Business – Press Herald Wed, 13 Dec 2017 14:52:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Maine pays private Ohio firm to fill snowplow jobs Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The state is paying private contractors to drive plow trucks and work on road crews in an effort to overcome a chronic shortage of full-time transportation workers in southern Maine.

Roughly 24 contractors are expected to work for Maine Department of Transportation road crews in Freeport, Alfred and Yarmouth through October 2018. The department has had difficulty recruiting and keeping workers in York and Cumberland counties, where a strong economy is siphoning current and potential employees into better-paying municipal and private-sector jobs. The department has about 50 openings.

“We struggled last year to keep plow truck drivers in the seat in the two most populated counties in Maine,” said Dale Doughty, the transportation department’s director of maintenance and operations. “We want to provide the public with the level of service they demand.”

First Vehicle Services, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, was awarded a contract in September to provide 10 year-round hourly workers in both Freeport and Alfred, with a provision to expand to 40 more workers. The department has already asked for four more workers based in Yarmouth.

Contractors use state equipment, vehicles and supplies and are supervised by state employees. First Vehicle Services is a subsidiary of the international transportation company FirstGroup.

The contract can be extended to four years and allows the state to increase or decrease the number of workers it needs, Doughty said.

“The idea is that if things change, it is all reversible,” he said. “We are doing things so we can adjust if we need to.”

Under the terms of the contract, First Vehicle Services is paid $39.87 an hour per worker for a 40-hour work week and $45.80 an hour for overtime.

“That is to the company, not the individual,” Doughty said of the hourly payments. “I don’t know what they pay their people exactly, but it is much less than that.” So far, First Vehicle Services hasn’t been able to fill all the jobs requested, Doughty said.

The company did not respond to an email asking how much crews are paid and whether it had been able to hire enough workers to fill the contract.

MDOT has struggled to adequately staff its highway crews for the past few years. Of the roughly 50 full-time open positions it has now, about half are in southern Maine, Doughty said. The department’s statewide wage range of $13.54 to $18.46 an hour is less than what is offered for municipal crews, private companies and the Maine Turnpike Authority. Hourly wages don’t include compensation such as health care and retirement benefits, or the $1,000 annual winter snowfighter allowance paid to all plow drivers. The department employed roughly 1,150 highway workers last year.

The median wage for a highway maintenance worker is almost $17 in Cumberland County and nearly $21 an hour in York County, according to the Maine Department of Labor. MDOT isn’t allowed to unilaterally offer raises, which have to go through complicated union and legislative negotiations, Doughty said.

Ginette Rivard, interim executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, which represents MDOT highway workers, said the union doesn’t support contracting full-time road crews.

“We would like to see trained and qualified workers stay,” she said. A bill that would have raised the starting hourly wage by $2 was voted down by the Legislative Council and won’t be heard in the new legislative session in January, Rivard said.

“That would have gone a long way to resolve some of the recruitment and retention issues,” she said.

Although the state offers good benefits, some drivers might be attracted to the better wages they can make in the private sector, without the aggravation and stress of winter plowing, Doughty said.

“We have people who leave here and go work for construction for half a year. They really just want cash,” Doughty said.

Ideal staffing is two drivers per plow truck, in order to keep crews fresh and alert during long hours behind the wheel, Doughty said.

To overcome staffing problems in southern Maine last year, the department resorted to bringing in reinforcements from outside the region and putting supervisors and managers behind the wheel during back-to-back storms.

“Our primary mission is to keep the public safe,” Doughty said.

“There is no profession that is more important than this profession,” he said. “That is what drives us. It is partly about being something that is really important to society.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0, 13 Dec 2017 06:22:22 +0000
Legislative committee dives into another go at recreational marijuana bill Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 State lawmakers are launching a new effort to overhaul Maine’s recreational pot law in January, hoping to find a political compromise to avoid another gubernatorial veto.

The committee charged with launching the state’s commercial adult-use market already has reintroduced the bill that Gov. Paul LePage vetoed last month, changing just a few of the dates to reflect the delay caused by the veto. The committee will hold the first hearing on the bill on Jan. 5 and use that testimony to help decide what other parts of the old bill need to be changed, said Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, the committee’s House chair.

