a former special education teacher, said she too noticed the growth in her children’s classrooms. Her son was in a second-grade classroom with 27 kids; her daughter’s grade added a classroom to accommodate the number of students. She suggested the district could phase in changes with incoming kindergarteners.

“The growth is good, but it seemed like it wasn’t being managed in a way that was effective for the schools,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said she feels strongly that the district needs to make a change at the high school, but wants to learn more about the options for that project. She also wants to see the district collaborate more often with the University of Southern Maine, similar to partnerships she witnessed as a teacher in New York with Columbia University.

“I really felt the responsibility where I have the background in education, and I have three children, and I’m a taxpayer,” Whitehead said. “I felt a civic duty.”

Both candidates for the one-year seat said they wanted to make sure they could commit to the demands of the position.

Libby, who is the committee’s vice chairman and has served 12 years, said he recently was promoted to a new role at work. He signed up to run for the one-year seat as he settled into that role, but now feels confident he could balance both responsibilities.

Libby has been active in the schools since his children were elementary students. He said his perspective from four terms could be valuable as so many newcomers join the committee. Libby also said growth is one of the greatest challenges for Gorham, and he supports an expansion to the existing high school over a new building, which was one of the district’s initial options.

“If money was no object, I would be fully supportive of a new school,” Libby said. “But money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Carlson said his son switched classrooms last year as a result of increasing enrollments, which prompted him to start attending school committee meetings. He wants to make sure that whatever solutions are proposed to manage Gorham’s growth are the result of collaboration among all the town’s decision-makers – the School Committee, the Planning Board, the Town Council and various subcommittees.

“With a finance background, I recognize the idea that we can’t just spent at will without having impacts on people who pay taxes,” Carlson said. “So trying to figure out the right balance, how to manage growth, is something I’d like to be a part of.”

Polling places open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Depending on street address, residents of Ward 1 vote at either Gorham Middle School at 106 Weeks Road or Little Falls Activity Center at 40 Acorn St. Ward 2 residents vote at the Gorham Municipal Center at 75 South St.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/26/gorham-school-committee-candidates-face-growth-challenge/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/Election-Logo1017.jpgThu, 26 Oct 2017 00:33:24 +0000
Continuity, costs on minds of Windham’s 5 Town Council candidates http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/continuity-costs-on-minds-of-windhams-five-council-hopefuls/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/continuity-costs-on-minds-of-windhams-five-council-hopefuls/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1276326 Voters will decide two contested races for the Windham Town Council on Nov. 7.

Three candidates are on the ballot for one at-large seat. Incumbent Brett Jones faces a challenge from Clayton Haskell and David Lydon. Jones was appointed to his position in February; the seat was vacant following the death of former Councilor Tommy Gleason in May 2016.

The seat representing the east district is also up for grabs. Rebecca Cummings signed up to run against incumbent David Nadeau, who has been on the council for two terms.

Meanwhile, there are no contested school committee races in Windham. Two candidates signed up to run for two seats on the school committee for RSU 14. They are incumbents Kathryn Brix and Pete Heanssler.

Town Clerk Linda Morrell also is seeking re-election and is unopposed.

In the at-large council race, Jones said he wants to continue the work he has started in his first months on the council. One of his goals is to open more lines of communication between the Town Council and taxpayers; for example, he said he wants to see the town engage more on Facebook.

“We touched on, in not even a year, a lot of interesting and complicated issues,” Jones said. “I really feel that I need to see it through.”

One of those issues is a new public works and school transportation building. The ballot includes a referendum on whether to borrow $9.3 million for that project. Jones said he is not comfortable with that amount of money, but knows the existing building needs to be fixed. The decision is up to the voters now, he said.

Jones said he also wants to help the town come up with a strategy to manage its growth. He said the council has talked about an idea to offer tax incentives to farmers and large land owners who do not sell their land to developers.

“We should be trying to keep rural sections of Windham rural, and work on better developing some of the urban areas in more of a cluster type development,” he said.

Haskell said he is running because he is “just getting upset with the way the council is working.” He wants to see the council be more transparent and answer direct questions about topics like private roads. As Windham grows, Haskell said, town officials have lowered standards for developments and he wants to avoid subdivisions that look like the large Blue Spruce Farm subdivision in Westbrook.

“Having been in town a long time, I’ve seen a whole lot of waste,” Haskell said.

If elected, Haskell said he would focus on keeping costs down in Windham. Every department should be focused on reducing its tax burden on residents, he said. Haskell said he is opposed to the bond for the new public works building.

“They don’t need a lot of this fancy stuff,” Haskell said. “They do need some room down there, but they could do it with a whole lot less cost than they are trying to do.”

Lydon, who has run unsuccessfully for the council in the past, said he wants to represent young families like his. He described himself as a person who cares about the town but is not quick to spend money.

“I feel like there have been the same folks on the council for a long time,” Lydon said. “There needs to be a passing of the torch.”

If elected, Lydon said he would help the town find a balance between longtime residents and newer transplants. He hopes to see redevelopment of properties like the former J.A. Andrew School, and he suggested a community center like the one in Westbrook would be a good fit for the town.

On his own ballot, Lydon said he will personally vote in support of the bond for the public works building because of the challenges the department has faced in its current space. But he is disappointed to see such a high price tag when voters have rejected the project multiple times in the past.

“It’s a win for the town but not necessarily a win for the taxpayer,” Lydon said.

In the east district race, Nadeau is seeking re-election for a third term. He said he wants to keep working on proposals like tax assistance for senior citizens. Nadeau said he has been involved with the council’s finance committee, and he pushed for a “top-down” budget approach, which sets an overarching budget number and then fills in budgets for overall departments. He said that method was adopted by the town because of his advocacy and should help keep increases modest.

“I don’t re-create the wheel, but I look for new ideas,” Nadeau said.

Nadeau said he supports the bond for a new public works building. He argued the existing facility is inadequate, and putting the project off will only make it more expensive in the future.

“If we don’t do it, the price is only going to continue to increase,” Nadeau said.

Cummings recently moved to Windham when her husband retired from the Army. A former Army medic herself, she decided to run for office to give back to the community.

“I’m considering Windham my forever home,” she said. “In the military, we moved so many places. This is where I’m staying, and I want to make the town better.”

Cummings described herself as a fiscal conservative. She said she is still forming her own opinion on the public works building and encouraged voters to attend an open house to learn more. As new development comes to Windham, she said she wants to make sure the town’s green spaces and transportation systems improve, too.

“I should form my decisions based on data, based on how my constituents feel,” she said.

Windham residents will vote at the auxiliary gym in Windham High School at 406 Gray Road. The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/continuity-costs-on-minds-of-windhams-five-council-hopefuls/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/Election-Logo1017.jpgWed, 25 Oct 2017 00:40:37 +0000
Noyes Street property called a ‘blight’ as anniversary of deadly fire nears http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/noyes-street-property-an-eyesore-as-anniversary-of-deadly-fire-nears/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/noyes-street-property-an-eyesore-as-anniversary-of-deadly-fire-nears/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1276357 Four pumpkins sit on the dilapidated foundation of the Noyes Street house where a fire killed six people in November 2014.

One reads “SMILES 4 NOYES.” Another bears the image of a tree. And the block letters on the smallest pumpkin read “RMBR NOYES.”

The carvings are fresh, but the rest of the property is overgrown and strewn with debris. As the third anniversary of the deadly fire approaches, a neighbor lodged a complaint about the condition of the lot. On Tuesday, Portland sent a crew to clean up the outskirts of the property.

But city officials cannot force the owner to take action based on appearance alone. As Gregory Nisbet continues to fight jail time and wrongful death lawsuits related to the fire, the property itself remains mostly untouched.

“It’s that feeling of despair that you have to be reminded that this horrendous tragedy happened that took six lives,” said Carol Schiller, who wrote the complaint.

FIRE-RELATED COURT CASES CONTINUE

The apartment building at 20-24 Noyes St. caught fire in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2014. Investigators said the blaze started on the front porch in a plastic receptacle for cigarette butts and spread quickly through the building. There were no working smoke detectors, and flames blocked a stairwell that might have allowed the people inside to escape. It was the deadliest fire in Portland in four decades.

The victims were Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26; David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham; Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland; and Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland. Bragdon, Finlay and Thomas were tenants. Jackson, Summers and Conlee were visiting the house for a Halloween party.

In October 2016, a Superior Court justice acquitted Nisbet on six charges of manslaughter in their deaths. Nisbet was found guilty of a misdemeanor fire code violation for the lack of a secondary exit from the third-floor bedrooms. He was sentenced to three months in jail but has yet to serve them pending the appeals.

A judge rejected his motion for a new trial last summer, and Nisbet appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. However, Nisbet’s lawyers dropped out of his case last month because they were not being paid. Families of the victims also filed wrongful death lawsuits, which are pending.

A judge froze Nisbet’s real estate assets in 2014 in case they were needed to pay out any future claims to the families of victims. After the fire, the city set up a new Housing Safety Office and hired more inspectors. Many landlords are now required to register their units and pay an annual fee.

Today, the stone foundation is all that remains of the house. The burned-out structure has been demolished. Schiller, who lives on Longfellow Street, said there was some effort to clean up the property after the fire, but she hasn’t seen anyone working there since. In an Oct. 18 letter to City Arborist Jeff Tarling, Schiller said the lot has a negative impact on the neighborhood.

She asked the city to address debris and damaged trees in the area between the sidewalk and the street, which is public property. But she also asked Tarling to clean up the brush and trash inside the private property lines.

“It is littered with brush, overgrown, (has) trash and is a blight that weighs heavily on residents,” Schiller wrote. Neighbors have also noticed an increase in rodents, she said.

CITY LIMITED ON ADDRESSING CONDITIONS

On Tuesday, the city removed two dying trees next to the street. City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said a crew will return to mow the grass in that area before the anniversary of the fire.

“However, the other vegetation on the site is private property and will need to be addressed by the property owner,” Grondin said. “We do not have an ordinance on the books that discusses the look of overgrown vegetation and grass, so we cannot force the owner to do this.”

If overgrown vegetation causes a safety hazard and the owner is not responsive, the city hires a contractor to do the work and then bills the owner. Grondin said the city determined there is no safety hazard on the lot at Noyes Street that warrants that action.

Nisbet still owns 20-24 Noyes St., but the city has placed a lien on the real estate because of overdue property taxes. A tax statement provided by the city shows he currently owes more than $5,600 for 2016, 2017 and the first half of 2018.

Nisbet did not respond to a message left at his office or an email Tuesday evening.

City arborist Jacob Rhinebolt removes two dead trees from the Noyes Street lot Tuesday. A crew will return to mow some grass before the Nov. 1 fire anniversary, but the city lacks the rights to access and trim vegetation. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Schiller said she was disappointed that more could not be done.

“Why has he neglected it all this time?” Schiller said. “He’s never showed face, gone over, done the right thing and cleaned up this property.”

PROPERTY’S FUTURE, FIRE SAFETY EVENT

Schiller mentioned the carved pumpkins, which she said have become an annual memorial. She said she hopes the property can someday become a park or a memorial for the victims of the fire.

“There’s no ordinance that mandates anything has to be done at that property, but it just seems like human decency,” Schiller said.

In anticipation of the fire anniversary next week, the University Neighborhood Association and Phi Mu Delta Fraternity from the University of Southern Maine will host a fire prevention event Saturday in nearby Longfellow Park. Schiller, one of the organizers, said participants will include the American Red Cross, the Portland Fire Department, the Maine Medical Center Burn Unit and other organizations. The day will include demonstrations on fire safety, as well as a Halloween costume parade for kids. That event will last from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/25/noyes-street-property-an-eyesore-as-anniversary-of-deadly-fire-nears/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1276357_998229-20171024_NoyesSt122.jpgCarol Schiller, who complained to the city about the Noyes Street property, says the lot has a negative impact on the neighborhood and is an ugly reminder of the fire tragedy.Fri, 27 Oct 2017 09:30:04 +0000
Windham gives public works building another try http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/24/windham-gives-public-safety-building-another-try/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/24/windham-gives-public-safety-building-another-try/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 02:05:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/24/windham-gives-public-safety-building-another-try/ Windham residents will decide Nov. 7 whether to borrow $9.3 million for a new public works building.

A similar but cheaper proposal failed by 113 votes in 2015. Still, Town Manager Tony Plante said the problems with the current building haven’t gone away.

“The need we have is the same need we articulated two years ago,” Plante said.

The existing public works building on Windham Center Road is 8,800 square feet and dates back to 1978. It is used to store and maintain plow trucks and other town equipment. For more than 30 years, the school district has also used the building for bus storage and maintenance.

Town and school officials argue that Windham outgrew the space decades ago. A facilities assessment analysis done in 1998 found the building needed to double in size. The next year, however, voters turned down a $3.9 million bond for that project.

Another assessment done in 2013 showed a long list of problems with the site. Those included circulation conflicts, a lack of stormwater management and treatment, inadequate parking and storage, and undersized fuel storage tanks.

Plante said there are not enough vehicle maintenance bays, which leads to longer repair times. The lack of an indoor vehicle wash bay means equipment isn’t regularly cleaned in the winter, when temperatures are too cold to wash it outside, leading to corrosion and a shortened lifespan. Plow trucks are stored outside and need time to warm up, which means the response time for treating the streets after storms is longer.

Now, the town estimates it needs three times the existing space to address those needs. But in 2015, voters rejected a $7.7 million bond for a replacement, 1,110 to 997.

When that proposal failed, the town and school district convened a committee to rethink the design for a new building. They made minor changes, but inflation in construction costs still drove up the price.

“They really looked at every aspect of the plan to see whether there was anything about the plan that could be modified or removed or in any other way changed with an eye toward reducing the cost,” Plante said. “The short answer to that question was no.”

Plante said the new facility would be next to the existing one, which would be torn down. There would be enough room inside the 30,000-square-foot building to stage trucks for a winter storm and include an indoor wash bay. Plante estimated the improvements at the new building would save the town $8 million over the 50-year life of the building, citing a 2015 study on vehicle corrosion prepared by Montana State University and published by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Plante said the school district has more than 30 buses, and the town has 50 to 60 public works vehicles.

“This is a facility that supports services that people rely on every day,” Plante said.

If the bond is approved, Plante said the project would add about $6 a month to the tax bill for the average Windham homeowner. The tax rate would go up between 30 and 35 cents over 20 years, adding about $60 and $70 to the tax bill for a $200,000 home. Construction would be finished in fall 2019.

Residents are invited to open houses at the existing building, including one from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 28. More information about the proposal is also available online at windhammaine.us.

Windham residents will vote at the auxiliary gym in Windham High School at 406 Gray Road. The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/24/windham-gives-public-safety-building-another-try/feed/ 0 Wed, 25 Oct 2017 08:53:16 +0000
Oxford Street homeless shelter in Portland to stay open 24 hours a day http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/24/portland-to-keep-oxford-street-shelter-for-homeless-open-24-hours-a-day/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/24/portland-to-keep-oxford-street-shelter-for-homeless-open-24-hours-a-day/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1275788 Portland soon will keep the Oxford Street Shelter open 24 hours a day, meaning homeless people who spend the night there won’t be forced onto the streets of downtown Portland each morning.

Men and women who stay at the city-owned shelter must currently pack their belongings and leave by 7:45 a.m. The exodus into the Bayside neighborhood has led to complaints from nearby residents and downtown business owners.

Starting this fall, however, the shelter will be open around the clock. It will not provide meals, but guests will not be required to leave in the morning or line up outside in the evening. New lockers will be available to store personal items, and public restrooms will be added outside the building.

Portland is still planning to build a modern one-story shelter with more on-site services for people facing homelessness. But City Manager Jon Jennings said he doesn’t want to wait two or more years to add a daytime refuge.

“We needed to address the fact that we’re pushing people out first thing in the morning and not wait until we get to the new shelter,” Jennings said. “I wish I would have taken care of this a year ago because I do think it is inhumane to do that to them.”

The change also comes amid a surge of development in Bayside, a former industrial area that city officials hope to transform into a mixed-use and modern neighborhood.

“It’s a bridge until the city can find a new home for the shelter,” said Steve Hirshon, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association. “If there is an opportunity for people to go and maybe watch TV or play cards or even read, it’s a lot better than what we have now.”

STAFF ADJUSTMENTS, $340,000 COST

The Oxford Street Shelter has 154 beds and is open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. during the week and 1 p.m. to 8 a.m. on the weekends. It is not clear how soon the hours will change, but Portland Shelter Director Rob Parritt hopes to have the doors open during the day as soon as possible.

“I think it’s going to be soundly applauded,” Parritt said. “I think it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.”

Running the shelter during the day will cost more than $340,000 through the rest of the fiscal year. Jennings said the money will come from salary savings from vacant positions. The money will pay mostly for staff – five attendants, a security guard, a custodian, one human services counselor for supervision and another for community outreach. Typically, 10 people work at the shelter overnight; the day shelter will have six or seven employees on site.

The shelter also will add a portable public restroom and a storage pod with lockers outside the existing building. More televisions, tables and a workstation with laptops will be added inside. Parritt wants to use the time during the day to connect guests with services by hosting seminars and inviting community partners into the shelter.

“We don’t want to create a place where people are really bored and staring at a TV all day,” Parritt said. “We really want it to be interactive. We’re not just looking to warehouse people.”

The staff currently cleans the shelter while it is closed. When it is open 24 hours, Parritt said the maintenance crew will need to work while most guests go to the Preble Street Soup Kitchen for breakfast. Other operational details, like a new check-in system and policies for the lockers, need to be finalized.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift for our services that the city of Portland provides for its homeless population,” Parritt said. “For our staff, it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period. We’re not used to having people here during the day. My thing is being flexible and knowing there are likely going to be some bumps in the road.”

PRAISE FOR ADDRESSING PROBLEMS

Stakeholders around Portland reacted favorably to the announcement Monday.

Hirshon, who has lived in Bayside for 25 years, said he thinks fewer people will hang around the neighborhood when they have a place to go during the day.

“It may make it easier to identify bad actors hanging around and preying on other people,” he said.

The neighborhood has struggled with its high concentration of social service providers and homeless people. At the same time, developers have eyed Bayside for much-needed housing. Last month, the Portland City Council voted to sell four parcels of land in that area that will contain 100 units of housing and other commercial uses.

“I think there’s a recognition of what’s going on in the neighborhood that hasn’t always been there,” Hirshon said. “Or if there was, there was a certain nonchalance that, ‘Well, it’s just Bayside.’ I think it is a step in the right direction.”

Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown, also praised the city’s decision to open the shelter during the day. At a forum in August, business owners said problems caused by aggressive panhandlers, mentally ill people and individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the downtown have reached a crisis level.

“Mr. Jennings has shown tremendous leadership and no doubt has had to make some difficult budgetary decisions, but with the support of his incredible staff and an engaged council, we truly feel that these policy changes are going to deliver visible positive outcomes, both for the shelter guests and for the community,” Gilbert wrote in an email.

Mark Swann, executive director of the social services agency Preble Street, said forcing homeless people out the door in the morning only adds to the stress of their situation. Operating a shelter 24 hours a day is considered the best practice nationally.

“I think this is a great first step for the city to be taking responsibility for the 24-hour shelter model that they’ve been talking about for a while now,” Swann said.

While the number of homeless people in Portland has increased since the 1980s, other nonprofit shelters have struggled financially and closed. As a result, Swann said both the resource center at Preble Street and the overnight shelter at Oxford Street are overcrowded. He will be working with city officials to make sure services aren’t unnecessarily duplicated at the day shelter, but he said he hopes it can help with those capacity issues.

“I hope we can provide quality, appropriate services and much less crowded facilities between the two programs,” he said. “I hope we can do a much better job.”

LONG-TERM FIX: A NEW SHELTER

Portland still plans to replace the existing Oxford Street Shelter.

The city currently rents the three-story building for more than $150,000 annually. Portland officials have said it is unsafe for staff and shelter guests, and they have been researching options for a new building for more than a year.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who oversees the Health and Human Services Committee, said extending the hours at the Oxford Street Shelter will address some of the concerns in the neighborhood and improve conditions for guests. But she stressed that this is not a long-term solution.

“It’s still not going to be the facility we need it to be,” Ray said.

She said these changes – daytime space, lockers for personal storage, public bathrooms – all will be integrated into the new shelter. The Health and Human Services Committee will discuss the plan for a new shelter at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’re not done,” Ray said, “but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/24/portland-to-keep-oxford-street-shelter-for-homeless-open-24-hours-a-day/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1275788_28259-Shelter.jpgPORTLAND, ME - APRIL 28: Oxford Street homeless shelter. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)Tue, 24 Oct 2017 13:53:43 +0000
Portrait of Bonny Eagle senior with his gun won’t be in high school yearbook http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/19/portrait-showing-bonny-eagle-senior-with-his-gun-wont-be-in-high-school-yearbook/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/19/portrait-showing-bonny-eagle-senior-with-his-gun-wont-be-in-high-school-yearbook/#respond Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:23:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/19/portrait-showing-bonny-eagle-senior-with-his-gun-wont-be-in-high-school-yearbook/ Bonny Eagle High School has refused to publish a senior yearbook photo because it shows the student holding a shotgun.

“So here’s what I wanted to have as my senior picture but was informed, ‘No you can’t put something like that in the yearbook,’ ” Wade Gelinas wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday that featured the rejected portrait.

Gelinas could not be reached for comment, but he told WCSH-TV that hunting is a tradition in his family and he simply wanted his senior portrait to show him holding his gun.

Gelinas said he would submit an alternate photo, without his gun, to the yearbook.

But he also posted the original photo on social media, where it was shared more than 200 times as of Thursday afternoon.

Wade Gelinas hoped the Bonny Eagle High School yearbook would use a photo in which he was holding his shotgun. Gelinas says his sport is hunting. Kelly Roy photo courtesy of WCSH TV

The photo shows him standing near trees and holding the gun at his hip, its barrel pointed down and away from the camera.

“So you’re telling me that a football player can have theirs with a football, a lacrosse player can have theirs with their stick, and a guy or girl can dress up like one or the other but a hunter can’t have theirs with their gun! Like, Comment, or Share if you agree that this is an infringement of my rights,” Gelinas wrote in his Facebook post.

Principal Lori Napolitano said Bonny Eagle’s code of conduct prohibits students from bringing weapons of any kind to school and the dress code also prohibits clothing with images of guns or other weapons on them.

Napolitano said those policies extend to photos in the yearbook and other school publications. The yearbook is the product of an annual course at Bonny Eagle and therefore a part of the school’s curriculum, she said.

Napolitano said she spoke with Gelinas this week about the rules, and she understands that he is disappointed, but she doesn’t want the school making judgments about which weapons promote violence.

“It creates a disruption, and it doesn’t make everybody feel safe,” the principal said.

Photographer Kelly Roy, whose business is based in Arundel, said she took the senior portraits for Gelinas. She has been a photographer for 11 years and scheduled more than 60 senior portrait sessions this year.

Roy said many kids ask to be photographed with sports equipment or uniforms.

Once, a student posed with a bow, although Roy said the student didn’t submit the photo for his school’s yearbook and kept it only for personal use.

Gelinas also wasn’t the first subject to ask Roy for a picture with a hunting gun, but it is not common, she said.

“It’s whatever they’re passionate about,” Roy said. “It’s his session, not mine.”

In his interview with WCSH, Gelinas talked about his love of hunting.

“It’s just my sport. It’s just what I do. I don’t play football. I don’t play basketball. I just hunt,” Gelinas told the TV station.

Roy did warn Gelinas and his mother that the school might not accept a photo with a gun.

“I understand Wade’s point of view,” Roy said.

“That kid was extremely respectful of the gun, how he handled them, how he carried himself when he was holding them. He was way more mature than a lot of kids are at his age, so I feel for him. But I completely understand where the school is coming from.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/19/portrait-showing-bonny-eagle-senior-with-his-gun-wont-be-in-high-school-yearbook/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1273701_Gelinas-with-gun.jpgFri, 20 Oct 2017 05:44:47 +0000
‘Posh Rice’ offers recipes from all over the world http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/18/posh-rice-offers-recipes-from-all-over-the-world/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/18/posh-rice-offers-recipes-from-all-over-the-world/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1272415 “Posh Rice: Over 70 Recipes for All Things Rice.” By Emily Kydd. Quadrille. $19.99

In my kitchen, recipes are more like guidelines than rules.

I measure spices in pinches and accidental spills. I cook by taste rather than tablespoons. I pour what kind of looks like a cup of this into a bowl of that.

Rice, as it happens, has never been my specialty.

Cooking rice really requires loyalty to the directions. Too little water, I end up with dry and crunchy bits. Too much water, I might serve sticky and bloated grains. Looking for some guidance, I turned to “Posh Rice: Over 70 Recipes for All Things Rice” by Emily Kydd.

“Although it makes a great accompaniment to any meal, rice doesn’t always have to play a supporting role,” Kydd writes in the introduction. “It’s time to show that bag of rice in your cupboard some love and elevate it to star status.”

Kydd is a food stylist and recipe writer based in London, and her book is part of a series from U.K.-based Quadrille Publishing. (Be prepared for Britishisms in both spelling and ingredient names in the book.) There’s also “Posh Eggs” by Lucy O’Reilly and “Posh Toast” also by Kydd. “Posh Rice” could serve as a textbook for Cooking Rice 101. Kydd starts off with a no-frills guide (with pictures) to different types of rice. Some, like wild rice or basmati rice, are familiar to me. Others, like pudding rice or Camargue red rice, are less common in my pantry. But she spends little time opining and turns her attention quickly to the recipes.

As I flipped through the glossy pages and ogled at the colorful photos, it seemed like this book contained every rice recipe on the planet. There’s stuffed vine leaves from Greece, an Italian rice ball called arancini and a triangle-shaped Japanese snack called onigiri. And that’s just in the chapter on soups and snacks. The main courses ranged from one-pot jambalaya to a Korean dish called bibimbap, a cheesy courgette (Americans call it zucchini) gratin and Moroccan baked chicken. I folded the corner of the recipe for wild rice and bacon stuffing for a Thanksgiving side. The dessert section had me drooling over blueberry rice puddings and risotto fritters.

I couldn’t find a recipe I didn’t want to try. Granted, not all of the recipes “Posh Rice” are within my skill level in the kitchen. I eyed the spanakopita spiral pies, but I decided I needed to just cook rice without burning it to the bottom of the pan before attempting that one. And while many of the side dishes cook in 40 minutes or less, most of the entrees in the book require more than an hour or even two. These dishes are a little more advanced than a box of Minute microwave white rice.

I settled on stuffed peppers – a warm comfort food for one of the first chilly days of fall. Cooking the rice in beef stock, onion and garlic gave it a more savory flavor than if I had used water. I was skeptical of the allspice, but I dutifully poured two heaping teaspoons over the ground lamb and other ingredients. When the peppers came out of the oven 65 minutes later, the allspice sang in my first bite. Drizzling olive oil and beef stock over the pan before baking kept the rice and lamb moist inside the roasted peppers. I had more filling than could fit in the peppers, but adding the leftovers to scrambled eggs gave me a delicious breakfast the next morning.

Maybe following a recipe isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

STUFFED PEPPERS

Serves 6; takes about 1 hour, 30 minutes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 onion, finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

150 grams or 3/4 cup easy-cook long-grain rice

600 millimeters or 11/4 pints hot lamb or beef stock

6 mixed colour (bell) peppers

2 teaspoons allspice

250 grams or 9 ounces lamb mince

50 grams or 2 ounces pine nuts, toasted

2 tablespoons tomato puree

50 grams or 2 ounces raisins

1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

FOR THE YOGHURT:

250 grams or 9 ounces Greek yoghurt

1 garlic clove, crushed,

Handful dill, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/400 degrees Fahrenheit/gas 6. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion for about eight minutes until softened. Add the garlic and rice and stir. Turn the heat down and pour in 150 millimeters or 5 fluid ounces of the stock. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed. Tip into a large bowl and leave to cool.

Slice the tops from the peppers, reserving the lids, and scoop out the seeds and core. Place in a casserole dish – trim the bottoms without making any holes to make them stand, if needed.

Add the allspice, lamb mince, pine nuts, tomato puree, raisins and parsley to the cooler rice, along with 150 millimeters or 5 fluid ounces of the stock, the salt and some black pepper. Spoon into the peppers, packing the mixture down. Poor over a little of the stock, then pop the pepper lids back on. Drizzle generously with oil and pour the remaining stock into the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the yoghurt, garlic, dill and some seasoning and serve alongside the peppers.

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Nearly 40 homes planned for former Westbrook golf club http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/nearly-40-homes-planned-for-former-westbrook-golf-club/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/nearly-40-homes-planned-for-former-westbrook-golf-club/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 01:08:13 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/nearly-40-homes-planned-for-former-westbrook-golf-club/ A Topsham development company has submitted a plan to build 38 single-family homes on the former Twin Falls Golf Club in Westbrook, directly across the street from a controversial subdivision that riled neighbors last year.

Jim Howard of Priority Real Estate Group bought the 52-acre golf course on Spring Street in June 2016. City records show he paid $1.2 million.

At the same time, tension was building on the other side of the road. Nearly 200 single-family homes and apartments were under construction at Blue Spruce Farm, and developer Risbara Bros. was planning a second phase with more than 300 units. Alarmed by the rapid pace of residential development, more than 400 residents signed a petition calling for a 180-day building moratorium and an overall review of Westbrook’s code of ordinances.

The Westbrook City Council ultimately rejected the moratorium and made little change to existing policies. An unrelated legal dispute forced Risbara Bros. to scale back the second phase of Blue Spruce Farm to 110 apartments, which were approved and are now under construction.

In the meantime, Howard was waiting and watching.

“We spent the last year and a half listening to what the community would like to see in a development,” Howard said. “We’ve attended some barbecues and met with some neighbors.”

Howard said Westbrook residents wanted to see large lots, green space and high-end homes with diverse styles. The size of the golf course would allow for up to 164 houses, according to a letter accompanying the sketch plan. Instead, the layout for Twin Falls Landing shows 38 single-family homes, some on lots bigger than an acre.

City Planner Jennie Franceschi said the individual lots range from two to nine times the minimum requirements in Westbrook.

“I think the developer has been hearing some of the concerns of the neighborhood and the community,” Franceschi said.

The plan also includes commercial development on the property’s frontage on Spring Street. Howard said the zoning in that area allows for smaller businesses such as a medical office or a small market. Whatever those buildings look like, Howard said, he wants them to fit into the neighborhood and act as a buffer for the nearby homes.

“We’re not looking to put up a strip mall,” Howard said.

Twin Falls Landing is the largest subdivision proposed since the debate over Blue Spruce Farm. At a community meeting Thursday, about 30 nearby residents asked questions about the development’s impacts on sewers and traffic.

Gail Vultee and Tish Alonzo, who live in neighboring houses on Spring Street, said they are still worried nearly 40 new homes will only add to congestion. But they were relieved to hear other aspects of Howard’s plan. He won’t allow buyers to subdivide their lots to build additional units, and he doesn’t plan to touch the trees that will act as a natural buffer for their properties.

“That was my concern, that I’d be out having a fire and there would be people right there,” Alonzo said.

Terry and Peggy Quinlan have lived on Middle Street for more than 40 years. The Quinlans live immediately next to Autumn Woods, the 110 apartments built as the second phase to Blue Spruce Farm.

“I hate to see all this green space built upon,” Peggy Quinlan said during the meeting. “At least I’m getting a feel for this, that there is an appreciation for the existing land.”

The couple were among the opponents to the Risbara Bros. projects. But they seemed more open to the design Howard presented Thursday night.

“That’s something we can support, the neighborhood can support,” Terry Quinlan said.

Also present at the meeting were Clint and Kathy Boullie, who sold the property to Howard last year. Kathy Boullie briefly addressed the group, saying it was a difficult decision to sell the golf course her father built. Howard has reassured her he will disrupt the land as little as possible.

“I probably wouldn’t have sold to anybody but Jim,” she said. She gestured to an enlarged sketch plan of the subdivision. “When I saw this, (I was) more than happy. Because I know what he could have done, and I think that’s what people need to keep in mind.”

The big yards and other amenities at Twins Falls Landing will come at a cost.

Howard estimated the homes will sell for between $550,000 and $750,000. That price is high for the market. U.S. Census data shows the median value for owner-occupied housing units from 2010 to 2015 in Westbrook was $194,800. Realtor.com estimates the median listing price for homes in Westbrook is $240,000.

Franceschi said the proximity to Portland and the large lot sizes would likely drive up the prices of homes in Twin Falls Landing.

“I think he sees a clientele out there that is going to be very excited about these parcels and their location,” Franceschi said. “Houses on lots just outside of Portland are just not available.”

When Howard bought the golf course, Greater Portland was experiencing a surge in new housing starts. More than a year has passed, but Howard said he still sees a demand. The two- to four-bedroom houses will be built as they sell, which could take as long as three to five years.

“There’s certainly a lot of housing needed in the state,” Howard said. “The market will tell us by midsummer whether or not it’s ready to absorb all 38 homes at one time.”

The Westbrook Planning Board will review the sketch plan at its Nov. 21 meeting. If approved, Howard said he hopes to begin construction on site in the spring.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/12/nearly-40-homes-planned-for-former-westbrook-golf-club/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/08/488163_Home-Construction.JPEG-03b7.jpgIn this July 30 photograph, a builder works on the construction of new homes in Belmar, N.J.Fri, 13 Oct 2017 10:00:11 +0000
Mold at Portland’s Longfellow school galvanizes bond campaign supporters http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/11/mold-at-portlands-longfellow-school-galvanizes-bond-campaign-supporters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/11/mold-at-portlands-longfellow-school-galvanizes-bond-campaign-supporters/#respond Wed, 11 Oct 2017 19:10:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/11/mold-at-portlands-longfellow-school-galvanizes-bond-campaign-supporters/ The discovery of mold in a hallway at Longfellow Elementary School has galvanized supporters of two different plans to fix Portland’s aging elementary schools.

Portland voters will decide next month how they want to fund renovations for as many as four elementary schools — Longfellow, Reiche, Lyseth and Presumpscot. One option on the Nov. 7 ballot is a $64 million bond to renovate all four schools. Another option is a $32 million bond to renovate only the Presumpscot and Lyseth schools as Portland officials pursue state funding to rebuild Reiche and Longfellow. Residents may vote yes or no on either question. If both receive a majority, the question with the most votes will be enacted.

Parents noticed the discolored area in a corridor ceiling Oct. 3 while they were at Longfellow for a PTO meeting.

One of the people in attendance was Emily Figdor, the director of Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, a political action committee looking to pass the four-school bond. Figdor said the parents took photos of the spot and shared them with school officials.

“The superintendent and principal have both been in touch with us quite a bit and I know are doing everything they can to investigate the situation and figure out what the risk is,” Figdor said.

Superintendent Xavier Botana notified parents of the mold Friday.

In his letter, Botana told them the facilities team inspected the ceiling and determined the discolored spot is likely to be mold. A roofing contractor assessed the roof and fixed a leak that could have exacerbated the problem.

Air quality testing also took place on Monday to make sure the level of mold in the air is within acceptable levels. The results will be available within a week to 12 days. Mold can cause allergies and trigger coughing, wheezing and nasal stuffiness.

“We do not believe it is a hazard to students or staff,” Botana wrote.

“It appears to be well contained in the ceiling. There is no evidence of cracking or sagging which would release it airborne.”

On Wednesday morning, representatives of Protect Our Neighborhood Schools hosted a news conference outside Longfellow.

The speakers included Figdor, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and two local parents. They argued the mold is another example of the need to renovate all four schools as soon as possible, rather than wait for state funding that might not materialize.

Stephanie O’Brien, a nurse at Maine Medical Center and a Reiche parent, said the effects of airborne mold could be exacerbated by poor air circulation in the school and windows that don’t open.

“We cannot continue to put our children’s health and safety at risk in the old rundown school buildings,” O’Brien said. “It’s long past due for Portland to step up and finally fix its four rundown elementary schools.”

Better Schools, Better Deal – the political action committee supporting the $32 million bond option to renovate two schools – also released a statement Wednesday about the mold.

Treasurer Dory-Anna Waxman said the mold highlights the need for new schools, not just renovations.

“You can’t always renovate your way out of problems like mold, which is exactly why we need to be pursuing every opportunity to build new, state of the art schools at Longfellow and Reiche,” Waxman said. “New schools will ensure all of our students are safe and in the best possible environment for learning.”

Longfellow Principal Terry Young deferred all questions to the superintendent’s office Wednesday. Botana did not immediately return requests for comment.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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By the numbers: Refugees http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/qa-what-is-refugee-status/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1262332 Refugees are brought to the United States to escape violence or persecution. Here is a look at the number of individuals resettled in Maine each year, and where they were born. It does not include refugees who moved here after first resettling in other states.

Mouse over the charts to view detailed figures for each nation. Note: 2017 data are current as of Aug. 31.


Total refugee immigration to Maine since 2002:

 

Cumulative refugee immigration to Maine since 2002, by nation:

Note: three refugees from Cuba and six from Honduras are not shown on this map.

 

READ MORE:
The refugee: His childhood memories including fleeing war and living in a sprawling camp
What is refugee status?

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By the numbers: Special immigrant visa http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/qa-what-is-a-special-immigrant-visa/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1263210

‘Special Immigration Visa’ arrivals nationwide since 2008

Translators and others who aided the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan can qualify for a special immigrant visa, along with family members. Here is a look how many special immigrant visa holders arrived in the U.S. since 2008, and their countries of origin.

 

Total ‘Special Immigration Visa’ arrivals in Maine since 2010

Note: These statistics only count arrivals who applied for and received temporary refugee aid. 2017 data are current as of August 31.

 

READ MORE:
The military aide: He risked his life to work for the U.S. government in Iraq
What is a special immigrant visa?

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The refugee: His childhood memories include fleeing war and living in a sprawling camp http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/the-refugee-abdikadir-negeye-spent-his-childhood-in-a-refugee-camp-and-that-makes-him-passionate-about-helping-immigrant-youth/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1262320

LEWISTON — The Kenyan refugee camp where Abdikadir Negeye grew up didn’t have a manicured soccer field. Their ball was clothing scraps wrapped in plastic. Everyone played barefoot.

But Negeye and the other Somali children in the camp played constantly.

“Soccer is everything,” said Negeye, who is now 32.

Negeye, who still keeps the laminated badge that identified his soccer team at the refugee camp, is now one of about 6,000 immigrants born in Somalia and other African countries and living in Maine, according to the U.S. Census.

Somalia, because of a decades-long civil war and famine and drought, has been the largest single source of refugees arriving in Maine during the past 15 years. A total of 1,621 Somali refugees have been resettled in Maine since 2002, a number that does not include family members who followed them or so-called secondary refugees who moved to Maine after arriving elsewhere in the U.S.

Negeye has lived in Lewiston since 2006. But he has no memories of his home country because he was just 6 years old when his family fled their village in 1991.

He spent his childhood in the sprawling Dadaab camp in Kenya, where he lived among more than 240,000 refugees and asylum seekers.

Negeye’s family belongs to a minority ethnic group, Somali Bantus, who became targets during a civil war that began in early 1991. His parents had relatives who were killed, and so wanted safety for their children. Negeye’s mother and father carried him on their backs as the family walked more than 300 miles from their village in Somalia to the United Nations refugee camp in neighboring Kenya. A younger sibling died after the monthslong journey to the refugee camp.

“There’s a lot of people who have lost their lives on the way to refugee camps,” Negeye said. “Those who are lucky enough have made it to the refugee camps. Some people are killed by animals. There are some people who died for hunger or lack of water or medical complications.”

In the camp, his family lived in a hut with a single room. They collected rations of maize from the United Nations, but sometimes it was only enough for one meal a day for Negeye and his five siblings. Medical care was lacking. Negeye went to school, where he remembered his fellow students were not organized by age or divided into grades.

His favorite subject was English.

“Sometimes we were learning something with our stomachs empty,” Negeye said. “Sometimes we were walking to school without shoes. But I still had that hunger there for education.”

Refugee status is a designation given by the U.N. to people who have fled their countries because of persecution, war or violence. Less than one percent of 14.4 million refugees are permanently resettled in another country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. But the conditions in their country of origin made it impossible for the Somali Bantus to return there, and in 2000, the U.S. government agreed to accept 12,000 refugees from that group.


Maine refugee arrivals, by year and by nation of origin:

Refugees are brought to the United States to escape violence or persecution. Here is a look at the number of individuals resettled in Maine each year, and where they were born. It does not include refugees who moved here after first resettling in other states. Note: 2017 data are current as of Aug. 31.

 

For the next five years, while still living in the camp, Negeye and his family were interviewed repeatedly by U.S. immigration officials. They were required to pass medical examinations and security checks. They moved to a new refugee camp in order to complete additional screenings and interviews. In total, Negeye lived in the camps for 14 years.

“All those long waits, sometimes to be honest, I even felt I will never come to America,” Negeye said.

In January 2006, the wait ended.

The family landed in Atlanta, Georgia. They brought a small amount of clothing and a few personal items, including Negeye’s soccer badge. The traffic lights and the highways of the large southern city overwhelmed them immediately. Negeye remembers his frustration trying to understand people with Southern accents as he tried to place a money order with his limited English. Their relatives and friends from the refugee camps had been resettled in other states, including Maine. They felt alone in their new country, so they moved to Lewiston in April 2006.

“It’s a smaller city, less crime and less crowded,” Negeye said.

Negeye was eager to get an education. He enrolled at Loring Jobs Corps in Limestone and earned his high school diploma there in 2007. Then he earned an associate degree at Central Maine Community College in 2011 and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine in 2014.

He worked full time while in school. His family received government assistance when they first arrived, but Negeye said they wanted to work as soon as possible. One of his first jobs in Maine was with his father at L.L. Bean in Freeport in 2007. Negeye got a job as a language facilitator in the Lewiston School Department in 2009 and stayed there until 2014. His dad now works at a doughnut shop, and his mom works in childcare.

“Today, my family, they are all taxpayers,” Negeye said. “They are contributing to the community. That is something we all wanted to do. I know the language was still an issue, but there’s a lot of things they could do. The language barrier, it didn’t stop them.”


Total refugee immigration to Maine since 2002, by nation:

Somalia 1,621; Iraq 1,040; Sudan 333; Democratic Republic of Congo 297; Iran 108; Syria 76; Burma 57; Afghanistan 56; Ethiopia 51; Serbia 37; Eritrea 31; Russia 27; Burundi 15;
Central African Republic 9; Kazakhstan 6; Vietnam 6; Bosnia and Herzegovina 5; Uzbekistan 3; Azerbaijan 3; Togo 1; Ivory Coast 1; Liberia 1.

Note: These figures do not include refugees who moved to Maine after first resettling in other states. Three refugees from Cuba and six from Honduras are not shown on this map.

In Lewiston, Negeye and some friends began talking about a need for academic tutoring and after-school activities for young immigrants. Among them was Negeye’s friend Rilwan Osman. Their families had been friends in the refugee camps in Somalia. Osman had advised Negeye to come to quieter Lewiston when he felt overwhelmed in bustling Atlanta. In Maine, they shared a concern about refugee children who were struggling with the language barrier and failing to graduate high school.

“We asked ourselves, if nobody is going to come help our kids, we need to do something,” Osman said.

In 2009, they started the Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine with just a van and some athletic equipment. They ran a youth soccer program for 50 kids that first summer.

As a child in a Kenyan refugee camp, Abdikadir Negeye found lessons and satisfaction in playing soccer, though the ball was made of cloth scraps and plastic. He helped establish a youth soccer program in Lewiston. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Negeye wanted to pass on the lessons soccer taught him in the refugee camp.

“Being responsible, being respectful of each other, being punctual in everything, teamwork,” he said.

In 2011, Negeye applied for naturalization and took his citizenship test. When he passed, he came to school to find his students waving American flags in the hallway for him.

“People will still question about me being a citizen,” he said. “Today I have a lot of responsibilities as a U.S. citizen, and I take the oath to defend this country and to die for it. My kids are all born here, and this is where I call home.”

His volunteer work grew more demanding. Negeye and his colleagues at the Somali Bantu Youth Association saw a need for adult classes in English and financial literacy. Many refugees also need counseling to address post-traumatic stress disorder. They decided to expand their services. In 2014, Negeye left his job at the Lewiston schools and took the role of assistant director and human resources director for what would be renamed Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services.

“We saw the need in the community,” said Osman, who had also previously worked for the Lewiston schools. “We saw how not only the youth but also the parents were struggling when it comes to adapting to the new culture.”

The nonprofit now employs more than 50 people. The summer soccer program hosted 250 players this year. The entry to Negeye’s office is papered with newspaper clippings about the 2015 Lewiston High School boys’ soccer team, which won the state championship and included eight Somali players who grew up in refugee camps.

“I want to give back to the community that has invested in me, educated me and made me who I am today,” Negeye said. “People, if they say, do you want to move? I always say no. This is where I call home, and I’m not going anywhere.”

He met his wife, who is also a Somali refugee, at a wedding. Their four children are still small – the oldest is just 8 years old – but Negeye hopes they play soccer someday. He will be able to take them to a real soccer field, where they can run in cleats and pass a real ball to each other.

“The first thing you will see them start kicking will be a ball,” he said.


WHAT IS REFUGEE STATUS?

Refugee status is a designation given by the United Nations to people who have fled their countries because of persecution, war or violence. They cannot return home or are afraid to do so.

What does it mean to be granted refugee status?

The U.N. Refugee Agency provides assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced and stateless people around the world. This usually mean providing emergency assistance in refugee camps, including shelter, health care and clean water. Some refugees can ultimately return home or be integrated into the country hosting their emergency shelter. Others are resettled in other countries.

How and where are refugees resettled?

Of 14.4 million refugees of concern, less than 1 percent are resettled, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Thirty-seven countries – including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States – agreed to accept refugees for resettlement in 2016. The U.N. recommends cases for resettlement in those countries, which may accept or decline them. In 2016, the United States received the greatest number of refugees, followed by Canada and the United Kingdom.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylee?

Both have permission to be in the United States for safety and security. A refugee gets approval to live here before arriving and being resettled with government support, while an asylee comes to the U.S. and then seeks permission to stay.