The committee didn’t want to start over from scratch, but members realize they must seek a compromise that LePage, who vetoed their last bill, and House Republicans, who sustained LePage’s veto, can tolerate, Pierce said. She and her co-chair, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, are scheduling a meeting now with the top House Republican, Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport, and even have reason to believe LePage is willing to talk with them.

“We wanted to get right back to work,” Pierce said. “Every day we delay is one more day the black market is thriving, one more day we’re not protecting our kids and one more day we are not giving our communities the direction they want. We must find compromise. It’s important that we are all at the table when we’re doing this work. It is the only way it can work.”


The previous version of the recreational cannabis bill was approved by the House and Senate in October, but it fell 17 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override LePage’s veto last month. A vote tally showed the bill had actually lost support over the two weeks between the first vote and the override vote. Although some people from both parties crossed lines, House Republicans essentially upheld LePage’s veto.

In his veto letter, LePage rejected the committee’s first bill as risky, inconsistent and rushed. When asked what parts of the bill the governor believes need more attention, a LePage spokeswoman contacted Tuesday referred a reporter to the veto letter.

In it, LePage said the committee’s bill puts Maine in conflict with federal law, fails to address shortcomings in the medical marijuana program, creates a confusing regulatory system, sets an unrealistic time line for launching the new market and might not generate enough tax revenue to cover the cost of implementation or regulation.

After lawmakers sustained LePage’s veto, Fredette warned that to get the support of LePage and House Republicans, any new adult-use bill would have to get tougher on people who drive high, crack down on loopholes in the medical marijuana program, and kill a tax-sharing provision for towns that host recreational growing operations or retail stores. He said bill supporters would have known this if they had bothered to consult with LePage or Fredette during the bill-writing process.

His criticism stung Pierce and Katz, who say they had repeatedly invited LePage and his administration to testify during the bill drafting process with little success. Some of Fredette’s demands, such as a scientific test to identify marijuana impairment, has yet to be developed anywhere. Some tests measure different types of chemical compounds found in marijuana but don’t necessarily indicate how long ago a driver used pot, or if the driver is impaired, she said.

All but one of the House Republicans on the committee that drafted the bill rallied behind it, Pierce noted.

Fredette didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Some marijuana advocacy groups seemed ready to work with House Republicans to draft a compromise bill.

“We will continue to engage the Legislature to pass sensible regulations that establish Maine’s new marijuana market in a timely manner,” said David Boyer, director of the state chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the committee bill. “We hope that members of the Legislature who voted against the … bill will participate in the public hearing so their concerns can be directly addressed.”


Other marijuana advocacy groups had hoped LePage’s sustained veto might kill attempts to overhaul the referendum approved by voters in November 2016, and let those regulations be fully implemented. The Legislature delayed the launch of commercial cultivation, processing and sales of adult-use cannabis until at least February, but allowed adult Mainers to start growing, possessing and gifting small amounts of pot for personal use last January.

The Legislature is likely to extend the moratorium again, as neither Democratic nor Republican legislative leaders are keen to allow the referendum to go into full effect.

Until the Legislature passes a licensing bill that allows legal sales, Mainers can continue to exploit a loophole that allows someone growing cannabis legally under the personal-use law to give pot to another adult for free but then charge them for some ancillary product or service, such as the baggie holding their pot gift or the concert ticket that gets them into the event where pot is being gifted.

Maine will also continue to forgo the licensing fees and tax revenues from the cultivation, processing and sale of adult-use marijuana. Estimates on the amount Maine stands to make varies. The referendum calls for a 10 percent retail sales tax, while the committee’s reintroduced bill calls for a 10 percent excise tax and a 10 percent retail sales tax. Total tax revenue estimates ranged from $10 million to $27.7 million a year, once the market matures.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

]]> 0, ME - FEBRUARY 28: Co-chairs of The Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, left, and Rep Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, listen to testimony on Tuesday Feb. 28, 2017 at the Cross State Office Building in Augusta. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)Tue, 12 Dec 2017 23:57:21 +0000
Some of Facebook’s creators and early investors slam how it addicts users Wed, 13 Dec 2017 02:28:35 +0000 NEW YORK – Some of Facebook’s former friends are starting to express some serious doubts about the social network they helped create.

Facebook exploits a “vulnerability in human psychology” to addict its users, Sean Parker, the company’s first president, said in a public forum last month. Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook vice president who joined the company in 2007, recently told an audience at Stanford that the company is “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

And Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist and early investor in both Facebook and Google, wrote that both companies “threaten public health and democracy” in an August USA Today op-ed.