How complicated is the application process?

A person must first apply for and be granted refugee status by the United Nations. This requires both paperwork and an in-person interview. During this process, the applicant is required to submit evidence of the persecution experienced or feared in his or her home country. That might include newspaper articles or reports about the conditions in that country, a sworn personal statement and affadavits from friends, relatives, doctors or other officials.

If a refugee is cleared and referred to the United States, the State Department then takes over the refugee’s case. The applicant is interviewed in person, photographed, fingerprinted and given a medical examination. The federal government also will review the refugee’s travel and immigration history and other information for multiple background checks. The applicant might need to fill out additional forms for other family members.

If approved, the federal government also determines a refugee’s destination in the United States, usually based on whether that person has family already settled in the country. The federal government contracts with nine national resettlement agencies that integrate refugees into their new communities. In Maine, that agency is Catholic Charities.

Are refugees screened?

Yes. Security screening is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

How long does it take?

For most people who come to the United States, the wait is more than two years.

Can refugees work?

Yes. A refugee is allowed to work immediately upon arriving in the United States.

What benefits do refugees receive?

A refugee is eligible for federal cash assistance for up to eight months from the date of their arrival. This pays for housing, clothing, food and other initial needs. A refugee is also eligible for federally funded assistance such as MaineCare and food stamps for up to 60 months. State and city assistance are also available.

Can refugees move around the United States?

Yes. Refugees have no choice where they are resettled initially. They then are free to move to a different city or state. These refugees are called secondary migrants. They are still eligible for some types of federal, state and city assistance.

Can refugees become U.S. citizens?

Yes. A refugee is required to apply for legal permanent residence, also called a green card, within one year of arriving in the United States. Normally, a permanent resident of the United States can apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years.

How many refugees come to the United States? To Maine?

The president sets a cap on the number of refugees that can be resettled in the United States each year.

President Obama had increased that cap in recent years – from 85,000 in 2016 to 110,000 in fiscal year 2017. But when President Trump took office, he reduced it by more than half.

As a result, the United States will receive fewer refugees this year than any year in the last decade. Approximately 51,000 refugees had been resettled in the United States in 2017 as of Aug. 31. In comparison, approximately 85,000 refugees came to this country in 2016.

In September, Trump announced the cap on refugees for fiscal year 2018 would be 45,000. The Washington Post reported that is the lowest cap since 1980.

As a result of the decrease in refugee admissions, Catholic Charities Maine is on track to see its lowest annual number of resettlements in five years. Last year, Catholic Charities resettled 642 refugees in Maine; the year before, 425. During this federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, Catholic Charities resettled just 323 refugees in Maine.

Where do refugees in Maine come from?

Most refugees come to Maine from Somalia and Iraq. However, they also come from Syria, Ethiopia, Burundi and other nations.

How has refugee resettlement changed under the Trump administration?

In January, President Trump reduced the annual cap on the number of refugees allowed in the United States from 110,000 to 50,000.

That change was part of an executive order, which also sought to temporarily ban the entry of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries and suspend the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 days. Multiple versions of that order have been blocked by federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case this fall. In the meantime, the justices ruled that a scaled-back version could take effect, which allowed the 50,000-person cap to stand.

The country surpassed that limit in July, though the Supreme Court’s order will still allow some refugees with family ties to be resettled in the United States.


SOMALIA
Somalia chose its first president in decades in February, and the nation is struggling to take steps toward stability. The population of the politically volatile Horn of Africa nation has endured nearly continuous warfare for a generation. Violence has involved clan-based militias, government forces and Ethiopian troops. An al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group known as al-Shabab continues to threaten security. Caught in the crossfire: The country’s civilians.

Such strife stifles the nation’s economy. Adding to the economic vacuum are droughts that have led to mass starvation. Suffering the consequences: Again, civilians.

As a result, many people have fled, and a 2014 report prepared for the United Nations High Command for Refugees found that one in six Somalis lived outside the country.

Cultural reference: 2001 film “Black Hawk Down,” about a 1993 mission there by U.S. special forces

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By the numbers: Special immigrant juvenile status http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/qa-what-is-special-immigrant-juvenile-status/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1262939

‘Special Immigrant Juvenile’ petition approvals nationwide, by federal fiscal year

Child immigrants who have been abused or abandoned and cannot reunite with family can be given special juvenile status. There is no data showing how many of these young people live in Maine. Here is a look at the increasing number of children seeking the status nationwide.

READ MORE
The child alone: A teenager arrives with no guardian, no resources and no plan
What is special immigrant juvenile status

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/from-away.pngThu, 05 Oct 2017 13:40:16 +0000
The child alone: A teenager arrives with no guardian, no resources and no plan http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/the-child-alone-a-young-woman-finds-a-home-here-after-arriving-as-a-teenager-with-no-guardian-no-resources-and-no-plan/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1262935

When the young woman talks about her birthplace in Burundi, she twists her fingers in a delicate silver chain around her neck.

The simple necklace once belonged to her mother, who died when the woman was a baby. She was placed in the care of a relative in Burundi and then Tanzania. She does not talk about her childhood, but she later says she did not believe she would live until her 18th birthday.

When the young woman was 16, a relative she had not seen for many years learned about her unsafe living situation. He showed up one day with a plane ticket to the United States and told her to pack quickly. The silver necklace is one of the few personal items the woman brought from Africa.

She left the rest behind.

“It’s just a place I do not really visit in my thoughts,” said the woman, who turned 18 this year.

The Portland Press Herald is not naming the young woman because of the abuse and trauma she experienced as a child in her home country.

That plane ticket and a temporary visitor visa brought her to the Portland International Jetport in May 2015. The girl knew nothing about her destination, but her relative had connected with members of the Burundian community in Maine. She is one of a growing number of children who have immigrated alone to the United States, including an unknown number who have settled in Maine.

Local Burundians took her in at first, but they couldn’t provide a permanent place for the teenager to live. She slept on one couch after another. In October 2015, the young teenager landed at the homeless shelter for teens across the street from Preble Street Teen Center in Portland.

She had no guardian, no resources and no plan.

“There is this constant gray space where you’re just living,” she said, remembering that time. “There is this point where you’re just there.”

Then, six months after the young woman arrived in the United States, Lucky Hollander found her.

CHILDREN ALONE

In 2013, Hollander met another young girl from Africa.

The girl was a teenager who came to the United States for high school and intended to eventually return home. But violence escalated in her native country, and she lost contact with her family. She had no place to go when a school social worker reached out to Hollander, who has a background in child welfare and bedrooms left empty by adult children. Hollander took the girl in.

An immigration attorney told Hollander about special immigrant juvenile status, known as SIJ. This status grants legal permanent residence, also called a green card, to unaccompanied immigrant minors who are in the United States, have been abused, neglected or abandoned and cannot reunite with their families. It is a pathway to legal status that is experiencing a surge in demand, with the number of SIJ applications increasing from 1,600 in 2010 to nearly 20,000 last year. That spike is connected in particular to violence in Latin America, which has driven many children alone to the United States.

Hollander and her husband applied to be legal guardians for the girl and helped her get SIJ status. As a result, she can legally live and work in the United States; she is now a college student.

Hollander created an informal group called Helpful Links to help other unaccompanied minors in Portland. She has worked with more than 30 children – one as young as 12 – in four years. In Maine, she said these children often come to the United States legally on student or visitor visas. Then, they become abruptly cut off from their relatives and must fend for themselves without adults.

Some children travel directly to Maine from their home countries; some moved here from other states. Not all stay, but those who do are often unsure where to turn for help.

“This kid wakes up one morning, and he’s in the United States, and the plan the adults told him isn’t the plan anymore,” Hollander said.

Two years ago, the Burundian teenager was like many Hollander meets – homeless, alone and scared.

“She had a really traumatic background in coming, and we wanted to get her out of the shelter,” Hollander said. “She clearly didn’t want to talk about her circumstances. She didn’t trust people.”

Hollander brought the teenager into her house in October 2015. Hollander’s friends agreed to be her guardians and mentors. In November 2015, she moved in with Nate and Nancy Nickerson in Portland.

A young Burundian woman holds a bracelet she bought at a bazaar in Africa; the beaded flag is that of her home country. The bracelet is one of the few personal items she brought when she fled to the United States. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“Right away we could see how bright she is, and we were both impressed with her intelligence as well as level of interest in global politics and issues of racial inequality,” Nancy Nickerson wrote in an email. “These were the topics of dinner table conversations – not how and when she could get a ride to the mall, how come we did not have cable.”

The teenager began to let her guard down. She immersed herself in her Portland high school. She became a leader in youth groups and school clubs such as Model United Nationals. She speaks four languages – English, Kirundi, French and Swahili – and tutored multilingual students.

“It’s so different having a home, right?” she said. “For me, it was like two very different understandings of what a home was, starting to restructure that in my mind. … It was positive, great. … What’s the word? I don’t know the word. It’s like all good things wrapped up with, like, a cherry on top and cake and ice cream and all the junk food you could want.”

But she still needed permission to stay.

LEARNING ABOUT IMMIGRATION SYSTEM

The woman came to the United States on a temporary visitor visa.

She knew she would need to extend that visa to stay in the country, but she didn’t know much else about the American immigration system. The first time she heard the term “alien” used for an immigrant, she thought it was a nickname.

“It was not until later I found out ‘aliens’ are what you call non-U.S. citizens,” she said. The normally bubbly teenager spoke slowly and quietly. “It was interesting to see the language that is even being used when referring to human beings.”

To qualify for SIJ status, the woman needed to submit her application before her 18th birthday in January 2017. She could also file for asylum, but the asylum system is less certain and takes longer; a national backlog of cases means she would wait years even for an initial interview. SIJ status was created specifically so minors who have been traumatized don’t have to go through that process.

“They’re young, and they have nobody,” Hollander said. “They are in a special circumstance.”


‘Special Immigrant Juvenile’ petition approvals nationwide, by federal fiscal year

Child immigrants who have been abused or abandoned and cannot reunite with family can be given special juvenile status. There is no data showing how many of these young people live in Maine. Here is a look at the increasing number of children seeking the status nationwide.

The Nickersons, who obtained legal guardianship of the woman, began to compile the documents needed for an SIJ application, which might include letters from doctors or therapists, court documents from her guardianship case and reports on the status of children in her home country.

At the same time the woman was applying for legal status in the United States, she was applying to college. She contacted every school directly to explain her immigration status. Some were unwilling to work with her. Others promised to wait. But without a green card, she could neither work nor apply for federal student loans.

“She had been accepted to all these colleges, and then it stalemated,” Hollander said. “Because she didn’t have a green card.”

The woman had submitted all the required materials in time for her 18th birthday, but she privately worried about what would happen next even as she studied for exams in the spring of her senior year. She had to reschedule her AP Psychology exam so she could be photographed and fingerprinted at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in South Portland.

“That was a really hectic day,” she said.

The final step of the application process was an in-person interview. At the end, the interviewer said she would approve the application for SIJ status. When she got to the car, the teenager screamed in excitement.

“You let out all the anxiety you had built up from two years ago,” she said, still giddy months later. “Then I could be a normal teenager who is trying to get her financial aid stuff in and is starting to freak out about actual college.”

The woman was able to submit her federal student loan forms exactly on her deadline.

After her high school graduation in June, her green card allowed her to get a summer job in Portland. She also accepted a paying internship with Portland Public Schools, writing a report to help the city’s high schools improve their resources for students who don’t qualify for federal student loans. Her college connected her with her roommate. She plans to major in international development, perhaps with a double major in education.

“I like systems and thinking about people and how they can be better served,” she said. “I want to focus on the next generation and making them feel important from the day they come to school.”

The young woman is now a college freshman in Boston. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree would likely not have been possible for her without SIJ status.

“It matters to give kids a chance at a normal life,” she said.

Like a typical American teenager, she waited until the very end of her summer break to pack. Moving to college was very different than the last time she quickly packed her bags, but her mother’s silver necklace is still around her neck.


WHAT IS SPECIAL IMMIGRANT JUVENILE STATUS?

Congress created special immigrant juvenile status, or SIJ status, in 1990. It’s designed for non-U.S. citizen children who do not have permanent residence and who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. They cannot safely be reunited with their families or return to their home countries. In most cases, these minors have come alone to the United States.

What does it mean to have special immigrant juvenile status?

A minor who has been granted SIJ status is eligible for legal permanent residence in the United States, also called a green card. He or she would also be allowed to obtain a work permit, a driver’s license and financial aid for college. A minor who has obtained a green card through the SIJ program can never petition for a green card for his or her parents. If the person granted SIJ status becomes a U.S. citizen, he or she could petition for a green card for a sibling.

Who qualifies?

A child who is in the United States but is not a citizen and does not have legal permanent residence. It must be determined that it is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to his or her last country, and that the child cannot safely be reunited with one or both parents because of abuse, abandonment or neglect. In Maine, applicants for SIJ status must file before their 18th birthday. In some states, the deadline is their 21st birthday.

What is the application process like?

To be eligible for SIJ status, a child must first be in the custody of the state or have a legal guardian in the United States, which requires a legal process and court order. The application for SIJ status requires multiple forms and documents. They might include letters from doctors or therapists, court documents from the guardianship case and reports on the status of children in the child’s home country. Biographical information, a medical exam and fingerprinting are also necessary. An in-person interview is the final required step.

How long does it take?

Lucky Hollander, of Portland, who works with unaccompanied minors through her group Helpful Links, said the entire process used to take less than a year. As more people apply for SIJ status, however, a backlog of cases has extended processing times. The guardianship process is now taking four to six months, and immigration attorneys say a petition for SIJ status is taking up to a year.

How many people seek and receive special immigrant juvenile status each year?

The number of SIJ applicants has increased dramatically in recent years.

In fiscal year 2010, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received roughly 1,600 petitions for SIJ status. Only 97 applications – 6 percent – were denied.

Last year, however, the number of petitions was nearly 19,500. Still, fewer than 600 – 3 percent – were denied. More than 15,000 applications were approved.

The national backlog of cases has grown from 35 in 2010 to nearly 10,000 at the end of March 2017. It is not known how many of those young people settled in Maine.

Why the big increase?

In recent years, the number of minors who are crossing the southern American border illegally exploded. Many of these children are fleeing poverty and gang violence in such Latin American countries as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Thousands qualify for SIJ status, which has increasingly become a solution for them in the United States.

What changes have been made or proposed that would affect unaccompanied minor immigrants?

SIJ status is not the same as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. That program defers deportation for young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. They do not have legal status, but they are allowed to live and work in the United States without punishment. President Trump has rescinded DACA.

SIJ status, by comparison, does give legal permanent resident status to those eligible. A national backlog of cases is making it harder and more time-consuming to obtain SIJ status, but so far, the Trump administration has not proposed or made specific changes to the SIJ program. Generally, the president has succeeded in restricting travel and visas for people coming to the United States, and the Trump administration has increased immigration enforcement across the country. As a result, minors who plan to travel to the United States may be prevented from doing so, and news organizations, including The Washington Post and the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting have reported deportations of undocumented minors who are in the process of applying for SIJ status.



BURUNDI
Burundi is a landlocked nation in East Africa. It is one of the smallest nations in Africa and is densely populated. Since the 1970s, Burundi has endured ethnic cleansing, genocide and civil war.

Since April 2015, government security forces, intelligence services and a ruling-party youth league were responsible for “killings, disappearances, abductions, torture, rape and arbitrary arrest,” according to a July 2017 Human Rights Watch report. Armed opposition groups, for their part, carried out attacks and killed members of the ruling party, the report notes. The report describes a repressive government and a co-opted justice system.

The United Nations Security Council this summer expressed concern over the country’s worsening humanitarian situation and a U.N. commission pointed to human rights violations and a climate of fear.

Against that background, the U.N. reported in May that since April 2015, 420,689 Burundians fled to neighboring countries and more refugees are expected.

Cultural reference in Maine: A local Burundian drumming and dance group, Batimbo Beats, periodically performs.

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/422064-20170829_immigrants-_0042-BW-EDIT.jpgNow 18, the young woman from Burundi was sent to the United States to escape abuse but was alone and homeless before being taken in by a family who helped her get legal immigration status. “There is this point where you’re just there,” she said about the time she was alone in Portland. She is not being named because of the abuse she experienced as a child. Staff photo by Ben McCannaWed, 11 Oct 2017 16:48:01 +0000
The military aide: He risked his life to work for the U.S. government in Iraq http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/the-special-immigrant-he-risked-his-life-to-act-as-a-translator-for-the-u-s-government-in-iraq/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1263207

Mahmood will never forget the date: April 6, 2017.

He had spent more than two years in the application process for a special immigrant visa, which is available to Iraqi and Afghan citizens who worked for the United States government in their home countries. Mahmood’s experience as a translator for the U.S. Army had made him a target. He had received a death threat at his family home. Three times, he traveled the dangerous road from where he lived in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to Baghdad to quietly obtain the paperwork needed for his visa.

His efforts stalled temporarily when Iraq was included on a list of seven Muslim-majority countries subject to President Trump’s original travel ban, which was later revised and is being challenged in court.

But, on April 6, 2017, Mahmood logged onto the website where he could track his application status. He had been approved.

“It was the best day of my life,” said Mahmood, now 28.

Mahmood arrived in the United States on May 31. He is one of more than 23,000 Iraqi and Afghan people who worked with the U.S. military in the Middle East and then immigrated to the United States. The personal risks they took as translators or in other supporting roles for the American forces earned them special immigrant visas for themselves and their families.

Mahmood said his family is still at risk. He agreed to tell his story if he was identified only by his first name because he is afraid family members in Iraq could still be targeted because of his work.

Mahmood grew up in a city in the northern, mountainous region of Kurdistan. His family often spoke of gratitude to the United States for removing from power former dictator Saddam Hussein, who orchestrated the killings of tens of thousands of their fellow Kurds. Mahmood’s parents encouraged him to support the American forces however he could. So he got a job in the laundry department on a U.S. military base in the Kirkuk province in 2008.


‘Special Immigration Visa’ arrivals nationwide since 2008

Translators and others who aided the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan can qualify for a special immigrant visa, along with family members. Here is a look how many special immigrant visa holders arrived in the U.S. since 2008, and their countries of origin.

 

“We owe the United States forces,” Mahmood said. “That’s what I believe, and that’s what my family believes, too. Because they came to Iraq to give us freedom and democracy.”

Mahmood had learned some English by watching American movies such as “The Day After Tomorrow.” At the front desk in the laundry department, his language skills improved as he talked to the soldiers. One of his regulars was retired Army Col. Mark Leahey, a Maine native who worked as a military analyst and deployed to the Middle East with the New Hampshire National Guard.

“I always came to see him during the slow times so we could talk, and so he started asking more questions,” Leahey said.

What did Americans think of Iraqis? Mahmood wanted to know. Does everyone in California drive expensive cars?

Leahey showed him New Hampshire on a map and told him about snow in the winter. Mahmood said his dream was to live in the United States, and Leahey encouraged him to become a military translator, a job that would allow him to apply for a special immigrant visa.

THOSE WHO AIDED U.S. ARE TARGETED

Iraqi and Afghan citizens who aided the U.S. mission in the Middle East have been targeted by insurgents for years. If Mahmood was discovered to be working for the American military or a contractor, he could have been kidnapped or murdered.

There is no reliable data on the number of Iraqi and Afghan people who have worked for the U.S. military in recent years or the number killed for their service. But the nonprofit List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies has estimated nearly 1,000 Iraqis have been killed because of their support for the American government. In 2014, the nonprofit International Refugee Assistance Project estimated an Afghan interpreter was being killed every 36 hours.

The Army began to house translators on bases because they were being hunted in their communities by militants. But Mahmood did not hesitate. He became a tactical translator first in the Kirkuk province, riding into the field with soldiers in MRAP, or mine-resistant, vehicles.


Cumulative ‘Special Immigration Visa’ arrivals in Maine since 2010

Note: These statistics only count arrivals who applied for and received temporary refugee aid. Data are current as of August 31, 2017.

 

 

Mahmood, like other translators, wore a mask to protect his identity and his family. He donned body armor over his civilian clothes in case of an attack. When he transferred to Diyala province to further guard his identity, he lived on an American base and translated reports about attacks using crude bombs or improvised explosive devices and other news from Iraqi officials. Between those two locations, Mahmood served as a tactical translator. In total, he said, he worked on behalf of the U.S. government as a translator and in other roles for 29 months.

“A lot of people are impressed with the bravery of the service members there,” Leahey said. “We cannot forget about the translators. When an (improvised explosive device) comes ripping through an MRAP, it kills anybody that’s on there. It doesn’t discriminate. He was at risk as much as the average soldier.”

When the United States began drawing down its forces in Iraq, Mahmood moved back to his family home.

VISA APPLICATION SUBMITTED

He worked on the base in Kirkuk until 2011, and then attended college in Kirkuk to earn a degree in education. He submitted an application for a special immigrant visa in 2015. Leahey, meanwhile, had returned to his home in Rochester, New Hampshire, but the two friends stayed in touch via Facebook. Leahey agreed to help him obtain the necessary paperwork for the visa application, such as recommendation letters from his former superiors.

“I think it goes somewhat to the Army motto that we’ll leave nobody behind,” Leahey said. “That really stuck with me. I said, ‘I will not leave you behind.’ “

Three times Mahmood had to travel to Baghdad, for a police certificate stating he has no criminal record in Iraq, an interview and a medical examination. The road between his home and the capital was controlled by renegades who would stop cars to steal money or other valuables. If they had identified Mahmood as a Kurd, he said he could have been killed on the spot. His language skills saved him; he would tell anyone who stopped him, in Arabic, that he was a student headed into the city.

It took more than two years to collect and submit all the application materials. In the meantime, Mahmood finished his degree and got a job teaching general history to middle school students. But he worried every time he left his home. He said his mother discovered a death threat against him from the Islamic State on their door. Another Iraqi translator Mahmood knew was murdered.

Mahmood’s application process was almost complete when President Trump issued his first travel ban this year. Because Iraq was on the list of countries subject to the ban, Mahmood and other translators who were trying to come to the United States were stranded. Lawmakers and veterans condemned the decision to bar these wartime translators from the United States, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ultimately clarified that special immigrant visa holders would be exempt from the ban.

“Every day delayed over there was a dangerous day for him,” Leahey said.

Finally, that day in April came.

Within two months, Mahmood landed at Washington Dulles International Airport, just outside of Washington, D.C.

“They treat me so well,” he said of the immigration officers at the airport. “They appreciate me for my job and for my services to the United States forces. They welcome me so beautifully.”

SETTLED IN PORTLAND

Mahmood stayed at Leahey’s home in New Hampshire while he searched for an apartment in Maine. Leahey wanted to settle Mahmood in Portland, where there were more job opportunties and more Iraqi immigrants.

They watched soccer games together – Mahmood is a Real Madrid fan, while Leahey roots for Barcelona. The Leahey family brought Mahmood to their family lake house, where he went kayaking for the first time. By the end of June, Mahmood moved into an apartment in Portland. By August, he had received his green card, which gives him permanent legal residency and permission to work in the United States.

Mahmood looks over a manual while sorting books at LearningWorks in Portland, where he volunteers. He hopes to become a teacher. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

General Assistance from Portland helps Mahmood pay for his apartment and other needs. As part of the city’s workfare program, Mahmood volunteers in the community. He spends two days a week at LearningWorks, a nonprofit youth support and adult education agency in Portland. This fall, he also started working and coaching soccer two days a week at a local elementary school through AmeriCorps. He hopes those experiences will help him get a full-time job in a classroom. Eventually, he said he might become certified as a teacher in the United States.

“I don’t like just sitting and using that assistance,” he said. “When I start working, it makes me feel happy. I’m giving back.”

Mahmood talks to his family every day. They ask about his safety. His mother makes sure he is eating enough. He can see the faces of his young niece and nephew.

“The technology and the Internet makes the world small,” Mahmood said.

Mahmood rides a bicycle around the city and walks to the Iraqi markets, but he is anxious to get his driver’s license. He was animated when he described the first meal he cooked in his new apartment – a type of dolma, a traditional Iraqi dish of stuffed vegetables – and the kebabs he made for the Leaheys at their lake house. He hopes to join a local soccer league. He is anxious about his first Maine winter, when he will see snow for the first time. He hopes to become an American citizen someday.

And given the opportunity, he would still do whatever the U.S. military needed.

“I’m so proud of what I did,” Mahmood said. “I would serve again.”


WHAT IS A SPECIAL IMMIGRANT VISA?

“Special immigrant” is a term that broadly applies to any person who qualifies for a green card because of specialized work he or she does. A green card signifies legal permanent residence in the United States. Since 2006, the United States has issued special immigrant visas to Afghan and Iraqi citizens who worked for the U.S. mission in the Middle East, often as translators for American troops and diplomats. Many of these people faced threats on their lives for aiding the U.S. government, and these visas help them and their families flee to safety.

Who qualifies?

There are three types of special immigrant visas. The first is open specifically to Afghan or Iraqi citizens who acted as translators for at least one year. This is a permanent but limited program. Only 50 people, excluding spouses and children, are admitted each year.

The second is open to Afghan citizens who have been employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan for at least one year since March 2003. This could include people who were hired by a U.S. contractor. That program is temporary, but still open for applications.

The third was a similar temporary program open to Iraqi citizens. The deadline to apply for that program was Sept. 30, 2014, and it is now closed.

What does it mean to be granted a special immigrant visa?

A person who receives an SIV receives a green card, which grants him or her legal permanent residence in the United States. Once in the United States, an Iraqi or Afghan person with an SIV is eligible for eight months of government assistance. A resettlement agency such as Catholic Charities Maine will help that person secure money for rent and other basic necessities, as well as services such as medical assistance and food stamps, if needed. A green card also allows immigrants to work in the United States. Normally, a permanent resident of the United States can apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years.

How are applicants for a special immigrant visa screened?

The application process for an SIV includes a background check, letters of recommendation from American supervisors or military personnel, fingerprinting, a medical check and an in-person interview.

How long does the application process take?

The State Department has estimated the average processing time for an SIV application is at least one to two years, depending on the type of visa. That doesn’t account for the time it takes the applicant to collect his or her documents and application materials.

How many people receive special immigrant visas?

The program specifically for translators is now capped at 50 recipients per year; a greater number were allowed in the first two years of the program. Their spouses and unmarried children under 21 may be granted SIVs as well. Since fiscal year 2007, these visas have been granted for more than 1,500 translators and more than 2,000 family members.

Since fiscal year 2006, the State Department has issued more than 63,000 visas through the other two programs. About one-third – 21,000 – were Iraqis or Afghans employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government. The rest were their dependents. A total of 35 immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Maine in 2016 with special immigrant visas.

Will this program change under the Trump administration?

The SIV programs for Afghan and Iraqi citizens received bipartisan support at their outset. In more recent years, however, the non-translator programs in particular have been the subject of political turmoil. At the end of 2016, Congress reauthorized the Afghan program for four more years, but capped it at 1,500 additional visas. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned of potential abuse in the program.

President Trump’s first travel ban included Iraq on its list of Muslim-majority countries. As a consequence, SIV holders were initially blocked from coming to the United States. However, after pressure from veterans and lawmakers who support the SIV program, the Department of Homeland Security clarified that those translators would be given waivers.



IRAQ
The United States led an invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it’s probably safe to say that most Americans know someone who served in the military there. U.S. military personnel remain in Iraq, although the Trump administration, in a departure from previous administrations, won’t say how many. In November 2016, the number deployed in both Iraq and Syria was 5,000-6,000, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Last year marked some of Iraq’s best economic performance of the last decade, led by the oil industry. However, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reports that the country has a bloated public sector and most people haven’t benefited from economic gains.

Since 2005, the Middle East nation’s government has wobbled toward stability. The Iraqi armed forces last year scored multiple successes in a military campaign against the radical group Islamic State, which terrorizes pockets of the civilian population. However, as government forces press the Islamic State, life becomes perilous for civilians living in the contested areas, and many have fled. Continued armed conflict, violence and terrorism plague civilians, according the United Nations. A U.N. bulletin on Iraq in September noted that millions of displaced Iraqis live in camps and host communities, and the insecure environment in Iraq prevents them from returning home.

Minority ethnic and religious communities, including in the Kurdistan region, are particular targets. The U.N.’s secretary-general has expressed concern that the Kurdistan region’s recent vote for independence could detract from the fight against the Islamic State.

Cultural reference: Americans know Iraq through parents, children, siblings and friends who served there, and much that is war-related, including the films “American Sniper” and “The Hurt Locker.”

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/1263207_128657-20170913_immigrantMa.jpgMahmood, who worked as a translator for the United States government in his native Iraq, said of his arrival in this country, "They appreciate me for my job and for my services to the United States forces. They welcome me so beautifully."Thu, 12 Oct 2017 19:59:29 +0000
By the numbers: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/qa-what-is-daca/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1262911

Childhood arrivals

Nearly 800,000 foreign-born students and workers brought to the U.S. illegally as children have enrolled in a federal program that protects them from deportation. President Trump has decided to rescind the program in March, although Congress could pass a law extending protection. Here is a look at where participants live and where they were born:

Top 5 states of residency

State
Residents
California
223,749
Texas
124,744
Illinois
42,537
New York
42,503
Florida
33,207

SOURCE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

DACA participants in New England

State
Residents
Massachusetts
8,053
Connecticut
4,989
Rhode Island
1,248
New Hampshire
374
Maine
98
Vermont
44

SOURCE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Top 5 countries of birth for DACA participants (nationwide)

Country
Residents
Mexico
622,743
El Salvador
28,571
Guatemala
20,000
Honduras
18,385
Peru
9,102

SOURCE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

READ MORE:
The childhood arrival: She has just become a nurse, but now politics has upended her world
What is DACA?

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/from-away.pngFri, 06 Oct 2017 18:38:37 +0000
The childhood arrival: She has just become a nurse, but now politics has upended her world http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/the-dreamer-she-came-here-at-age-6-and-has-just-become-a-registered-nurse-but-now-politics-has-upended-her-world/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1262894

Sophia studied for her nursing board exam all summer long.

After graduating from college in May, the 23-year-old woman returned to her family’s home in Maine. Her summer days were dominated by a prep course and practice tests. A passing score on her licensing exam would mean she could add “R.N.” to her name and begin a yearlong fellowship in pediatric nursing.

She was less than a week from the exam when an alert on her cellphone delivered news that could negate all her hard work. “It was the last thing that I wanted to hear,” Sophia said.

That news alert told her President Trump was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The program allowed young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to live and work here without fear of punishment.

For Sophia, who registered for DACA when she was 18, it meant she could get a driver’s license and work summer jobs. And it meant she could become a nurse as she had dreamed for years. On the other hand, the end of the program could mean she would instead be at risk of being arrested and deported.

Sophia’s parents moved to the United States from their native country in the West Indies when she was 6 years old.

They had good jobs in their home country, but her father wanted to pursue work as a Christian youth minister. He had previously traveled to the United States with a church organization, and when he got a full-time job offer, the family decided to take it.

Her father’s employer promised to help him obtain a green card, which would allow the family to permanently and legally settle in the United States. So he got a religious worker visa that would expire in three years. His wife and Sophia came with him on temporary visas. The family settled in Maine, where their second daughter was born.

But, by the time Sophia was 9, her father’s sponsor had backed out. Sophia’s sister is an American citizen because she was born in the United States, but the visas for the rest of the family expired. They visited one lawyer after another, but the three of them became undocumented immigrants at risk of being detained and even deported.


Childhood arrivals

Nearly 800,000 foreign-born students and workers brought to the U.S. illegally as children have enrolled in a federal program that protects them from deportation. President Trump has decided to rescind the program in March, although Congress could pass a law extending protection. Here is a look at where participants live:

Top 5 states of residency

State
Residents
California
223,749
Texas
124,744
Illinois
42,537
New York
42,503
Florida
33,207

“Sometimes there were moments when we thought we wouldn’t live through it,” her father said. “I remember days when I would just walk and cry, saying, ‘What’s the next move?’ “

Sophia spoke with the Portland Press Herald under the condition that she and her family members not be identified because they fear being discovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Growing up, Sophia remembers stress and confusion in her family’s home. Only as she got older did she realize why.

Her memories of her first country are the sensory impressions of childhood – the sound of rain on a tin roof and the bright colors of the cherry tree in her grandparents’ backyard. But, without legal immigration status, the family couldn’t visit the West Indies, not even when Sophia’s grandparents died.

In high school, Sophia watched all of her classmates get driver’s licenses. She told most people her family couldn’t afford the required course. But only her closest friends knew she couldn’t apply for a license at the DMV because she couldn’t present a Social Security card or U.S. passport or even a valid visa. When those classmates took a school trip, she stayed home on the pretense of college visits. In reality, her parents were afraid she would be detained at the airport.

When Sophia was a young girl, she broke her finger. The staff at the hospital made her laugh despite the pain, and she has wanted to be a nurse ever since.

As an undocumented student, she could not apply for federal student loans or legally work to pay for a bachelor’s degree. She decided to attend a small out-of-state private college where she could at least qualify for scholarships. The school was welcoming, but an admissions councilor told Sophia’s mother that she would never be able to take the nurse licensing board exam as an undocumented immigrant.

“It was like, God, why is this happening?” Sophia said. “I can’t do certain things, but then what can’t I do down the line? What’s going to happen to college?”

Sophia has a smile that fills her face. The more she learned about her family’s story, however, the more anger she felt toward the people who had lied to her parents.

“That was the hardest thing for me to accept,” Sophia said. “My parents are who I aspire to be. I had so much anger toward whoever did that.”

Her parents tried to shield their children from their fear and pain. But they struggled, too.

“It taught me not to really trust in human beings when they give you their word,” her father said. “Not all human beings are like, I’ll stand by my word to you.”

But they didn’t abandon their faith.

“We saw a lot of miracles on the way and got past the anger of it all,” her mother said. “We have a strong Christian faith, so we just know that God is in control.”

One of those miracles came on a summer day before Sophia’s freshman year of college. Her mother’s phone rang nonstop with calls from relatives and friends. President Obama had just signed an executive order to establish DACA. Sophia would be eligible.

“It was like a prayer,” her mother said.

President Trump and others who want to end DACA argue Obama lacked authority to create the program and that it encourages more illegal immigration. Supporters of DACA argue immigrants brought here as young children through no fault of their own should not be kicked out of the only country they know.


DACA participants in New England

State
Residents
Massachusetts
8,053
Connecticut
4,989
Rhode Island
1,248
New Hampshire
374
Maine
98
Vermont
44

The staff at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland helped Sophia apply for DACA. Family friends helped pay the fees on her application – nearly $500. Her mother dug out the plane ticket that brought Sophia to the United States, school report cards and other records. Sophia submitted her fingerprints to the U.S. government and passed a background check.

At the end of her freshman year of college, Sophia found out she was approved. Her work permit arrived days before she started the summer camp job she needed to pay tuition. She finally got her driver’s license. In a few years, she could present a legal ID to take the nursing licensing exam. She could accept the post-grad fellowship of her dreams.

“After that, I’ve been able to work in town and now get my nursing degree,” Sophia said. “It’s been life changing. It helped a lot with my family and for me to have the basic opportunities that a lot of Americans have that they sometimes take for granted.”

Top 5 countries of birth for DACA participants (nationwide)

Country
Residents
Mexico
622,743
El Salvador
28,571
Guatemala
20,000
Honduras
18,385
Peru
9,102


DACA recipients still do not qualify for federal student loans. Scholarships helped, and her parents work despite being undocumented. But Sophia’s family still struggled to afford her education. She took a semester off to work and save money. As an upperclassman, she worked for her dorm in order to live on campus. Without the work permit she received through DACA, she would not have been able to pay for college.

“I know down to the decimal point how much tuition is,” she said.

This spring, Sophia graduated cum laude. Her family, including relatives from her native country, traveled to her graduation. Her father cried tears of joy.

“Just to graduate from college has been such a big thing, which wouldn’t be a thing without DACA,” Sophia said.

Sophia came home for the summer to study for the nursing licensing exam. She and her mother talked about a trip to Bar Harbor. She went to church on Saturdays. She passed her exam. She tried to keep up with the ever-changing news on DACA but also not be overwhelmed with worry.

“I remember at first being worried, disappointed, stressed about it, trying to tell myself, ‘It’s OK. Don’t freak out. God’s going to work it out,’ ” she said.

Sophia has applied for renewal under DACA every two years as required, and her current work permit expires in 2019. Without a replacement for DACA, she and other young immigrants will again be unable to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation.

“These are people who are professionals, who are out there trying to do better for the country,” Sophia said. “We paid you your money. We gave you our forms. We did want you wanted. We didn’t do anything bad. We went to school. We fought our way through. And now it’s like, why do you take that away?”

She left Maine for her fellowship as lawmakers scrambled to find a legislative alternative for DACA in the six-month time period set by Trump.

“I’m going into a profession where I’m helping children, and even if that’s a year, I’m going to love that,” she said. “I’m going to put my whole heart into it.”


WHAT IS DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was created in 2012 in an executive order by former President Obama. It granted immigrants living in the United States illegally since they were children the permission to live and work here without punishment.

The young adults who are protected by DACA are sometimes called “dreamers.” This term comes from the proposed DREAM Act, which offered legal status to undocumented immigrants brought here illegally by their parents. That act was first introduced in 2001 and has repeatedly stalled in Congress. The Obama administration crafted DACA as a temporary order, hoping that lawmakers would eventually pass more permanent and sweeping immigration changes.

What does it mean to be granted protection under DACA?

The policy defers the deportation of young immigrants. Once registered under DACA, they can legally get jobs in the United States with two-year, renewable work permits. They can also request Social Security numbers, get driver’s licenses and enroll in college, though DACA-registered students are not eligible for federal financial aid.

How did people who qualify for DACA get here?

In many cases, people who qualify for DACA were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. In some cases, their families came to the United States legally but did not leave when their visas expired.

Who is eligible for DACA?

Young adults who are eligible for DACA came to the United States before their 16th birthday and have lived here continuously since 2007. They must have been younger than 31 and lacked legal status when the policy was adopted in 2012. Applicants are required to be students, have a high school diploma or a GED certificate or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard or armed forces. They must not have a criminal record or pose a threat to national security or public safety.

What is the application process like?

Filing for DACA for the first time requires a host of supporting documents. These might include IDs, travel documents, school records, hospital and medical records, tax receipts and other financial documents. Applicants must also pass a background check and be fingerprinted.

Once approved, DACA recipients must request a renewal every two years. They must refile the application forms and submit any new documents about removal proceedings or criminal history. Immigration officials might request other documents as well.

Can people protected under DACA work?

Yes. Young adults who have received DACA status have two-year work permits. They also pay income taxes.

Can people who registered for DACA become U.S. citizens?

No. DACA is still not lawful status, and it doesn’t give registrants a path to citizenship or even legal permanent residency.

How many people seek protection under DACA?

More than 936,300 people have submitted initial requests for DACA since 2012. Fewer than 50,000 requests have been rejected before processing.

How many people are granted protection under DACA each year, and how many are denied?

As of March 31, the number of people granted protection under DACA was 787,580. The number of denials was 67,867 – less than 8 percent of all requests. There are currently more than 34,000 pending initial applications.

Where do the people who were granted DACA live? Where are they from?

The majority of DACA applicants were born in Mexico. Many others are from Latin American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But thousands of other applicants are from other parts of the world, including South Korea, India and Pakistan.

Nearly half of the people who have received DACA status live in California, Texas or New York. In Maine, 95 people have received work authorization through DACA, although an unknown additional number of participants attend colleges in Maine.

What will happen to DACA next?

On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration would rescind DACA, calling it an unconstitutional abuse of executive power. The president called on Congress to find a legislative solution for the young immigrants who are currently protected by the program. No work permits will be revoked for at least six months to give lawmakers time to act.

What does that mean for people who are currently eligible for or protected under DACA?

No new applications for DACA will be accepted going forward, according to a memorandum from Homeland Security’s acting secretary, Elaine Duke. Pending applications for initial approval and renewal will be reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis. There were more than 106,000 requests – 34,000 initial and 71,000 renewal – pending as of Aug. 20.

People who have work permits through DACA will be able to stay in the United States until those permits expire or are revoked. Those who have permits expiring before March 5, 2018, can apply for a two-year renewal.

The DACA application requires personal information such as address, travel history and school records. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said information from DACA requests will not be proactively provided to immigration agencies, but it is still unclear how the end of the program would affect law enforcement. Without DACA protection, its recipients could be vulnerable to deportation.


ABOUT THE WEST INDIES

The West Indies is a group of islands – including many that are lush, green mountaintops rising out of the sea – that extend more than 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico near the southern tip of Florida through the Caribbean Sea to the northern tip of South America. The region includes Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands and Trinidad and Tobago.

Most of the population is descended from African slaves or from Spanish, French, British or Dutch colonists. Residents speak Spanish and French and a number of Creole languages that evolved from a mixture of European languages.

The traditional industries in the region were based on agriculture, with crops that include bananas, citrus and sugar. Tourism is now the major industry on many of the islands.

Economic and political conditions vary widely. But the islands share a common Caribbean culture, which is a combination of African, American Indian, European and Asian influences.

Cultural reference: Each island presents a distinct personality to Americans, who variously vacation, volunteer or trace their ancestry to the region. And, of course, there are pirate stories.

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/revised-daca.pngSophia, who is not being identified by her full name, says an imperiled federal program that has protected her from deportation has been “life changing.” Thu, 12 Oct 2017 08:27:05 +0000
Paths of immigrants to Maine differ, but their hopes have echoed through the centuries http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/paths-of-immigrants-to-maine-differ-but-their-hopes-have-echoed-through-the-centuries/ Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1267017

The Frenchmen who settled on St. Croix Island in 1604 were unprepared for the winter ahead of them.

Nearly half of the 79 expedition members died in the harsh cold at what is now the Maine border with Canada. The rest survived and continued to explore North America. So began a process that would bring a nation together and tear it apart.

Immigrating to America has become increasingly complicated since those Frenchmen set sail more than 400 years ago. There is now a legal labyrinth of laws, security checks and pathways for people who come to the United States. But the motivations that bring immigrants to a new country are often the same. So are the concerns of the people who do not want them here.

The Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald is telling the stories of 12 people who each followed a different one of those pathways. They include a refugee who escaped violence and an undocumented teenager who dreams of being a nurse, a migrant apple picker and an international student hoping to go to an Ivy League college.

Their journeys reveal a vast and complex immigration system. And their stories show the diversity of the people behind the great American debate.

They are not the first to come from away, and they won’t be the last.

The early 17th century, when the French settlers sailed into Passamaquoddy Bay, also brought ships filled with English, who established settlements along the coast to trade in fish and fur. The Europeans who arrived in the 1600s and 1700s clashed with the native people and brought unfamiliar diseases to their tribes.

In the 1800s, Ireland was on the brink of the potato famine, and the lumber industry in Bangor was booming. So the Irish rode steamships to America and built railroads to Canada. They were loggers and river drivers and construction workers.

In Montreal, Canada, families watched the growth of the textile mills to the south. Even modestly paying jobs in Maine’s budding cities were attractive to people who had lived in rural poverty. Men, women and children flowed to Maine to weave fabric and make shoes.

The late 1800s and the 1900s brought Scandinavian farmers who felt at home in northern Maine’s climate. The Italian immigrants who joined them worked in the paper mills and on the docks along Portland’s waterfront. Jewish people fled to Maine to escape discrimination and persecution in Eastern Europe, and Congress enacted the first refugee legislation in 1948 to accommodate Europeans displaced by World War II. Waterville became a hub for Syrian-Lebanese immigrants. A group of Albanians in Biddeford built one of the first mosques in America and worked in the mills. Political unrest brought refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos as well.

Since 2000, Maine has become home to refugees of violent conflict and persecution in Africa and the Middle East.

No matter the country of origin, the reasons are generally the same: prosperity, safety and freedom.

“From the 17th century to the present, why do people come?” state historian Earle Shettleworth said. “They come for a number of reasons, but they are motivated to come here because they believe that this is a place of fairness and opportunity.”

TENSION BUILDS

Each wave of immigrants has met resistance and regulation.

Immigrant students gather in an Americanization class at the Boys Club in Portland about 1916. Americanization became the policy of state and federal governments during this period, when waves of immigrants arrived from southern and eastern Europe. Photo courtesy of the Maine Historical Society

When the Irish arrived, Protestant Americans balked at the newcomers’ Catholic faith and worried they would lose their jobs to immigrants. During the summer of 1854, members of a political group called the Know Nothing Party burned a church used by Irish Catholics in Bath and attacked a priest in Ellsworth. But many Irishmen fought in the Civil War, and their service contributed in part to a softening of the anti-Irish sentiment in the country at that time.

“After the Civil War, you begin to find the Irish moving up on the social scale,” Shettleworth said. “Then there always has to be someone at the bottom of the scale in terms of the immigration patterns of Maine and America. The next big group to come in to provide large amounts of cheap labor are the Franco-Americans.”

Immigration became federally regulated after the Civil War as the influx of people increased. The first significant law restricting immigration to the United States was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers. Other measures introduced inspections and medical exams at the point of departure for immigrants coming to the United States. Still, millions of immigrants entered the United States in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

The violence of World War I, however, caused many Americans to turn away from international engagement in the 1920s. In Maine, a resurgent Ku Klux Klan targeted Jews, Catholics, Chinese immigrants and African-Americans. New laws put numerical caps on visas for the first time. The U.S. Border Patrol was created to quell illegal border crossings.

“Those immigration laws began for the first time to seriously restrict immigration to America,” Shettleworth said. “That’s the beginning of what we’ve been dealing with now for the last 100 years or so. It all has its seeds in that period.”

World War II brought more aggressive security screenings for immigrants, as well as internment camps for Japanese-Americans. But the war also displaced hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The United States began to formally accept refugees, creating the foundation for the resettlement program that exists today.

The 1960s brought new restrictions on family-based and employment-based visas. In the 1980s, Congress authorized a program to give legal permanent residency to millions of undocumented people. More recently, concerns over illegal border crossings and terrorism have been the primary drivers of immigration policy.