It has been a rough year for the tech industry, especially social media companies. It opened with concerns about fake news and “filter bubbles” that can shield people from contrary beliefs, segued into pressure on Facebook and Twitter to clamp down on trolling and online harassment, and culminated with hearings into Russian agents’ alleged use of their platforms to meddle with the 2016 presidential election.

All of that, of course, came against a steady drumbeat of tweets from President Donald Trump, who used the service to praise his allies and castigate his foes, often in inflammatory fashion.

But the unkindest cut of all may have come from three people who helped build Facebook in its early days. In early November, Parker told the news site Axios that Facebook was built to answer the question, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” He called its stream of comments, “likes” and reactions a “social validation feedback loop that exploits how human brains work.”

A few days later, McNamee wrote another essay for the Guardian in which he argued that Facebook and Google have used “persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry,” combining them with modern technology to maximize their profits while pushing “appeals to fear and anger” and other material that reinforces filter bubbles and addictive behavior.

]]> 0 says a Russian internet agency posted more than 80,000 pieces of content during and after the 2016 election, and that content was distributed to an estimated 126 million users. The company planned to disclose the new numbers to Congress in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, according to a source familiar with the testimony.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:50:28 +0000
Tax reform bills treat disaster victims differently – some get help, some don’t Wed, 13 Dec 2017 01:43:27 +0000 If the House Republican tax bill became law, victims of hurricanes in Texas and Florida who have yet to account for all their losses could deduct them on their 2018 taxes. Not so for victims of the California wildfires.

If the Senate version prevailed, victims of all federally declared disasters – a category that covers victims of both hurricanes and the wildfires – could deduct their losses. But people who lost homes in smaller-scale disasters couldn’t.

Such disparities, seemingly arbitrary, show how political decisions have helped shape the tax legislation being crafted by Republicans, who insist they’re trying to simplify the tax code, reduce rates and treat everyone fairly.

“I don’t know that treating disasters differently makes sense as economic policy, but it’s understandable as part of the political process,” said Michael Simkovic, a tax professor at the University of Southern California law school. “That’s how things work.”

No one is sure which provisions of the House and Senate bills will end up in the final reconciled version that Republicans are working on and hope to finalize as early as this week. But whatever changes survive the reconciliation process could have far-reaching consequences for a vast range of households, including victims of natural disasters.

The House bill was written by Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means committee. His district adjoins Houston, which was thrashed by Hurricane Harvey in September. Brady’s provision would end the personal loss deduction that has been used by taxpayers who suffer severe losses from fires, floods or crimes.

Yet the House bill would create an exception allowing victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to use that deduction in the future if they haven’t yet totaled their losses from the storms by the time they file their 2017 taxes.

“If they call out one kind of devastation over another, that stinks,” said Larry Keyser, whose home was one of 3,500 structures destroyed in fires in Northern California in October as the tax bill began to move through the House of Representatives.

“The Senate side, that stinks too,” said Keyser, a retired engineer who is struggling to total all the losses his family suffered. He doubts he will have determined his total financial loss by tax time.

Despite Brady’s provision, Republicans have said they are trying to extend the deduction to California wildfire victims just as they did to hurricane victims. All of California’s 53 congressional representatives – including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy – have introduced a bill that would extend into next year the personal loss deduction for victims of the state’s fires.

Lauren Aronson, a spokeswoman for the Ways and Means Committee, did not explain why the House bill provided tax advantages for hurricane victims but not for fire victims. In a statement, she said of the House and Senate measures: “Chairman Brady looks forward to working together in conference to reconcile these similar proposals. At the same time, the chairman continues to work with members who have introduced legislation that will provide tax relief to families affected by the recent wildfires in California.”

Democrats have assailed Republicans for omitting California’s fire victims from the House bill’s tax advantages for hurricane victims. Their anger is compounded by the fact that both versions of the Republicans tax legislation would eliminate the deductibility of state and local income taxes.

That change would especially disadvantage residents of California and other high-tax states that vote predominantly Democratic. Eleven of California’s 14 Republican members of the House voted for the tax bill, helping supply the margin it needed to pass that chamber.