“These patterns repeat themselves and continue,” said Steve Bromage, executive director of the Maine Historical Society.

POLICY DIVISIONS GROW

Public opinion on immigration policy has become more divided in the last two decades.

In 1993, a Gallup poll showed 65 percent of people believed the level of immigration to the United States should be decreased. Only 6 percent of people responded that immigration should be increased, and 27 percent said immigration should remain at the existing level.

In 2017, the same poll showed 35 percent of people wanted to reduce the level of immigration to the United States. Twenty-four percent of people said immigration should be increased, and 38 percent thought the level of immigration should remain constant.

Gallup also found 28 percent of the people surveyed this year thought immigrants had a negative effect on job opportunities for them and their family, while 20 percent thought they had a positive effect. Fifty-one percent said immigrants have no effect on their job opportunities.

Bob Casimiro is one of the people who believes immigration should be more limited.

Casimiro, who lives in Bridgton and began studying immigration policy after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, recently formed Mainers for Responsible Immigration. The group has seven board members and an email list of 30 names, but Casimiro said he hopes to eventually expand its presence online and to host speaker events.

The top priority, Casimiro said, should be greater border security to prevent illegal crossings. He also wants more employers to check the immigration status of job candidates and crack down on what he says are abuses of the system, such as when a person overstays a temporary visa.

More than 4 million people are on waiting lists for visas that would allow them to come to the United States, according to the U.S. State Department, and Casimiro said reducing those backlogs should be a priority over protecting undocumented people.

“It’s a leaky boat,” Casimiro said. “If you have a leaky boat, you have to fix the leak. What we’re doing now is bailing, trying to keep up with it. This includes not just the border, but the visa overstays.”

While eliminating illegal immigration is his primary interest, Casimiro is also a supporter of federal legislation to dramatically reduce the number of green cards awarded each year and establish a “merit-based” immigration system that would put a greater emphasis on the job skills of foreigners over their family ties in the United States. Casimiro argues that immigrants should be people who will add to the economy with their education and job experience, instead of adding to the costs for public schools and General Assistance.

“I look at it helping the average Mainer and the average American,” he said.

To Tae Chong, however, immigrants do help the average person.

Chong, who moved from South Korea to Maine as a young boy, now works as a business adviser at Coastal Enterprises Inc., and helps immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Immigrants are the answer to a workforce shortage in Maine, he said.

“You’re seeing a crisis unfold right now where high skilled baby boomers are retiring, and there’s not enough people to backfill them,” he said. “We need 70,000 people to fill in for the baby boomers who are retiring.”

Chong said Maine’s aging population, low birth rate and low unemployment rate means an influx of young people is necessary to maintain the state’s economy. And the majority of immigrants who arrive in Maine are young and have some level of higher education, he said. A 2016 report from the Maine Development Foundation and state Chamber of Commerce similarly said the economy will suffer if Maine fails to attract, integrate and train immigrants. According to that report, new immigrants and their children are expected to account for 83 percent of the growth in the U.S. workforce from 2000 to 2050.

“It’s plain suicide if we don’t welcome them,” Chong said.

Many new Mainers struggle to adapt to the United States, but Chong said creative solutions can help them become contributing members of Maine’s workforce. For example, he said contextualized English classes at Portland Adult Education teach new immigrants English terms specific to their chosen fields, such as nursing and construction.

FEW COME TO MAINE NOW

Today, census data shows 13.4 percent of the U.S. population was born in another country.

Compared to the rest of the nation, Maine sees a relatively small flow of new immigrants. About 46,000 people – 3.5 percent of the state’s residents – were born in other countries.

But the intensity of the immigration debate is just as evident.

Nationally, President Trump put immigration front and center with campaign promises and then executive orders to reduce the legal and illegal flow of newcomers to the United States. Both Maine and the nation are once again in turmoil over who and how many people should be allowed to enter the United States.

In recent weeks, Trump issued an order that could result in deporting nearly 800,000 young immigrants, issued a new ban on travelers from eight foreign countries and reduced the cap on incoming refugees to the lowest level since the 1980s.

And, long before Trump began promising a wall along the Mexican border, Maine Gov. Paul LePage was demanding that Portland and other communities cut off public assistance to non-citizens, whom he has broadly referred to as “illegals” even though most are lawful residents.

Maine’s newest immigrants, those born in a foreign country, are mostly from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their journeys to get here were a world apart, but they also are not so different from the Frenchmen who landed on St. Croix Island more than 400 years ago.

They came from away to find a new life, and they find themselves trying to survive in the cold.


WHAT IS AN IMMIGRANT?

Any person who moves from one country to another and intends to stay there permanently.

Are all foreign-born people living in Maine considered immigrants?

No, many are here temporarily and have non-immigrant visas.

What is a visa?

Visas are documents that allow noncitizens to stay in the United States. Immigrant visas are issued to a person who plans to live here permanently, such as family members of U.S. citizens. Non-immigrant visas are for specific periods of time and for specific purposes, such as education, cultural exchange, visiting or working.

How many different kinds of visas are there?

There are more than 20 types of temporary non-immigrant visas. The number of immigrant visas is even greater. There are many more subcategories for the spouses and children of primary visa holders. Some visa programs apply to people from specific countries, others are more general.

Can temporary visa holders become permanent immigrants?

Yes, some do. They may apply for an extended or more permanent status. And, although the vast majority of non-immigrant visa holders leave after their visits, they can also overstay their visas without permission and live in the United States without legal status.

What is a green card?

A green card grants someone legal permanent residence in the United States. A green card also allows immigrants to work in the United States. Normally, a permanent resident of the United States can apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years.

Are all permanent immigrants required to become citizens?

No, a person with a green card is allowed to apply for citizenship, but not required to do so. Green cards typically need to be renewed after varying periods of time.

What does it mean to be undocumented?

An undocumented immigrant is someone who was born in another country and is living in the U.S. without a valid visa or residency status. It could mean the person entered the country illegally, such as by being smuggled across the border, or it could mean someone who arrived legally with a valid visa but stayed after the visa expired.

How many foreign-born people live in Maine?

There are 46,563 people living in Maine who were born in other countries, according to the U.S. Census. That represents 3.5 percent of the state’s population. About half of those people are naturalized citizens, and half are not U.S. citizens. By comparison, 13.4 percent of the U.S. population is foreign born.

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/10/709437-Immigration_oldpic-S.jpgImmigrant students at Chapman School in Portland, around 1920, learned English and U.S. history as part of “Americanization” classes sponsored by Portland public schools. Photo courtesy of the Maine Historical SocietySat, 07 Oct 2017 17:07:25 +0000
Westbrook hires Biddeford official for economic development post http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/westbrook-hires-biddeford-official-for-economic-development-post/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/westbrook-hires-biddeford-official-for-economic-development-post/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 21:02:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/westbrook-hires-biddeford-official-for-economic-development-post/ Westbrook has hired Daniel Stevenson as its new director of business and community relations.

Stevenson has been the director of economic and community development in Biddeford since 2010. Previously, he worked for 13 years for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, including the last three as assistant to the commissioner.

He will start work in Westbrook at a key time for the city’s economy. Maine Medical Center recently purchased a vacant downtown office building with plans to move 600 employees there. A former quarry is under development as a major shopping center on Main Street.

“Daniel’s tremendous record of success in Biddeford’s redevelopment, coupled with his extensive knowledge and understanding of programs and resources available at the state level, is exactly what the city was seeking for this position,” the city said in a statement.

The job replaces the former assistant city administrator position. The last city administrator was Bill Baker, who retired from that job in April 2016. John Wipfler, who had previously worked in the fields of health care and law, filled the role on a temporary basis. The job was then renamed. The city says the new position represents a budgetary savings of more than $20,000, but city officials did not immediately respond to an email requesting Stephenson’s salary.

“This restructured position will greatly enhance the city’s focus on sustainable business growth and quality community development for Westbrook, and Daniel brings precisely the skills and experience we were seeking,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said.

The interview team included representatives from two major employers in Westbrook – Idexx Laboratories and Sappi North America. Representatives from the Downtown Westbrook Coalition and the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corporation also participated.

Stevenson will start work Oct. 30.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/westbrook-hires-biddeford-official-for-economic-development-post/feed/ 0 Sat, 30 Sep 2017 17:42:52 +0000
Westbrook kills impact fees on construction – again http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/12/for-the-second-time-westbrook-says-no-to-impact-fees/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/12/for-the-second-time-westbrook-says-no-to-impact-fees/#respond Tue, 12 Sep 2017 17:25:52 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/12/for-the-second-time-westbrook-says-no-to-impact-fees/ The Westbrook City Council has killed a proposal to charge impact fees on new construction – again.

Last fall, Westbrook residents and officials worried a swell of residential development would strain the city’s infrastructure. The City Council asked staff to develop formulas for school and sewer impact fees, which are designed to pay for new capacity needed as a result of new construction. The plan was to charge those fees on all building projects with permits issued since Oct. 3 of last year, which would have included a large apartment complex on Spring Street.

But when the proposal finally came back to the City Council in August, it was nixed. The councilors worried the fees would be burdensome for property owners and prohibitive for developers. At a second meeting that month, a councilor moved to reconsider the proposal. The votes still weren’t enough to pass it on Monday night.

School impact fees failed to move forward, 3-3. The supporters were Councilors Brendan Rielly, John O’Hara and Victor Chau. Councilors Ann Peoples, Anna Turcotte and Lynda Adams were opposed. Councilor Gary Rairdon was absent. Sewer impact fees were also defeated, 5-1. O’Hara was the only yes vote.

At the meeting, Adams said she hopes the debate on impact fees prompts the city to develop a strategic plan for economic development in Westbrook.

“I think we definitely need to focus on future planning in this city. … We can’t keep being reactive,” she said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/12/for-the-second-time-westbrook-says-no-to-impact-fees/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/06/915941_261626__20160414_housing_1.jpgThe first phase of Blue Spruce Farm in Westbrook, totaling almost 200 units, under construction in April.Tue, 12 Sep 2017 20:50:30 +0000
Memorial commemorating Sept. 11 unveiled in Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/11/usm-walk-honors-veterans-who-have-died-since-911/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/11/usm-walk-honors-veterans-who-have-died-since-911/#respond Mon, 11 Sep 2017 22:56:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/11/usm-walk-honors-veterans-who-have-died-since-911/ As a young member of the Coast Guard, Eric Colby loved the view of the skyline from his base in New York City. He said he was taking in that familiar scene on Sept. 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

Colby was one of many first responders who jumped into action that day. He said he helped transport injured people from Manhattan to the New Jersey side of the Hudson River on Coast Guard boats.

“There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about 9/11,” said Colby, 43. “I’ll never forget children in my arms screaming for their mothers and fathers.”

A back injury prompted Colby to leave the Coast Guard in 2006, and he now lives in Limington. He was one of more than 70 people who gathered outside the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office in Portland on Monday night for the unveiling of a memorial to commemorate the terrorist attacks of 16 years ago. It was one of several events held around the state to mark the anniversary of Sept. 11.

“We talk about the whole term of ‘never forget,’ ” Colby said. “America has forgotten real fast. I’m just proud now living in Maine that there are people here who haven’t forgotten.”

The sculpture contains a small piece of steel from the World Trade Center. Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce acquired two pieces of the steel from the New York City Fire Department – one for the Maine Public Safety Pipes & Drums Corps and one for the sheriff’s department. On the campus at County Way, the steel is cradled between two granite pillars that mimic the twin towers and are flanked by flagpoles. Many of the materials, including the metal itself, were donated to the sheriff’s department.

Joyce said he hopes the sculpture reminds Mainers of the victims, first responders, military personnel and others affected by the terrorist attacks.

“This is a powerful monument to never let us forget all of those people,” Joyce said.

The crowd of public safety officials and spectators gathered Monday to see the sculpture for the first time. Speakers included Maine’s U.S. Marshal Noel March, who helped Joyce connect with the fire department in New York, and the memorial’s sculptor, Gregory Ondo, an assistant professor of art at the University of Maine.

“That memorial is not a gravestone,” March said. “There are plenty of those. That memorial, much like that flag, is a symbol of hope.”

For Colby, seeing the sculpture was emotional. He stayed as the crowd dispersed and the sky darkened. The air was warm, but he had goosebumps.

“It means the world to me to kneel down and touch it,” Colby said.

Other events Monday took place in Falmouth, Bangor, Auburn and communities elsewhere around the state. Earlier in the day, another commemoration took place in Greater Portland.

Carrying stones honoring deceased veterans from Maine, over 30 people walked 9.4 miles from the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus to its Gorham campus to mark the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 16 years ago.

Along the way, the group stopped at Riverbank Park in Westbrook, where they removed the stones from their packs and held them as they stood in a circle at a veterans’ memorial. One by one, they talked about the service member their stone represented, telling stories about the person’s life and family, why they decided to serve in the military and the circumstances of their death.

The program honors veterans who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.

“We’re not just carrying stones,” said Camden Ege, assistant coordinator of veterans’ services at USM. “We’re really carrying the memories of our fallen.”

Ege organized the hike, which included veterans, USM students, faculty and administrators, in conjunction with The Summit Project, which formed in 2013 with the idea of carrying stones honoring soldiers to the summits of Mount Katahdin and Cadillac Mountain.

“It’s pretty amazing that USM was able to put together an event like this on 9/11, which was the reason that so many of these service members joined the military,” said Greg Johnson, executive director of The Summit Project.

Each stone is engraved with a soldier’s initials, branch of service and dates of life on it.

“These stones weigh between a couple of pounds up to almost 20 pounds apiece, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s a very, very small weight to carry compared to what the families carry with them every day of their lives,” Johnson said. “We shoulder the burden, we bolster community and bring people together in honor of these men and women to pay tribute for what they’ve done for us.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

Gregory Rec can be contacted at:

grec@pressherald.com

Twitter: gregoryrec

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/11/usm-walk-honors-veterans-who-have-died-since-911/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/09/877087-20170911_monument_8.jpgPORTLAND, ME - SEPTEMBER 11: Cumberland County Sheriff's Office unveils a 9-11 Memorial which includes a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. Lisa Dyke of Saco, a member of the motorcyle group Rolling Thunder, visits the monument after the unveiling. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff photographer)Mon, 11 Sep 2017 23:11:53 +0000
In Maine, DACA decision puts 95 at risk of deportation amid chorus of criticism, some support http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/05/mainers-criticize-and-defend-trump-decision-to-rescind-protection-for-young-immigrants/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/05/mainers-criticize-and-defend-trump-decision-to-rescind-protection-for-young-immigrants/#respond Tue, 05 Sep 2017 21:50:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/05/mainers-criticize-and-defend-trump-decision-to-rescind-protection-for-young-immigrants/ Nearly 100 Mainers could lose their protection from deportation because of President Trump’s decision to roll back the federal program that gave work permits to young undocumented immigrants.

“We’re extremely concerned,” said Sue Roche, executive director at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project. The organization has helped dozens of clients apply for and renew their protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.

“We’ve just seen the most incredible success stories of individuals who came here with their parents when they were very, very young, who excelled in school, who were reaching the end, graduating from high school but really hit a road block (because of their immigration status),” Roche said.

DACA allowed them to pursue higher education and careers in nursing, electrical engineering, the blueberry industry and other fields, Roche said. “They were just starting to feel a little bit of stability in their lives and are now concerned about what might happen,” she said.

MAINE REPUBLICAN PARTY BACKS DECISION

The Maine Republican Party supported the announcement Tuesday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Trump administration would rescind DACA, acting on a promise the president made on the campaign trail.

“DACA was an unconstitutional executive action from the beginning,” Demi Kouzounas, the party chairwoman, said in a written statement. “We are a nation of laws, this is an unavoidable truth.”

The Maine party supports immigration “so long as the proper steps are taken to obtain legal citizenship,” Kouzounas said. “We hope that Congress will assist President Trump’s goal of securing our nation’s borders as any immigration legislation is considered.”

Nationally, nearly 800,000 people have been approved for the program, which was created by former President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order after the DREAM Act failed in Congress. DACA granted immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children the permission to live and work here without punishment. Those eligible, so-called “dreamers,” received two-year, renewable work permits.

The majority of DACA recipients were born in Latin America and are now residents of California and Texas. In Maine, 95 people have received work authorization through the program. Additionally, an unknown number of registrants are residents of other states and in Maine attending college.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, at the Justice Department in Washington on Tuesday. Associated Press/Susan Walsh

Since Trump’s election, Roche said attorneys at ILAP have been advising people eligible for DACA to wait before applying. ILAP is offering free legal consultations to anyone who could be affected by the federal decision, although many details about the end of the program are unknown.

The DACA application requires personal information such as address, travel history and school records. The Department of Homeland Security has said information in those applications will not be proactively provided to immigration agencies, but it is unclear how the end of the program will affect enforcement.

“Certainly, people gave this information with the expectation that it would not be used to deport them, but it would be used to allow them to enter into our legal immigration system,” Roche said. Maine residents who are enrolled in the program have been reluctant to speak publicly.

Roche said the immigrant community already was reeling from policy changes and heightened enforcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. “It all combines together to create a greater sense of fear and anxiety,” she said.

UNIVERSITY SYSTEM URGES CONGRESS TO ACT

After the administration’s announcement Tuesday, leaders of Maine’s private colleges and public universities called on Congress to act.

The University of Maine System released a written statement from board of trustees Chairman James Erwin, who said the schools will continue to monitor changes in federal immigration policy. A spokesman said fewer than 10 of the roughly 30,000 students at Maine’s public universities have voluntarily identified themselves as DACA recipients.

“Although there are relatively few students in our system who have self-reported DACA status, the uncertainty any enrolled student may feel about his or her ability to continue his or her public higher education is important to us all,” Erwin said. “We are therefore hopeful that Congress will act to bring certainty to the immigration status of those who seek to better themselves by lawfully pursuing a Maine public higher education and the resulting credentials and degrees that open the door to employment opportunities in our state.”

SMALL COLLEGES WORRIED FOR STUDENTS

Leaders at small private colleges such as Bates, Bowdoin and Colby have used strong language to criticize Trump’s immigration policies in recent months. They were critical again Tuesday when they spoke against the decision to rescind DACA.

“Ending this program runs counter to core American ideals and will cause unnecessary, widespread fear and uncertainty for thousands of students and families across the country,” Bates President Clayton Spencer said in a written statement. “To single out and punish this group of engaged and talented young people, who seek the opportunity to learn and grow into productive members of our society, is a self-defeating action opposed by political leaders of both parties and by a majority of the American public.”

Spencer also said Bates students, regardless of immigration status, are eligible to apply for financial aid.

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose wrote a letter to all students, faculty and staff to express support for immigrant students. He also said security personnel at Bowdoin do not ask about immigration status or enforce immigration laws, and he encouraged members of the Bowdoin community to contact their elected officials to share their own views on DACA.

“This is a profoundly disappointing decision – one that places in jeopardy many people, including college students, who came to this country as children, who have worked hard, followed the rules, and earned success, and who now face a very uncertain future for themselves and their family members,” Rose said in his letter.

Colby President David A. Greene also wrote a letter on the issue, saying he hopes Congress finds a legislative solution.

“Our commitment to members of our community affected by this decision is unwavering,” he wrote. “And Colby as an institution is strengthened and its mission furthered by our ability to admit and support students regardless of their national origin or immigration status.”

None of the three colleges shared the number of students protected by DACA. Neither Bowdoin nor Colby responded when asked if they would secure the financial aid packages of DACA-registered students. However, both colleges state on their websites that they meet the demonstrated financial need of all students, regardless of citizenship.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Paul LePage did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

‘CRUEL DECISION,’ CHORUS OF CRITICS

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett released a statement saying the “cruel decision” to rescind DACA defies common sense. “Dreamers grew up in our communities and have spent most, if not all, of their lives as proud Americans. These young people share our values and are making invaluable contributions to our economy,” he said. “Removing protections from dreamers would tear families apart, make our communities less safe, and hurt our economy by billions of dollars.”

The chorus of critics also included the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, who is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate for 2018.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/05/mainers-criticize-and-defend-trump-decision-to-rescind-protection-for-young-immigrants/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/09/sessions-DACA-2.jpgWed, 06 Sep 2017 05:31:50 +0000
Scarborough ambulance crew delivers baby on Congress Street http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/31/scarborough-ambulence-crew-delivers-baby-on-congress-street/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/31/scarborough-ambulence-crew-delivers-baby-on-congress-street/#respond Thu, 31 Aug 2017 15:23:06 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/31/scarborough-ambulence-crew-delivers-baby-on-congress-street/ A Scarborough ambulance crew delivered a baby boy en route to Maine Medical Center in Portland on Wednesday night.

Capt. Andrew Clark was on duty when the call came in at the Scarborough Fire Department. The parents had started their trip to the hospital in their own car. In North Scarborough, however, they pulled into a parking lot and called 911. Scarborough EMTs responded and loaded the woman into the ambulance.

“I thought we were going to make it to the hospital, but the baby thought otherwise,” Clark said.

The ambulance was on Congress Street in view of Maine Medical Center in Portland when the baby was born. Paramedic Andrew Breitbeil led the delivery; he was assisted by Advanced EMT William Norton. Clark said he has only witnessed a delivery in an ambulance on one other occasion in his career – 15 years ago.

“We train for it, but it’s one of those things many providers never see in their career,” he said.

Clark’s only regret was that the father was not in the ambulance. He was following in the family car. But he soon met his newborn son at Maine Medical Center, where Clark said mother and baby appeared healthy. He would not disclose any further details about the family, citing patient confidentiality.

“The mother did all the work,” he said. “We really didn’t do anything. We were just moral support.”

Clark said the successful delivery was a boost for Scarborough’s emergency responders, who are still reeling from a tragedy earlier in the week. A 5-year-old girl died in an accidental and self-inflicted shooting Monday evening at a home in town.

“It was a rough week for the department,” said Clark, who has worked in Scarborough for 21 years. “This really helped.”

Clark said the crew left the family in peace at the hospital, but hopes to hear from them again. The Scarborough Fire Department posted a congratulatory message on its Facebook page.

“Congratulations to the crews and dispatchers involved as well as the new parents!” the post reads.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:43 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2017 to correct William Norton’s license level.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/31/scarborough-ambulence-crew-delivers-baby-on-congress-street/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/21192809_983987401752575_3343952519554631034_n.jpgFri, 01 Sep 2017 09:45:01 +0000
‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ offers a lively introduction to an unfamiliar cuisine http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/30/cookbook-review-zoes-ghana-kitchen-offers-a-lively-introduction-to-an-unfamiliar-cuisine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/30/cookbook-review-zoes-ghana-kitchen-offers-a-lively-introduction-to-an-unfamiliar-cuisine/#respond Wed, 30 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1247672 “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: Traditional Ghanaian recipes re-mixed for the modern kitchen.” By Zoe Adjonyoh. Mitchell Beazley. $29.99

In my kitchen, spatulas double as microphones.

I almost always cook to music. I sing along into my spatula or spoon when I know the words. I dance as I stir.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find a playlist on the pages of “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: Traditional Ghanaian Recipes Remixed for the Modern Kitchen” by Zoe Adjonyoh. Early in the book is “A Soundtrack to Cook To,” a list of 27 lively songs by African artists. (This playlist and one other – “A Soundtrack to Eat To” – are available on Spotify.)

“When you want the feeling of being back at home in Ghana, apart from the food itself, having a soundtrack to bring the sights and sounds of everyday Ghanaian life and culture can transform the cooking process from an arduous task into a party in the kitchen,” Adjonyoh writes. “And let’s face it, all parties end up in the kitchen anyway! So settle into this backing track of Ghanaian High-life and Afro-beat to sway your way through cooking and dining, and maybe even bust some Azonto dance moves around the kitchen as you go.”

I pressed play and turned back to the cookbook.

Adjonyoh was born in Ghana but left as a small child. Her father is Ghanaian, and her mother is Irish. The family settled in South East London. Adjonyoh describes the chalé – spicy tomato – sauce her father would make when she was a child. She connected with her heritage through food and taught herself how to cook, building recipes from the dishes of her childhood table and the advice of London’s Ghanaian grocery store owners.

First published in Great Britain by Mitchell Beazley, the cookbook is a friendly introduction to a foreign cuisine. She begins with a guide to ingredients. Her recipes rest on onions, fresh ginger root and chili added to tomatoes, but her helpful descriptions of ingredients likely unknown to American and British cooks take up several pages. She also suggests substitutions and suppliers in London and online. Perhaps it was the catchy rhythm of “Nga Nga” by Ebo Taylor, but as I read, I felt more at ease with the unfamiliar recipes.

The 250 pages in the book are illustrated with photos that made my mouth water, even if I had never heard the name of the dish before. (See Nkruma Nkwan, an okra stew.) Many of the dishes are a fusion of Adjonyoh’s Ghanaian heritage and her experiences in London, like the Goat Ragu that draws inspiration from an Italian friend. Many recipes felt approachable because of their clear instructions and mouth-watering photos, and I chose a recipe for Lamb Cutlets with Peanut Sauce, the sauce Adjonyoh describes as her favorite childhood comfort food.

It took longer to make the dish than I expected. What seemed like a simple recipe actually required two sauces – first I made the spicy Chalé Sauce, which I then used as a base for the peanut sauce. But I didn’t mind the extra work when I dipped my finger into the finished product. It was savory on first taste, then hot and spicy in the back of my throat.

The lamb itself was quick and easy to prepare. A serious amount of cayenne pepper in the marinade gave the meat a kick, which permeated the entire chop. I was delightfully sweaty from the hot summer night, the warmth of my stove top, the delicious heat of the spices and the swing of my hips to “Mansa” by Bisa Kdei.

I am looking forward to visiting one of Portland’s several African markets for some of the ingredients in the book, like the dried ground melon seeds for Spinach & Agushi Curry or the cornmeal banku that look like dumplings, but the spices and peppers I needed for this dish were readily available at my local Hannaford. I found almost-ripe plantains in the produce section – how nice! – so I fried them as a side, a favorite of mine but a rare treat. With Adjonyoh’s easy instructions, I’ll certainly be making them again – while dancing to “Odo” by the Ghanaian hiphop duo R2Bees, of course.

Lamb Cutlets with Peanut Sauce Photo courtesy of Mitchell Beazley

LAMB CUTLETS WITH PEANUT SAUCE

Cooking times for the lamb cutlets will vary depending on their thickness. As a guide, cook for 2-3 minutes if you want your meat pink or 4-5 minutes if you prefer it well-done.

Serves 4

8 lamb cutlets or chops, about 2 cm (3/4-inch) thick

1 recipe Peanut Sauce (see recipe)

MARINADE:

3 tablespoons canola oil or groundnut oil

2.5-cm (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger root, finely grated (unpeeled if organic)

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

TO GARNISH:

A few roughly chopped roasted peanuts

Sprinkle of finely sliced spring onion (scallion)

Place the lamb cutlets or chops in a dish. Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl, pour over the lamb and rub the mixture thoroughly into the meat, coating it all over. If you have time, cover the dish with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the peanut sauce, or reheat it if you have premade a batch.

Take the lamb out of the fridge and leave it to return to room temperature for a few minutes while you heat the griddle pan over a high heat until very hot. Add the lamb cutlets or chops – they should sizzle on contact – and then reduce the heat slightly. Cook the meat without disturbing it (see tip), allowing it to sear evenly and obtain even griddle marks, then flip and repeat. (If you move the meat around during the cooking process, it will be likely to stick to the pan and won’t cook evenly.)

Remove the lamb from the pan and leave to rest for 1 minute before transferring to warmed serving plates. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of the peanut sauce over each of the cutlets or chops, then add a little garnish of peanuts and spring onion. Serve with rice and Simple Fried Plantains with a green salad on the side.

PEANUT SAUCE

Zoe Adjonyoh writes that she often leaves the peanut sauce to simmer for up to 2 hours so that the flavors really infuse, but that 30-40 minutes is good enough.

Makes 850-900 ml (about 11/2 pints)

1 tablespoon groundnut oil

1 onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon extra-hot chili powder

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 garlic clove, crushed

5-cm (2-inch) piece fresh ginger root, grated (unpeeled if organic)

1 red Scotch Bonnet chili, pierced

3 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

500 ml (18 fl. oz.) uncooked Chalé Sauce (see recipe)

500 ml (18 fl. oz.) good quality vegetable stock

100-200 g (31/2-7 oz.) organic peanut butter, depending on how thick you want the sauce

8 green kpakpo shito (cherry) chilies, or substitute green habanero chilies

Heat the groundnut oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion and sauté over a medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the chili powder and curry powder, then add the garlic, ginger, Scotch Bonnet, crushed peanuts, sea salt and black pepper and stir well – lots of punchy aroma should be rising from the pot at this point.

Stir in the Chalé Sauce and vegetable stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Add the peanut butter 1 tablespoon at a time, while stirring, until it has dissolved, then use an immersion blender to blend all the ingredients to a smooth consistency.

Add the whole kpakpo shito chilies to the sauce and leave to simmer over a low heat for at least a further 30 minutes before serving, or leave to cool and then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Alternatively, freeze for future use. You can simply reheat as much sauce as needed at the time as a side dip, or create a soup by adding diced yams and plaintain or cooking meat in the sauce for a more substantial meal.

CHALÉ SAUCE

Zoe Adjonyoh writes: “This basic recipe is my dad’s everyday cooking sauce. He would whip this up and literally throw in any type of meat, fish or protein, but it was always tasty. You can just blend the ingredients and store the uncooked sauce for later use, or cook it and then leave to cool.”

Makes 500 ml (18 fl. oz.)

400 g (14 oz.) can tomatoes or 250 g (9 oz.) fresh tomatoes

30 g (1 oz.) or 2 tablespoons tomato purée

1 onion, roughly chopped

5-cm (2-inch) piece fresh ginger root, grated (unpeeled if organic)

1 red Scotch Bonnet chili, deseeded

1 tablespoon dried chili flakes

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 garlic cloves (optional)

TO COOK:

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

1 onion finely diced

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon extra-hot chili powder

Place all the ingredients except the “to cook” ones in a blender and blend together until you have a fairly smooth paste. This is your uncooked chalé sauce.

For cooked chalé sauce, heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion and sauté over a medium heat for a few minutes until softened. Then add the curry powder and chili powder and stir thoroughly to coat the onion evenly. Add the blended tomato mixture and simmer gently for 35-40 minutes.

Use straight away, or leave to cool then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze for future use.

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Westbrook students returning to 2 schools amid construction projects http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/29/westbrook-students-returning-to-school-amid-construction-projects/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/29/westbrook-students-returning-to-school-amid-construction-projects/#respond Tue, 29 Aug 2017 22:47:57 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/29/westbrook-students-returning-to-school-amid-construction-projects/

A drainage system for a future athletic field at Saccarappa Elementary School is just a small part of the renovation project. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

WESTBROOK — A green dump truck was idling recently in the middle of the dusty lot next to Saccarappa Elementary School.

“That’ll be the library, where the truck is,” Principal Brian Mazjanis said, pointing at it.

Students will arrive at Saccarappa and Westbrook Middle School for the first day of a new year Wednesday. They’ll find active construction sites at both schools, which are being renovated and expanded to accommodate growing enrollments. School officials are preparing to deal with digging and banging just around the corner from full classrooms for the next year or more.

“(The teachers) are worried, but they’re really positive,” said Superintendent Peter Lancia. “They know this is a good thing for their schools.”

Members of the building committee said they’ve heard questions from parents as construction begins. For example, School Committee member Veronica Bates said she has reassured a number of parents that children will have safe and adequate recesses at Saccarappa Elementary, where a temporary playground has been fenced off and separated from the construction site.

Westbrook Superintendent Peter Lancia describes the objectives of the sprawling construction project at Saccarappa Elementary School during a visit to the site Aug. 23. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“I won’t sugar-coat it,” Bates said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a headache. It’s going to mean people planning a little bit of extra time and making a few accommodations while we work on this project. But it’s only temporary. When it’s all said and done, the plans are beautiful and everybody will be very, very happy.”

MORE CLASSROOMS AS ENROLLMENTS GROW

Westbrook voters approved a $27 million bond for the school construction project at the polls in November. School officials said the expansions were necessary because of population growth and housing development in Westbrook. After years of declining enrollment, the district could see more than 300 new students by 2025, Lancia estimated.

The end result will be a complete renovation and 12 new classrooms at Saccarappa Elementary, as well as 12 new classrooms at Westbrook Middle School.

The construction bid took longer than expected to award, but came in about $2 million under budget. That money could be used for extra amenities at the schools, Lancia said. Work began in mid-July, later than planned, but is on schedule so far.

At Westbrook Middle School, 12 classrooms are being added to the eastern end of the three-story building – eight on the third floor and two each on the first and second floors. Principal Laurie Wood said eight existing classrooms will be displaced because of the construction, so those students will move into portable classrooms for the year. A common area in the school also has been converted into a classroom.

Wood said the contractor is taking steps to reduce the impact on students, such as placing sound-deadening walls in the school to block off the construction area.

“I can’t believe that we won’t hear some noise, but I am comfortable and confident from the information that the builders and the architects are giving us that it won’t be at the level where you can’t learn,” Wood said.

EXPECTING AN UNDISTURBED SCHOOL DAY

The completion date for the middle school project is July 2018.

The elementary school project will take much longer, but won’t be as immediately disruptive.

A bucket loader carries sand across the construction site at Saccarappa Elementary School in Westbrook. Students will have to contend with construction all year, as the district begins major expansions of its elementary and middle schools. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The contractor’s first task is to build a new wing onto the school, which will be completed by December 2018. In addition to new classrooms and a larger library, it will contain a gym and a large cafeteria. Students at Saccarappa currently eat lunch in their classrooms and take the bus to another school for gym.

Renovations will begin in the existing school in summer 2018. Students will begin to move into the new wing in January 2019, and renovations will continue in the older side of the school. The entire project should be done before students return to school in August 2019. The interior remodel involves mostly cosmetic work.

“We really want to make sure it doesn’t feel like a new school attached to an old school,” Mazjanis said.

The principal said he hasn’t heard much noise while working in the building over the summer, and the loudest work should be done by the time children arrive this week.

“The kids basically will come to school, and it will be normal,” he said.

Still, navigating buses and cars around the construction equipment will be a challenge.

Both schools have surrounded the construction areas in fencing. The elementary school will add a crossing guard for students, and a traffic monitor will manage the bus loop at the middle school near high-traffic Stroudwater Street.

“With kids and teachers and contractors arriving, that 7-to-8 hour will be busy,” Lancia said.

KEEPING PARENTS INFORMED, REASSURED

School officials and the building committee will monitor the construction plans as well. Regular updates will be available for parents at wsdgrows.org, and information will be distributed through the schools’ regular communication channels. The two principals also encourage parents to contact them directly with questions.

“I want to make sure people see what’s going on every step of the way,” Mazjanis said.

The School Committee hosted numerous meetings on the expansion project, and member Noreen Poitras said parents should look for a notice about another construction meeting shortly after school starts.

“There’s always that concern from the parents that it’s going to be disruptive, but we are trying to reassure everybody,” Poitras said. Bates, the School Committee member, said there should be “minimal, if any” impact on learning.

“We’re doing everything that we can to make sure that when a student is dropped off at school, they have a regular school day,” she said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/29/westbrook-students-returning-to-school-amid-construction-projects/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1247759_911221-201708022_SchoolCo3.jpgA bucket loader carries a load of sand across the sprawling construction site at Saccarappa Elementary School, which is getting a dozen new classrooms.Tue, 29 Aug 2017 23:36:11 +0000
Westbrook woman’s death ruled a suicide http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/29/westbrook-shooting-victim-identified/ Tue, 29 Aug 2017 13:29:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/29/westbrook-shooting-victim-identified/ The death of a 50-year-old Westbrook woman who was found shot in her home Monday was a suicide, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

Around 9 p.m. Monday, police were called to a home at 40 Falmouth St., where Norma Bridges was found dead, according to state police.

An autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

McCausland said the gun has been recovered.

No further details about the case were disclosed.

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Westbrook City Council resurrects proposal to charge impact fees http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/22/westbrook-city-council-resurrects-proposal-to-charge-impact-fees/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/22/westbrook-city-council-resurrects-proposal-to-charge-impact-fees/#respond Wed, 23 Aug 2017 03:04:13 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/22/westbrook-city-council-resurrects-proposal-to-charge-impact-fees/ The Westbrook City Council will give impact fees another chance.

The idea is popular among those concerned about the number of new housing units being built in Westbrook. City officials spent nearly one year developing formulas for school and sewer impact fees, which are designed to pay for new capacity needed as a result of a development. Under the system proposed, for example, the owner of a new three-bedroom house would need to pay a $3,245 school impact fee to offset the future costs of adding children to local classrooms.

But the City Council seemed to kill the idea two weeks ago. At the regular meeting Aug. 7, a majority of the councilors voted against new ordinances for school and sewer impact fees. They expressed concerns that added costs would deter families and businesses from coming to Westbrook.

“I do not want to be a deterrent to people moving into the city,” Councilor Lynda Adams said at the time.

Adams, however, made a motion during the City Council’s next meeting, on Monday, to reconsider the impact fee ordinances. She said more residents should have the chance to weigh in on the issue. Five people spoke at the Aug. 7 meeting, and four asked the council to nix the impact fees. But dozens of people had turned out last year for public meetings about residential development, and many wanted the city to enact a system for collecting impact fees.

“I feel like there are some people that wanted to be heard that they weren’t able to be heard,” Adams said.

The motion passed 4-1. Councilor Ann Peoples was the only no vote, and Councilors Anna Turcotte and Brendan Rielly were absent.

The two proposals will be on the Sept. 11 agenda for first reading. If approved, they will advance to the Oct. 2 agenda for a public hearing and final vote.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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Auction of Maine art collection will benefit Animal Refuge League http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/21/collection-of-maine-art-will-be-sold-to-benefit-animal-refuge-league/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/21/collection-of-maine-art-will-be-sold-to-benefit-animal-refuge-league/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1243530 The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland usually finds new homes for cats, dogs and other pets. But a unique donation of 47 paintings valued at least at $70,000 has the refuge league seeking owners for artwork.

The collection came from an anonymous donor and features work from a variety of well-known Maine artists. The pieces will be sold during a three-day summer auction event at Thomaston Place Auction Center in Thomaston to benefit the Westbrook animal shelter. The gift is one of the most valuable that the nonprofit has received this year.

“It’s a significant donation of art,” said Patsy Murphy, executive director of the Animal Refuge League. “This gift allows us to invest in ourselves and invest in the future for the work that we do.”

Murphy declined to name the benefactor or provide any details about the person because he or she wants to remain anonymous. This is the largest gift that person has given to the Animal Refuge League.

Most of the paintings are contemporary pieces that depict Maine’s natural landscapes and ocean scenes, although one painting of Portland Harbor dates back to the 19th century. The individual pieces are valued between $400 and $4,000.

“It’s really noteworthy that it’s such an amazing collection by a diverse number of Maine painters,” said Carol Achterhof, an auctioneer and cataloger at Thomaston Place. “It’s rare you’re going to find such a diverse and large collection in one place. It’s kind of a one-stop shop if you are looking for Maine art.”

The artists include names such as Connie Hayes, Marsha Donahue, Eric Hopkins, Leo Brooks and William Thon. While many of these artists are still living and creating new work, Achterhof said the auction also is an opportunity to purchase paintings by artists who have died. Brooks passed away in 1993; Thon died in 2000 and is also known for bequeathing $4 million to the Portland Museum of Art.

“Some of these paintings are really special,” Achterhof said.

Discussions about the donation began while the Animal Refuge League was building its new 25,000-square-foot shelter, which opened last year behind its former home on Stroudwater Street. The shelter previously operated in three separate buildings with a combined 12,000 square feet. The new location brought all operations under one roof with modern features such as a surgical center, isolation rooms for sick animals and outdoor play areas.

Annually, the nonprofit handles about 3,000 adoptions and returns about 1,000 lost pets to their owners.

“The conversation started around the time we finished construction of the new building, when we were talking about the interior of the building and our desire to have a clean, contemporary welcoming space for the animals,” Murphy said.

The shelter itself wasn’t quite the right home for paintings worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, however.

“The thought of cat hair and dog hair and dander on these paintings was problematic,” Murphy said.

So they turned to the Thomaston Place Auction Galleries.

The Animal Refuge League began working with the gallery six years ago, and an auctioneer from Thomaston Place handles bidding at the yearly Fur Ball, the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser. The donated paintings will be part of a three-day summer auction event, which will include more than 1,400 items.

Bidding will start at 11 a.m. Friday. The first 46 pieces on the block will be from the Animal Refuge League collection, and the final painting – the 1880s painting of Portland Harbor by Franklin Stanwood – will be available on the second day. Bidding can take place in person, over the phone or online, and more information is available at thomastonauction.com.

The paintings are on display in the gallery in Thomaston, which is open Monday through Friday. The collection can also be viewed online and in the printed gallery catalog.

“I think it’ll be a combination of private buyers who want to have something nice in their homes, and we’ll probably also see some dealers and galleries,” Achterhof said.

The proceeds from the paintings will go in part to the Animal Refuge League operating budget, which is $2.5 million annually. It will also pay for special projects, such as the repurposing of the old shelter on Stroudwater Street. The Animal Refuge League currently uses the building for storage, but it plans to expand its training and behavior department in that space.

“There are creative and innovative ways for nonprofits to receive gifts like this,” Murphy said. “It’s about being open and hearing your donors, having conversations with your supporters, checking in and really planning for the future.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/21/collection-of-maine-art-will-be-sold-to-benefit-animal-refuge-league/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1243530_305575-FrankHandlen.jpgFrank Handlen's "Coastal Farm with Figures" is one of 47 paintings donated to the nonprofit that protects animals.Mon, 21 Aug 2017 08:54:38 +0000
Mainers will join thousands in Boston to condemn racism http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/19/mainers-will-join-thousands-in-boston-to-condemn-racism/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/19/mainers-will-join-thousands-in-boston-to-condemn-racism/#respond Sat, 19 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1242915 Mainers will be among thousands on Boston Common on Saturday when conservative activists and counterprotesters stage demonstrations one week after a white nationalist rally in Virginia turned deadly.

It’s expected to be one of the first large racially charged gatherings in a major U.S. city since a man drove his car into anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville last Saturday, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. Events similar to the rally in Boston are planned in Atlanta and Dallas on Saturday. Police in Boston and other cities are bracing for big crowds and vowing to prevent or quickly stop any violence.

“It’s important to stand up to white supremacy wherever it manifests,” said Marena Blanchard, a Portland organizer who co-founded For Us, By Us, a fund to support people of color in Maine. She is among several Mainers who said they are going to Boston to stand against hate.

Boston granted permission for a group called the Boston Free Speech Coalition to host a rally on the Common that a coalition leader has said could draw 1,000 people.

The group wrote on Facebook that they are not affiliated with the organizers of the Charlottesville Unite the Right gathering that attracted neo-Nazis last weekend. Participants are expected to come from Maine and other New England states, according to a Facebook page for the event.

“We are not associated with any alt-right or white supremacist groups, we are strictly about free speech,” the group said.

However, authorities are worried that the event will attract white nationalists, and the Boston-area leaders of Black Lives Matter have said they believe that the event really is about white supremacy. Counterprotesters are planning a 2-mile march from Roxbury to the Common that could draw 20,000 to 30,000 people.

Rochelle Greenwood, who lives in Wells, plans to attend the event with a handful of friends from New Hampshire. She said she’s a conservative and fierce believer in freedom of speech and was interested in hearing some of the speakers.

But after Charlottesville, Greenwood is worried about what she’ll encounter in Boston.

“If there’s violence, that’s just not something I want to be a part of,” she said.

Greenwood, 45, said she doesn’t want to raise her young children in a world where violence is normal. She denounced the actions of white supremacists last weekend, but also criticized Black Lives Matter protesters.

Other Mainers who signed up to attend the event on Facebook did not respond to messages Friday.

Meanwhile, progressive activists in Maine expect dozens of people from the state to be in Boston on Saturday as part of the counterprotests.

A group of women from local social justice groups – Mainers for Accountable Leadership, March Forth and the Maine chapter of the Women’s March on Washington – will travel down together. They hosted a news conference in Portland on Friday afternoon to promote a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $6,000 for Life After Hate, which helps people leave hate and white supremacy groups. Several of the women plan to meet and march with the leaders of Life After Hate in Boston.

“When we heard about what was happening in Boston, we felt like it was our responsibility to try to counter that with a compassionate response,” said Dini Merz, one of the founders of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.

The women reiterated that the protest is a peaceful one, but they are aware of the possibility of violence, especially after seeing the events unfold in Charlottesville last weekend. The city of Boston will have a large police presence at the event, and items such as backpacks and anything that could be used as a weapon have been banned.

“People of color every single day walk out of their houses and feel afraid,” said Jennifer Jones, who helped found an informal activist group called March Forth. “We don’t experience that as white women often. We don’t feel that it’s right to sit home in our safe little houses and watch what is going on in front of our TVs. We want to stand up.”

Some people have suggested that a counterprotest on the Common will only amplify any racist message that might be voiced at the rally. Genevieve Morgan, who was one of the Maine state organizers for the Women’s March on Washington, said she wondered the same thing.

But she said she still couldn’t be silent or stay home.

“I always asked myself, ‘What would I be doing in 1930s Germany,’ ” Morgan said.

There is no official count of people traveling from Maine to Boston for these events, but Jones guessed that as many as 200 people could be making the trip.

“I think there will be more of us than there are people preaching hate tomorrow,” she said.

Christine Baglieri of Lewiston, who is involved with the central Maine chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, said she also will participate in the counterprotest. She knows of several carloads of people from around the state who will be there as well.

“I think it’s really important that when people of color in a dangerous time like this put out a call, that we follow that leadership and show up for them,” Baglieri said.

Blanchard, the founder of For Us, By Us, said she is traveling to Boston as an individual to volunteer for Black Lives Matter and other organizations. She works in social justice and had no hesitation about joining the counterprotest.

“I’m not afraid,” she said. “I’m prepared.”

Blanchard said she hopes people in Maine think about how white supremacy is present in their communities and support initiatives led by people of color.

“It’s really important for people in Maine to start thinking about how they are going to work to eradicate white supremacy in the locations where they are, to start to think about how to see it,” Blanchard said. “A lot of times it’s invisible to white folks.”

Activists in Maine also are planning two local events this weekend in response to the violence in Charlottesville a week ago.

The southern Maine chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice has organized a solidarity march at 2 p.m. Saturday at John Paul Jones Park in Kittery, and the Maine People’s Alliance has planned a rally in Portland’s Payson Park at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/19/mainers-will-join-thousands-in-boston-to-condemn-racism/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1242915_386663-20170818_bostonrally.jpgVisible from left are Marie Follayttar Smith, co-founder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, with Susie Crimmins, Jennifer Jones and Dini Merz, also a co-founder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership. Multiple social justice groups from Maine will travel to Boston to take part in Saturday's rally, speaking out against hatred and white supremacy. Staff photo by Joel PageSat, 19 Aug 2017 11:40:56 +0000
New bookstore planned in Westbrook http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/17/new-bookstore-planned-in-westbrook/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/17/new-bookstore-planned-in-westbrook/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:47:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/17/new-bookstore-planned-in-westbrook/ Westbrook will soon have an independent bookstore, a coffee shop and bar – all rolled into one.

Quill Books and Beverage has announced plans to open in downtown Westbrook. The exact location is still not public as co-owners Matthew Irving and Allison Krzanowski finalize their lease, but they will host a used book sale at Mast Landing Brewing on Sunday to help with their startup costs.

“It’s going to be a pop-up bookstore,” Krzanowski said. “So they can expect to see the types of books at the prices we plan on selling for in the bookstore. They’ll get a feel for the selection we have.”

Irving and Krzanowski have never owned a bookstore before – she does social work and owns a business selling handwoven items, and he runs a bar in Portland. The idea was born when they bought a home in Westbrook last year.

“We wanted to meet other young people and meet people in the community and have a place people could gather,” she said. “We didn’t really find that, so we decided to create it.”

They hope to open Quill in late fall. The owners want the collection to reflect a diverse range of writers and experiences.

“We really want our entire community represented,” Krzanowski said. “LGBTQ people, people of color, Muslims, immigrants. We’ve been really working to have a finely curated collection.”

The store will sell books for all ages. Most will be priced from $6 to $8, though children’s and young adult books will cost $3 to $5.

The coffee shop will also serve beer and wine, and the menu will include breakfast and lunch items and evening snacks. Quill will host community events like book talks, poetry readings and art shows.

“We’re really trying to be a community focused space,” she said.

The business will need approval from the Westbrook Planning Board before it can open. The book sale at Mast Landing Brewing at 920 Main St. will last from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Updates about the store’s opening date and location will be shared on Quill’s Facebook page.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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Westbrook reverses decision to charge impact fees http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/15/westbrook-reverses-decision-to-charge-impact-fees/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/15/westbrook-reverses-decision-to-charge-impact-fees/#respond Tue, 15 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1240648 Westbrook will not charge fees based on a development’s impacts to the school and sewer system.

The decision is a reversal from last fall, when the Westbrook City Council expressed interest in the idea and planned to charge impact fees on all building projects with permits issued since Oct. 3.

The fees were popular among residents and officials concerned about the pace of growth in the city at a time when hundreds of housing units were proposed for Westbrook.

City staff spent months developing the formulas for the fees, which are designed to pay for new capacity needed as a result of a development. Under the system proposed, for example, the owner of a new three-bedroom house would need to pay a $3,245 school impact fee to offset the future costs of adding children to local classrooms.

But when the final proposals for those fees came before the City Council last week, the group rejected them. A majority of councilors said they were worried the fees would discourage families and businesses from moving to Westbrook.

“I think we’re making a serious mistake if we go any further with this,” Councilor Ann Peoples said.

Impact fees exist in varying forms in other communities, like Scarborough, Gorham and South Portland. Supporters who have spent the last year advocating for the fees and other changes related to residential development were disappointed in the council’s decision.

“I thought impact fees were a no brainer,” said Westbrook resident Flynn Ross, one of those supporters. “Communities all around us are doing it. There’s clearly infrastructure needs as a result of significant development, and now all of Westbrook’s taxpayers are going to have to absorb those infrastructure costs.”

MORATORIUM FAILS TO PASS

Last August, more than 400 residents signed a petition calling for a six-month moratorium on residential construction and a review of Westbrook’s land use ordinances.

They were worried the city couldn’t meet the needs of new housing developments. The largest was a sprawling subdivision on Spring Street called Blue Spruce Farm – nearly 200 single-family homes, condos and market-rate apartments. The neighborhood’s developer, Risbara Bros., wanted to build an expansion with more than 300 additional units. Another developer had proposed 96 new apartments across town. A few other projects were going up elsewhere in Westbrook – seven condos here, 20 duplexes there.

Not all those projects came to fruition as planned. For example, a legal dispute forced Risbara to scale back his project, which was ultimately approved as 110 apartments. But for months, residents spoke at meetings about the strain these housing projects would put on public schools and other infrastructure.

The City Council ultimately decided against the moratorium. But last fall, the group voted to study impact fees and proposed an effective date of Oct. 3. That meant any project with a building permit pulled after that date would be subject to those fees, including any expansion at Blue Spruce Farm.

The moratorium’s supporters considered that a victory, especially because the city did not pursue other changes to density and minimum lot size.

But now the effort to establish impact fees has failed as well.

“A lot of people are feeling pretty alienated that the system doesn’t work and doesn’t listen to us,” Ross said.

‘IT WAS A BIG SCARE FOR US’

Developers opposed impact fees from the beginning.

They have repeatedly cautioned the City Council that impact fees in Westbrook would send builders to other communities instead, and several people repeated those concerns at last week’s meeting.

David Elowitch, who helped redevelop the Maine Rubber Co. site and owns the neighboring building where Mast Landing Brewery operates, said impact fees would send Westbrook in “the wrong direction.”

“There are plenty of other communities businesses and developers can go to and bring their business to, and they’ll just avoid Westbrook,” Elowitch said.

The possibility of sewer impact fees drew concern from Mast Landing and Yes Brewing, which have both opened in Westbrook in the last two years. A brewery would pay a one-time sewer impact fee based on daily usage; for example, a brewery using 40,000 gallons a day like Sebago Brewing Co. in Gorham would pay nearly $190,000.

“It was a big of a scare for us,” said John Bigelow, one of the owners of Yes Brewing.

City Planner Jennie Franceschi said more than 60 homeowners would be subject to the proposed fees. While the city warned contractors about the potential impact fees, Franceschi said not all their buyers were aware of them.

“We will see a significant number of single-family homeowners who will be getting a bill that they were not anticipating at the time they purchased their homes,” Franceschi said.

Five people spoke at last week’s meeting, and four encouraged the council to abandon the impact fees.

“We’re going to quash everything that’s happening in our city,” said Deb Shangraw, president of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition. “We’re going to stop all growth.”

‘ANTE UP LIKE THE REST OF US HAVE”

The City Council did approve a general ordinance change that would allow Westbrook to charge impact fees in the future. That ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and a final vote Aug. 21. The ordinances for sewer and school impact fees will not move forward, however.

Not all members were opposed to the fees.

Council President Brendan Reilly attempted to refer the ordinances back to the planning board for further review, saying the fees were too high. But the other councilors did not support that idea.

The ordinance to charge school impact fees failed 5-2; the yes votes were Councilors Victor Chau and Gary Rairdon. The ordinance to establish sewer impact fees failed by the same margin; the yes votes were Rairdon and Councilor John O’Hara.

O’Hara said developers won’t come to Westbrook if the city isn’t investing in its infrastructure, and money from impact fees is needed to do that.

“All we’re asking them to do is ante up like the rest of us have,” O’Hara said. “No one gets a free seat at the table.”

Among the detractors were the two councilors elected in November – Ann Peoples and Lynda Adams. Neither was on the City Council during the original discussion about impact fees.

“I think this is a feel-good thing for people who didn’t like some stuff that was going on at the time,” Peoples said.

Adams was among the residents who called for impact fees last fall, but she said she has changed her mind.

“I do not want to be a deterrent to people moving into the city,” she said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/15/westbrook-reverses-decision-to-charge-impact-fees/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/08/1015233_861455-Westbrook3-e1471255253692.jpgWESTBROOK, ME - APRIL 14: Construction at Blue Spruce Farm in Westbrook. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)Mon, 14 Aug 2017 23:20:12 +0000
Portland rally in support of Charlottesville victims: ‘This affects everybody’ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/12/portland-rallies-for-charlottesville-victims/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/12/portland-rallies-for-charlottesville-victims/#respond Sun, 13 Aug 2017 00:34:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/12/portland-rallies-for-charlottesville-victims/ About 50 people gathered spontaneously Saturday in Portland to support the people killed and injured while peacefully protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Marie Follayttar Smith, one of the leaders of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, created a Facebook event for the rally Saturday evening, and within an hour, a small crowd began to gather on the Eastern Promenade. Jennifer Jones of Falmouth, another one of the organizers, said they felt the need to take action after seeing the news of the day’s violence.

“I got home and didn’t want to just sit there,” Jones said. “If we’re silent, we’re allowing this.”

Speakers address the crowd that turned out on the Eastern Prom in Portland to stand in solidarity with the victims of violence in Charlottesville, Va. One person was killed and more than two dozen injured after a car was driven into a crowd on a downtown street. Staff photo by Megan Doyle

The group slowly grew as the sun set. Young people led chants of “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” Two men held a large canvas painted with the words “Say No To Racism,” and passing cars honked. The participants shared a moment of silence and read a poem. They talked about the need to create a broad network for protests like this one.

“This affects everybody,” said Dylan Smith-Monahan, a 25-year-old from Portland who came to the rally with members of the International Socialist Organization. “We need a unified response to what’s happening.”

Amy Gaidis, 29, of Portland remembered attending her first protest in 2003 – an anti-Ku Klux Klan rally in Lewiston.

“When there are … people marching in the streets with swastikas, we have the responsibility to build a united front against that,” Gaidis said.

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Westbrook expects big impact from Maine Med’s arrival http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/07/westbrook-expects-big-impact-from-maine-medthe-hospital-wont-be-paying-any-taxes-but-the-economic-activity-of-500-new-workers-outweighs-that-officials-say/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/07/westbrook-expects-big-impact-from-maine-medthe-hospital-wont-be-paying-any-taxes-but-the-economic-activity-of-500-new-workers-outweighs-that-officials-say/#respond Mon, 07 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1236969 When Joe and Sue Salisbury bought the Daily Grind in Westbrook last year, they started watching open storefronts and thinking about expansion.

Then they heard Maine Medical Center had bought One Riverfront Plaza and planned to move 500 employees to the vacant office just across the Presumpscot River from their coffee drive-thru.

They knew it was time. The Daily Grind will open a sit-down shop next door to the drive-thru, which will stay open.

“When that building sold, we knew that Maine Med was going to be there for the long term, and we really needed to jump on this opportunity quickly,” Sue Salisbury said.

Since Maine Medical Center’s announcement, City Administrator Jerre Bryant said his office has received an uptick in calls from small-business owners like the Salisburys who are considering opening or expanding in Westbrook.

One Riverfront Plaza is the largest office building in downtown Westbrook and is assessed at more than $20 million. As a nonprofit, Maine Medical Center will not pay property taxes. Still, Westbrook officials say they are already seeing signs that the economic development benefits from the sale will be to the city’s advantage.

“In an ideal world, would it be a tax-paying entity?” Bryant said. “Of course. But in total, it’s a real positive impact.”

One Riverfront Plaza opened in 2004 with 134,000 square feet of high-end office space.

To encourage economic development downtown, the city created a tax-increment finance district, or TIF, for the building. That meant the owner would pay only a portion of the property taxes owed each year. In fiscal year 2017, city records show that payment was less than $80,000.

TIF districts have a limited lifespan, however, and this one will expire at the end of 2022. At that time, the property tax bill for One Riverfront Plaza would have increased by about $300,000 annually.

But the building has been vacant for almost two years.

Disability RMS, a disability insurance provider and one of Westbrook’s largest employers, left for South Portland when its lease expired in January 2016. The building’s owner, a New Jersey investment firm called Pendleton Westbrook SPE LLC, was in financial trouble. By August 2016, U.S. Bank filed a lawsuit against Pendleton over nonpayment of the $20 million mortgage. The building was listed for sale this spring. Maine Medical Center bought it for $9.2 million, less than half its assessed value, in June. The city was not a party to the deal.

Now the office building will become one of 120 tax-exempt properties in Westbrook.

Those parcels are wide-ranging in value and use. They include railroad lines, government buildings like the post office and property owned by the Portland Water District. Others are churches, cemeteries, private schools, fraternal organizations and nonprofits like the Animal Refuge League.

Together these properties were valued at slightly more than $90 million in 2016, which equaled less than 5 percent of the city’s total valuation.

In Portland, by comparison, more than 1,300 of roughly 24,000 real estate accounts are tax-exempt. They have a combined value of $1.9 billion, which equals 26 percent of the city’s taxable real estate this year. Maine Medical Center alone has 59 tax-exempt parcels with a combined value of $266 million.

In some towns or cities, nonprofits make payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs. For example, the Westbrook Housing Authority paid about $4.7 million to the city last year for four housing complexes, and Portland received a total of $640,000 last year from 10 organizations with PILOTs. However, Maine Medical Center does not have any PILOT agreements on any of its properties in the state.

Clay Holtzman, director of communications and public affairs at Maine Medical Center, said the 500 information services jobs moving to One Riverfront Plaza are permanent and high-paying. The benefits for the local community outweigh the lost tax revenue, he said.

“I think 500 people year-over-year working in Westbrook could generate that $80,000 in terms of consumer activity,” Holtzman said. “I think that’s a fair case that it would be bigger than $80,000.”

He also noted Maine Medical Center will lease an adjacent 540-space parking garage from the city. That lease costs $13,770 a month, or $165,240 per year.

“We think this is going to be an economic catalyst for downtown Westbrook,” Holtzman said.

The TIF established 15 years ago won’t ever pay out for the city, but Bryant said there are benefits beyond the municipal balance sheet.

“Economically, it’s a real driver,” Bryant said.

Local elected officials and business people seem to agree.

Mayor Mike Sanphy said he’s heard from several merchants who are excited about the influx of customers.

“It’s going to give downtown a shot in the arm,” Sanphy said.

Abigail Cioffi, executive director of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, said restaurants in particular see the potential for a lunchtime rush from One Riverfront Plaza. She is hopeful the move will draw more retail to the downtown area as well, like Lavish Earth, a holistic business and crystals store that just moved to 820 Main St. And she expects another announcement about a new business in the city center, but wouldn’t share more details yet.

“That built-in clientele (from Maine Medical Center) definitely helped push over this future business owner’s confidence in opening in the downtown,” Cioffi said.

In the meantime, the Daily Grind will open its sit-down shop at 820 Main St. The menu will expand to add soups and paninis to its current offering of breakfast sandwiches, fruit cups and coffee. The Salisburys hope to add evening hours with wine and beer in the future. The drive-thru, which is located immediately next door, will stay open.

“It’s definitely going to fill a need,” Sue Salisbury said.

When the Salisburys purchased the drive-thru from the former owner last year, he told them the departure of Disability RMS hurt the business. Now, they are looking forward to opening their shop in October, just in time for Maine Medical Center employees to arrive by the end of the year.

“It all came together as the perfect time to do this,” Salisbury said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/07/westbrook-expects-big-impact-from-maine-medthe-hospital-wont-be-paying-any-taxes-but-the-economic-activity-of-500-new-workers-outweighs-that-officials-say/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1236969_202717-20170804_Tax-Exemp3.jpgMaine Medical Center plans to move about 500 workers by the end of the year to the largest building in downtown Westbrook, One Riverfront Plaza, seen in the background across the Presumpscot River. That has sparked additional small-business activity in the city.Mon, 07 Aug 2017 11:47:08 +0000
Men have lion’s share of high-paid public jobs in Greater Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/06/men-have-lions-share-of-high-paid-public-jobs-in-greater-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/06/men-have-lions-share-of-high-paid-public-jobs-in-greater-portland/#respond Sun, 06 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1236480 In a dozen Greater Portland communities, the top executives in local government and public schools are almost exclusively male.

All 12 municipal managers are men. Only two of 12 superintendents are women.

While the gender disparity among the top public jobs is stark, women are gaining ground among the highest-paid employees in public education. In these 12 communities, 55 percent of those who made more than $100,000 last year were female.

But it’s a different story in local government, where the top wage earners are overwhelmingly men who work in police, fire, public works and administrative jobs. Only 19 percent of the municipal employees who took home more than $100,000 were women.

A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of 2016 public payrolls for more than 15,000 employees shows that Maine mirrors a national trend, where women are underrepresented in top jobs in the public sector and still make an average of 80 cents for every dollar paid to men.

People who work in Maine’s public sector say this imbalance is righting itself, though slowly.

“I think that, for women, at least Portland has been an opportunity to grow and get promoted,” said Anita LaChance, deputy city manager in Portland and one of the region’s top earners of any gender. “I pretty much got where I got by doing anything that needed to be done. We’re bigger, but I think the same opportunities should exist in smaller communities.”

138 EARN MORE THAN $100,000

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram this spring requested payroll records from calendar year 2016 in 12 communities – Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Saco, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth. The data reflect the actual amount of money each employee took home in a year, including overtime and other bonuses.

The newspaper’s analysis found that:

In these 12 communities, 138 people earned more than $100,000 last year. The list includes a range of positions – town and city managers, police and fire chiefs, superintendents, assistant superintendents and principals.

Of those people, 58 percent worked in public education, and 42 percent worked in municipal jobs.

Portland alone accounts for 39 employees earning at least $100,000, while neighboring Westbrook had just three.

Thirteen of the 138 people topped $100,000 because of overtime, which in some cases accounted for tens of thousands of dollars in earnings on top of salaries.

While the top-paid employee in each community made significantly more than the local median income, six made more than double that median. For example, Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray earned $141,547, about three times the city’s median income of $46,940.

Many of these top earners have had long careers in their fields. The highest-paid person in the area was the head of RSU 14 in Windham and Raymond – Superintendent Sanford Prince, who made $170,000 in 2016. He started in public education as a teacher in 1981 and has been the head of his district since 2003. While the other superintendents on the list have established careers in school administration, Prince has the most years of experience in his current job.

REFLECTION OF NATIONAL TRENDS

National data on pay and gender representation for these local-level positions are lacking.

A 2016 survey of about 900 cities and towns from the D.C.-based International City/County Management Association found that the national median for municipal top officers was $126,699. In the same year, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, surveyed about 1,300 district heads and reported that their national median salary was $130,683. The median salaries for city and town managers and school superintendents in Greater Portland are almost identical to those national medians.

ICMA also surveys its members about gender. Among roughly 7,000 ICMA members working in local governments full time, 30 percent are women. Among approximately 3,440 ICMA members who are the chief administrative officer of their town or city, just 15 percent are women.

“We know that women make up more than half of the assistant managers in local government, and yet women are still woefully behind in achieving the top job,” ICMA members Heidi Voorhees and Joellen Earl wrote in a blog post on the organization’s website.

AASA found the same challenge in school districts. A 2015 study found that women account for 27 percent of superintendents nationally, only a 2 percent increase in five years. In Greater Portland, that representation is even less, at 17 percent.

“This stands in direct contrast to the female-dominated teaching force,” a summary of the AASA study reads.

PLAYING TO WOMEN’S STRENGTHS

Still, women are better represented locally among the top earners in public education jobs than in municipal government.

In 2016, 44 women and 36 men working in public education in Greater Portland made more than $100,000. Most of the women on that list are school principals and assistant superintendents.

Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry is one of only two women in her position in the area. Perry’s salary came in at $138,537 – higher than Town Manager David Cole, who made $124,287. The other is Scarborough Superintendent Julie Kukenberger, whose salary is $135,000. She replaced George Entwistle last year.

Perry studied to be a high school history teacher and started her career as an educational technician in Cutler. Soon she was teaching middle school students at her small school in Washington County, then she got a superintendent job in Piscataquis County at 32. Back then, she knew few women among her peers in school administration.

“Because it was such a small school system located in a rural area, I was able to have that opportunity,” Perry said, explaining that she had been turned down for administrative jobs in other areas. “I think a lot of that was due to my youth and to some people’s perception that women may not have a strong understanding of finance and buildings and maintenance.”

In reality, Perry said, male and female educators face the same learning curve when they ascend to administrative roles. No one learns how to negotiate a union contract or plan for a school building project during their early teacher training.

“There’s some of those unwritten stereotypes that are underneath,” Perry said. “You have to be a little stronger in some of those areas.”

Now, Perry is in her 13th year as a superintendent and her third in Gorham. Female superintendents are more common, and she has organized a group of them that meets regularly in Portland or Auburn.

She said that shift might be a result of more modern ideas about leadership or the decline in the overall number of superintendent candidates. It might be related to the changes in the job itself.

“The superintendency before used to be more managerial – finance, budget, facilities and buildings,” she said. “Yes, you have to know how to do those things. Now it’s much more leadership and relationship building, and I think that plays to the strengths of women.”

MENTORS OFTEN HAVE BEEN MALE

The municipal side of the same 12 communities was dominated by men.

Only 11 women – 19 percent – were included in the 58 six-figure earners. All but two of those women worked in Portland. In most communities – Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Saco, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth – no women made the ranks of top earners in their city or town halls.

In smaller communities, the town manager was often the only person who made more than $100,000 in 2016. But women are represented in varying degrees among their department heads. Some towns have elevated women to management roles in as many as half of their departments.

For example, seven of Windham’s 14 departments are led by women. Other towns had only a small number of women in those roles. In Saco, just two of 14 current department heads are female. The finance director position is vacant, but the tax collector in that office is also a woman. LaChance, who earned $142,490 in 2016, got an internship at the city of Portland when she was studying political science at the University of Southern Maine in the 1970s. She came back to work for the city after she graduated and has held various management roles in Portland over her career. Since 2015, she has been the deputy city manager.

Portland City Hall is a more diverse place now, she said, but all of her early mentors were men. LaChance credited them for giving her opportunities to challenge herself and advance. She remembered an assistant city manager leaving on vacation when she was a new employee in her 20s. He pointed to the inbox on his desk and encouraged her to tackle whatever she wanted to while he was gone.

“There were literally no women in leadership when I started, no department heads,” LaChance said.

Laurie Smith earned a degree in public administration and got her first town management job in Boothbay in 1988. She worked in a handful of communities – Oxford, Boothbay Harbor, Auburn, Wiscasset – before her current position as the town manager of Kennebunkport. The coastal York County town is just outside the Greater Portland region analyzed for this report.

Early on, she didn’t notice the presence or lack of women in her chosen field. An ICMA survey introduced her to the term “glass ceiling.” As she got older, she felt more aware of her gender. Interviewers, for example, often asked her about her plans for childrearing.

“When I started, I’d go into a meeting time and time again, and I’d be the only woman,” said Smith, who is also president of the Maine Municipal Association.

Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow said she was fortunate that her first mentor made sure his office included a mix of men and women.

“When I started, you’d see women city clerks that really functioned as the manager but didn’t have the title,” Conlow said. “Now they have the title.”

Both women said balancing families with the demands of their jobs has been difficult over the years. Conlow suggested that some might delay advancement in their jobs until their children are grown.

“That is a challenge for a lot of women who want to continue to push their way up the ranks,” Conlow said.

FEMALE POLICE ARE ESSENTIAL

Recruiting women to male-dominated fields such as public safety and public works is also a challenge.

These positions are often well-paid and include opportunities for overtime. They involve physical labor once considered off-limits to women, although gender is no longer seen as a barrier to jobs in police, fire or public works. But high-level positions in those departments also require years of experience, so applicants often started their careers when even fewer women were present in police and fire stations.

Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts is the only woman in her position in the 12 Greater Portland communities.

Roberts decided that she wanted to be a police officer at a young age and started her career at the Portland Police Department in 1985. She said she was the department’s first female sergeant and one of the first female lieutenants.

To critics who consider police work to be a man’s job, Roberts said she has seen both men and women succeed in the field – and she has seen both men and women struggle.

“There is certainly a level of physical ability and agility that you need,” Roberts said. “There’s also communication. There’s also relationship building. There’s intelligence. There’s multi-tasking. There’s a lot of different skills that go into being a police officer in today’s world.”

Roberts remembers being passed over for promotions by less senior male officers. She said she always sought out feedback so she could improve her work and be chosen next time. Sometimes, she got tangible and helpful responses; other times, she did not.

Today, the chief said she tries to take time to mentor prospective officers and talk with her officers about their professional goals.

“If our leaders buy into the equal and fair career development approach, we effectively end the gender dynamic,” she said.

Police Chief Ed Tolan of Falmouth, who is also president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said he sees more women entering the academy and then the higher ranks of local departments. In part, he said he thinks that increase is tied to a greater number of criminal justice programs in the state.

This trend is positive, he said, because female officers are crucial in many law enforcement situations.

“Certainly a male officer can’t really search a female arrestee,” Tolan said. “And think about sexual assault. If you’re a woman and you’re the victim of the sexual assault, do you want to talk to a male police officer? Probably not.”

Across the board, local officials said drawing more young men and women to the public sector is crucial to evening out the gender imbalance.

“We need enough women in these professions to begin with,” said Smith, the Kennebunkport town manager. “You could have a group of 40 police officers, and how many of those would make a good chief? Now how many of those are going to be a woman and make a good chief? It’s just a numbers game. By attracting more women to these general professions, you open these doors.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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How the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram collected payroll data http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/03/notes-on-payrolls-and-how-we-collected-the-data/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/03/notes-on-payrolls-and-how-we-collected-the-data/#respond Thu, 03 Aug 2017 21:05:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1235199 Reporters from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram this spring requested payroll records from 12 governments and public school districts in the greater Portland region.

Those communities included Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Saco, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth. The newspaper analyzed these public records to identify trends, such as overtime spending and gender representation among top earners.

The newspaper used these records to compile a sortable list of public employees making more than $100,000 each year. The data reflect the actual amount of money each employee took home in a year. It excludes some people who have six-figure salaries but only worked part of the fiscal year. For example, Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana has an annual salary of more than $148,000, with a possible performance bonus of $7,400. But he didn’t start his job until July 1, so he took home slightly less than $69,000 during 2016. He will be one of the top earners in 2017, when he receives a full year of pay.

The newspaper requested these earnings reports in a flexible electronic format, such as in an Excel spreadsheet. Where possible, those spreadsheets have been converted to databases that can be easily searched and sorted.

Not all communities were able to comply with that request, however; some records have been published as PDF documents that can be viewed but not sorted. The one exception is the record provided by the Gorham school department, which was not suitable to be published in any format.

The data also account for extra earnings such as overtime, stipends and retirement payouts.

 

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Four Westbrook on-call fire/police staffers quit http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/27/four-westbrook-on-call-firepolice-staffers-quit/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/27/four-westbrook-on-call-firepolice-staffers-quit/#respond Fri, 28 Jul 2017 02:55:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/27/four-westbrook-on-call-firepolice-staffers-quit/ Almost half of an on-call team in the Westbrook Fire Department has quit suddenly, a possible consequence of a rift between full-time and hourly personnel.

Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte confirmed four of the nine people in the fire/police division have resigned since last week. That group typically helps as needed with traffic control at the scene of car accidents, during bad weather or at parades. While the members usually respond from home, the division is allotted common space and equipment storage at the city’s main public safety building.

The resignations followed a Westbrook City Council workshop last week, when Mayor Mike Sanphy proposed giving the fire/police division and the 13-person call company their own building.

“There’s a great deal of dissatisfaction among the members of the call company and the fire/police with the current arrangement,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said at the meeting.

The new home proposed for the fire/police division and the call company is a former fire station at 41 Cumberland St. The property is owned by the Sappi paper mill, and it was given to the city to be used for municipal purposes. Fire crews moved out of that building when the existing public safety complex was built. It has since been used by the sewer department, which will soon move to the city’s new public works building. If vacated, the property will return to Sappi.

Sanphy suggested moving the home base for on-call personnel and their equipment to the former fire station. The city does not yet have an estimate of the repairs needed for the groups to occupy the building, though Sanphy said members of the call companies offered to do the labor themselves or pursue grants to cover the cost.

But several councilors objected to the idea.

Councilor John O’Hara said the city asked residents to pay for construction of a public safety building so Westbrook’s public safety services could come under one roof.

“I am in no way supporting the idea of opening another station at 41 Cumberland St.,” he said. “I don’t want to spend one more dime down there. It’s time to get out and shut the door and don’t look back.”

Attempts to reach the members of the fire/police division were not successful Thursday. A public records request for copies of the resignation letters has not yet been fulfilled. The mayor was in the call company until 2003 but declined to detail the causes of dissatisfaction for his former group.

“I feel kind of sad that it’s gone to where it’s gone, but I can’t speak for the individuals,” he said.

Turcotte said he has met with two of the four people who resigned.

“The two that I had a chance to meet with post-resignation stated they were leaving because they just didn’t have enough time to commit to the agency,” Turcotte wrote in an email Thursday. “Both of these individuals had been talking about leaving for many months.”

Turcotte said the department will work to fill the newly vacant positions. Members of the fire/police division are paid between $10 and $12.28 per hour.

“These resignations will not disrupt the department’s ability to respond to emergency calls for services or impact our delivery of those services to the community,” he said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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Maine agency resettles half as many refugees as expected http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/25/maine-catholic-charity-resettles-half-as-many-refugees-as-expected/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/25/maine-catholic-charity-resettles-half-as-many-refugees-as-expected/#respond Tue, 25 Jul 2017 17:17:52 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/25/maine-catholic-charity-resettles-half-as-many-refugees-as-expected/ President Trump’s changes to immigration policies has cut in half the number of refugee resettlements expected in Maine this year, according to Catholic Charities of Maine.

The organization said it had planned to resettle 685 refugees in fiscal year 2017, which ends in September. But earlier this year, the president reduced the annual cap on the number of refugees allowed in the United States from 110,000 to 50,000.

As a result, Catholic Charities said only about 300 refugees have arrived in Maine since the fiscal year started in October. Roughly 50 more people are expected in the next two months.

“It would be a direct consequence of the change in policy at the federal level,” said Judy Katzel, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Maine.

Trump lowered the cap in January in an executive order, which also sought to temporarily ban the entry of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries and suspend the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 days. Multiple versions of that order have been blocked by federal courts, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case this fall. In the meantime, the justices ruled a scaled-back version could take effect, which allowed the 50,000-person cap to stand.

The Washington Post reported the country surpassed that limit earlier this month, though the Supreme Court’s order will still allow some refugees with family ties to be resettled in the United States.

“Just by virtue of cutting the overall number in half, most resettlement agencies are going to see a lower number,” Katzel said.

The organization is on track to see its lowest annual number of resettlements in five years. Last year, Catholic Charities resettled 642 refugees in Maine; the year before, 425. Traditionally, refugees come to Maine from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

As a result, some staff members at Catholic Charities have been shifted to other programs inside the organization.

“We have already made staffing decisions based around the lower number,” Katzel said. “For us in Maine, we were probably luckier than most, because Catholic Charities has other programs that serve the refugee community, like our language partners program.”

It is still unclear where the president might set the cap for fiscal year 2018.

“I don’t think we really know until we get some additional information at the federal level,” Katzel said. “There’s really no way to tell.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/25/maine-catholic-charity-resettles-half-as-many-refugees-as-expected/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/11/757414_113531_20151122_refugees__5.jpgThis sign on Congress Street drew together in a memorable encounter several people concerned about refugees’ plight, a reader writes.Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:36:24 +0000
For Mr. and Mrs. Fish, it’s time for a sea change http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/for-mr-and-mrs-fish-its-time-for-a-sea-change/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/for-mr-and-mrs-fish-its-time-for-a-sea-change/#respond Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229737 SOUTH PORTLAND — The giggles began when Jeff Sandler strolled into the classroom wearing a white wig and a robe decorated with yellow lightning bolts.

“Oh yes, it’s me, your basic storm,” he said. “I have everything a storm needs.”

Children in the audience tittered from their cross-legged positions on the floor.

“Lightning,” he said, waving a yellow bolt in the air. “Wind,” he cried, exhaling a loud breath. “Thunder,” he shouted, dancing as he sang, “Boom-ba-da-boom-ba-da-boom.”

“And what’s a storm without lots of rain and big waves?” he said, spritzing water under his armpits with a spray bottle.

The giggles gave way to raucous laughter.

Jeff is better known to his audience as Mr. Fish, and his wife, Deb Sandler, is Mrs. Fish. They are the founders and anchors of Fish Camp, a marine education summer camp at Southern Maine Community College.

Fish Camp has been an institution in South Portland for 39 years, and this summer will be its last. The Sandlers will continue to make educational visits to schools and aquariums, but at ages 69 and 67, respectively, Mr. and Mrs. Fish have decided to close the camp.

As many as 400 children aged 7 to 13 years old have visited Fish Camp in a summer, and the couple has lost count of the total over four decades.

“Many thousands,” Jeff said.

•••••

Jeff and Deb met in Portland in their 20s when they were both involved in what became the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Commercial Street. They wanted to teach children about the ocean, and in 1978, they began to host school groups in a classroom at Southern Maine Community College.

They called themselves “Mr. and Mrs. Fish,” but they didn’t get along at first.

“The two of us were sort of thrown together, both thinking we would be the boss,” Deb said.

But they fell in love, married and later had a daughter and named her Coral. They starred in three local TV specials and learned how to make costumes. Silly skits and homemade costumes are still the foundation of their program. Their shows teach children about ocean creatures – Jeff wears a starfish costume; and clean water – Jeff dresses up as a giant water drop; and tidal pools – Jeff is the storm attempting to disrupt the creatures in the pool.

Eleven-year-old Tony Reiling, right, of New Gloucester plays a sea urchin in a camp skit with Mr. Fish, aka Fish Camp co-founder Jeff Sandler, who’s in the role of “your basic storm.”

By 1980, they were visiting schools five days a week. They began to train aquarium staff across the country to use creative dramatics for educational purposes. They have received awards from organizations that include the Gulf of Maine Marine Educators Association, the National Marine Educators Association and the National Water Environment Federation.

They have since taken their shows to 20 countries and territories, from Japan to American Samoa to the Middle East. Their office in South Portland is papered with ads for their shows – the yellowing poster from their first assembly at Reiche Elementary School in Portland, a newspaper clipping from Massachusetts, a poster from Las Vegas, a hand-drawn flier for the Mr. & Mrs. Fish 1985 Turks & Caicos Tour, a Scottish ad for Mr. and Mrs. Fish “returning to Edinburgh by popular demand.”

But every summer, they have returned to their classroom near Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse for Fish Camp.

“What we’re most proud of is the work we can do here with kids locally,” Jeff said. “This is our home.”

•••••

Tuesday at Fish Camp started with free time.

The Sandlers are running three two-week sessions and one one-week session this summer. As many as 100 children sign up for each session; the cost to attend is $675 for two weeks and $375 for one week.

Kids arrive at 9 a.m. to join a game of four square, draw a picture for the camp’s gallery wall or pluck creatures from the tide pools. As Jeff and Deb prepare for their day, children run into their office with drawings of sharks or wriggling crabs found in the pools. Deb puts on her glasses to inspect the findings in one boy’s Tupperware. Her earrings – large green fish – dangle.

“Go put it in the bucket,” she tells him.

They gather the children together for a morning meeting. Deb displays the morning’s tide pools for the kids, including the contents of the boy’s Tupperware. It turns out to be a green crab, and she tells her audience they can be identified by the number of ridges on their shells – five, like the number of letters in the word “green.” Hands shoot in the air to identify a scallop shell, and everyone applauds when one camper successfully identifies the difference between female and male crabs.

Jeff leads a puppet show and then disappears to change into his thunderstorm costume. Deb dresses campers in costumes to represent the life in a tide pool – a mussel, a barnacle, a sea urchin and a piece of seaweed. She is animated as she describes each one, and she uses plungers and props to act out the ways they hang on to the rocks when a storm comes through.

“Mia is going to be a sea creature that loves the sunshine,” Deb says. “She’s right out there in the open on top of the rocks. You can see her all the time when you go to the tide pools. She’s going to be small and white, look like a miniature volcano, and she’s going to be called a …”

“Barnacle,” the audience chimes in.

The campers accept their roles solemnly and listen to their instructions, but when Jeff appears as a thunderstorm, they can’t hide their grins behind their costumes.

•••••

Still smiling, the campers head outside for games. They mimic jellyfish with giant parachutes, play a game of kickball with staff who are dressed as clownish zombies and throw water balloons as a sandcastle city.

Some kids met Mr. and Mrs. Fish at school. Luke Gagne, 10, begged his mom to send him to Fish Camp after Mr. and Mrs. Fish visited his class in Cape Elizabeth.

“Mr. and Mrs. Fish came in when I was in kindergarten, and I liked them a lot,” Luke said.

Others are the children of Fish Campers from years past. Caroline Granata, 15, and her brother Braden Paradis, 7, said their grandfather worked at the camp when it first opened. Their mom and aunt attended as children and returned as counselors. This year, Caroline is a counselor too. Their cousin, Reese Schaiberger, 9, came from Massachusetts to join Braden as a camper.

It was early in their two-week session, but they are looking forward to ghost stories at the lighthouse, digging for clams, field trips for ice cream and the night when everyone stays until 8 p.m. for a talent show. They love the range of voices Mr. and Mrs. Fish do during the skits.

“We learned – what was the one that could move backwards?” Braden asked.

“A scallop,” Caroline reminded him.

Stephanie Howard, 42, lives in Massachusetts but brings her family to her childhood home in Cape Elizabeth in the summer. Three of her four children will attend Fish Camp this summer, just like she did.

“The fourth child, she’s too little, so she’ll miss the whole Fish Camp experience,” Howard said. “I was heartbroken.”

Many of the songs and skits Howard saw as a child are still part of Fish Camp. The kindness she remembers from Mr. and Mrs. Fish hasn’t changed either.

“There’s so much technology and sports year round,” Howard said. “It’s so nice to have one that’s just old-school camp. Mr. and Mrs. Fish, they are incredibly kind and energetic people. I think the one thing that really stands out about them is they are truly able to see the best in every child.”

Many campers return year after year. Sophia Gavin, 9, from Portland, rattled off the list of things she had missed since last summer – her friends, the guinea pigs, the counselors and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Fish.

“They make it more fun than a teacher standing up there just saying, ‘Now we have to learn about the habitats,'” Gavin said.

And almost every counselor and staff member is a former camper.

Molly Brenerman, 26, has been coming to Fish Camp as a camper and then a counselor since she was 7 years old. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine in May and plans to be a teacher, but she had to come back for the last summer in South Portland.

“Fish Camp teaches you a lot about the ocean, but it also teaches you to be kind to other people,” she said. “Fish Camp inspired me to want to be a teacher.”

•••••

The announcement of Fish Camp’s final summer has inspired notes from former campers and parents.

Jeff has collected them in his office.

“Fish camp is a topic of conversation all year,” one parent wrote. “There are many Maine-made marine biologists and naturalists” because of Fish Camp, another said.

Jeff’s eyes had turned red, and he wiped a tear.

“That makes me cry,” he said.

Mr. and Mrs. Fish will continue to make appearances at schools, aquariums and other camps. But the Sandlers are ready for their first summer off in more than 40 years.

“I’m going to sail a lot,” Deb said. “I have a Sailfish I don’t have the energy to use until the end of the summer.”

They know, however, that their lives will be quieter without the camp. Deb said she will miss leading silly songs every day.

“I really enjoy singing with the kids,” she said.

Jeff will miss another sound.

“Kids laughing,” Jeff said. “I really love the sound of kids laughing.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/for-mr-and-mrs-fish-its-time-for-a-sea-change/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1229737_832398-20170711_FishCamp2.jpgEleven-year-old Tony Reiling, right, of New Gloucester plays a sea urchin in a camp skit with Mr. Fish, aka Fish Camp co-founder Jeff Sandler, who's in the role of "your basic storm."Fri, 21 Jul 2017 23:47:06 +0000
State’s newspapers bucking trend toward chain ownership http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/maines-newspapers-bucking-national-trend-toward-chain-ownership/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/maines-newspapers-bucking-national-trend-toward-chain-ownership/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227862 In less than two weeks, one man will own four of Maine’s seven daily newspapers and more than a third of its weekly newspapers.

Reade Brower’s announcement Monday that he will buy Sun Media Group, the company that publishes Lewiston’s Sun Journal and a host of weekly newspapers, comes as sales and ownership consolidation are increasingly common in the industry around the nation. Brower already owns MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald and its sister papers, and four weekly papers in midcoast Maine.

But even as more of Maine’s newspapers come under Brower’s control, the deal also is an example of how the state’s media market is bucking the national trend. While buyers in most of the country are large chains or investment groups, Brower is a resident of Camden who owns media companies in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“You’ve had more of an independent newspaper environment in Maine,” said Penny Abernathy, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism.

CONSOLIDATION, 900 FEWER OWNERS

A UNC study found that more than a third of the country’s newspapers have changed ownership since 2004, and that some sold more than once in that period.

“Today there are at least 600 fewer newspapers and almost 900 fewer owners than in 2004,” the study states. “Circulation has dropped 25 percent. As newspapers and owners fell by the wayside – and circulation declined along with profits – consolidation in the industry increased. The largest chains grew even larger, as a new type of owner emerged.”

By 2014, investment companies owned more than 1,000 of the newspapers included in the study – a nearly threefold increase from 10 years earlier – and 47 percent of the total. The largest of these companies in 2017 is New Media/GateHouse, which owns more than 450 newspapers, according to an update of the UNC study released in March.

But GateHouse only owns three newspapers in Maine – weeklies in York County. Two daily newspapers – the Journal Tribune in Biddeford and the Times Record in Brunswick – and a handful of weeklies in southern Maine are owned by the Pennsylvania-based Sample News Group. The Bangor Daily News and its affiliated weekly newspapers are still family-owned. The majority of Brower’s holdings are in the state, and as many as two dozen Maine weeklies not under his ownership are still run by families, local chains or independent owners.

Abernathy, who authored the study, suggested Maine has avoided a heavy national influence in part because the state did not have a large number of newspapers to begin with.

“A lot of the large investment entities like GateHouse, they were built as papers filed for bankruptcy,” she said. “They tended to go in and buy whole chains. You haven’t had a lot of that.”

Maine also has a smaller and more geographically scattered population than a state like Massachusetts, where national chains have a more significant presence.

“These chain owners like to have large groups of papers in one geographic cluster, and the population of Maine being what it is, you can’t really put together a particularly large cluster,” said Dan Kennedy, a media commentator and associate professor at Northeastern University.

EFFICIENCIES IMPORTANT TO SURVIVAL

Still, Brower soon will own a significant share of Maine’s media market.

To the Costello family, which has operated the Sun Media Group for more than a century, that wasn’t a deterrent for the sale.

“In order to meet the changing demands in the digital world we live in, you need scale to do that,” said Steve Costello, the company’s vice president of advertising and marketing. “Community journalism is the backbone of what our democracy was built on. … It will enable the local press to continue.”

As national chains have scooped up local newspapers, they have typically cut staff and consolidated publications to save money. Media industry experts said they would watch for the same trend as so many of Maine’s newspapers come under one person, even if that person is local.

“When you put together a group like this, you’re looking for various economic efficiencies,” Kennedy said. “I would hope that one of those efficiencies won’t be eliminating the positions of reporters, editors and photographers. That’s what I would be watching.”

When the sale was announced Monday, editors at the Sun Journal and the Forecaster weeklies said they hope a sense of competition will remain between the papers despite a common owner. Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at Poynter Institute, said that is possible. For example, in North Carolina, the national company McClatchy owns the Raleigh News & Observer and last year purchased its competitor, the Herald-Sun of Durham. The papers have remained separate, Edmonds said.

But Edmonds is interested to see the ways in which the newspapers collaborate with each other as well.

“They can do that without sacrificing their independence,” he said. “If we can make papers stronger by sharing content, I’d be kind of curious to see how it plays out.”

NEW OWNER PLEDGE TO EMPLOYEES

All of the papers at the Sun Media Group will continue publishing when the sale closes Aug. 1. Employee contracts were not part of the transaction, but it is anticipated that most, if not all, of Sun Media Group’s 225 employees will be rehired for their current jobs and pay rates. Brower said Monday that he wanted to reassure employees that their lives would not change dramatically.

“I don’t believe in cut and slash,” Brower said in an interview with the Press Herald. “I think that’s one of the reasons why the Costellos were looking at an organization like ours to lead (Sun Media Group) forward. … We’re not going to do anything to disrupt the autonomy.”

At newspapers that Brower has acquired in the past two years, editors said that promise has held up.

Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of the Press Herald, described Brower as “a hands-off owner.” When Brower bought MaineToday Media in 2015, almost every employee was rehired.

“He’s committed to our mission of watchdog journalism and understands that requires resources to do it well,” Schechtman wrote in an email.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR NEWSPAPERS

Last year, Brower and investor Chip Harris also bought two family-owned newspapers in Vermont – the Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Rob Mitchell, general manager of the Rutland Herald, said his family had owned the papers for more than 70 years before the sale. Some employees left because of earlier financial trouble and a small number of positions were eliminated, but Mitchell said the staff has been stable since September.

“It’s definitely a time in newspapers when you’ve got to be as efficient and lean as you can be, but he has also not gone the route of so many other papers where you’re cutting so much you destroy the product,” Mitchell said of Brower.

Experts said the challenges of the newspaper industry make the future difficult to predict.

“By creating a larger Maine group, it’s possible that he will be able to offer something that is more attractive to advertisers, and therefore, that would benefit readers and employees alike,” Kennedy said. “It’s possible that he’s trying some kind of consolidation so that he can turn it around and sell it to somebody like GateHouse.”

But Kennedy said his impression is that Brower has been a good steward of his newspapers.

“He may be determined to be the last guy standing in Maine,” Kennedy said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/maines-newspapers-bucking-national-trend-toward-chain-ownership/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1227862_547421_readebrower0004.jpgREADE BROWERWed, 19 Jul 2017 05:55:38 +0000