Rep. Darrell Issa, whose San Diego district was hit by fires, is one of the three California Republican representatives who voted against the bill. Through a spokesman, Issa called the provision “just another way the tax plan continues picking winners and losers.”

Even if the House provision is adjusted to match the Senate’s, allowing victims of federally declared disasters – but not others – to deduct losses, it would still be morally objectionable, Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, said in an interview.

“Why would we treat two people who both lost homes of equal value differently, because one lost their home on a day when 15 other people lost homes and another when 200 lost their home?” he asked.

Sherman also warned that using the tax code to favor victims of federally declared disasters over other victims could open the door for Congress or the White House to punish particular states that favor the opposing political party.

“That just shows how political this all is,” he said.

]]> 0 family works to salvage materials from the rubble of its home, which was destroyed by a wildfire in Santa Rosa, Calif., in October. If House Republicans have their way, victims of hurricanes in Texas and Florida could deduct their losses on their taxes, but California wildfire victims no longer could do so.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:55:41 +0000
Of wings and ribs: Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants Tue, 12 Dec 2017 23:51:12 +0000 People love to pick on chain restaurants. Like used car salesmen, the mass feeders are easy targets. Their uniformity and ubiquity seem to go against a culture increasingly bent on personal customization.

Indeed, it has been a rough past few years for casual chains, whose customer base has been dropping. But some of their presumed negatives are also part of their appeal. The promises of speed and sameness can be downright welcome when you’re hungry and near a highway exit, on a business trip in a strange place or home for the holidays. Knowing that you can wake up to the same fluffy pancakes from Denny’s whether you’re in Miami or Minneapolis, or sit down to the identical warm breadsticks at Olive Garden, no matter which of its 800-plus branches you find yourself in, speaks to the chains’ charm offensive: no-surprise comfort.

But not all chains are created equal. That’s why I spent several months grazing through the menus of the 10 casual, full-service restaurant chains that have the highest sales, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. (For the record, Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar is No. 1, with $4.4 billion in annual domestic sales, although its parent company’s profits have been slipping.) Just as I would for a star-rated critique, I visited each chain multiple times.

I surprised myself at one restaurant when I took home leftovers – something I seldom do even from independent establishments. Other lessons: Mashed potatoes are almost always better than french fries, “lite” applied to a dish might as well be a stop sign, and when a picky friend calls something “entirely edible,” it’s the equivalent of a rave. Here’s how I ranked the chains, in order from least favorite to most, along with letter grades.

The many sauces available at Buffalo Wild Wings tend to seem more like masks that enhancements. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

10. Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar

Grade: F

The saddest meals of my entire year? Nothing can touch lunch and dinner at the sports bar that can’t even get its signature dish right. I’m not sure which is more of a travesty, the scrawny wings (pick your poison: traditional or boneless) or the woody carrot sticks that accompany them. Sauces vary from fair (Caribbean jerk) to grim (Parmesan-garlic), and I can’t help but think of them as masks rather than enhancements. Then again, the factory-issue fried boneless wings could use a lift; as is, they taste like KFC sans every single one of those secret 11 herbs and spices, save for salt. It gets worse. “Street tacos” – tasteless soft flour tortillas encasing bland grilled erasers (chicken, per the menu) splashed with ranch dressing – do a disservice to food trucks everywhere. There are a lot of bad black bean burgers out there, but this place takes the trophy – for worst – for the crusty black puck that bends when you bite. The dozens of TVs, most turned to sports, force you to look away from the food, a good thing given whatever glop – mostly beige, mostly fried, don’t even think of ordering a salad – is on the table. The only moment that gave me any relief during the endurance contest is the time I walk past a guy wearing an all-too-familiar red cap whose message takes me aback: “Make racists afraid again.” Bottom line: Better to miss a meal than to find yourself in this loud, garish and thoroughly soulless restaurant-in-name-only.

Cuisine: Wings and beer.

Claim to fame: Sauces and seasonings offering endless customization.

Slogan: “Wings. Beer. Sports.”

Best of the bunch: Getting the check.

Steer clear of: Everything but the beer.

Tidbit: The number of TVs varies by the size of the branch. Most are equipped with 50 or so.

Defining moment: Figuring out where to go for a real meal afterward.

Marbled rye bread is the saving grace of a patty melt at IHOP. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post


Grade: D

Probably the best that can be said about the food in one of the most generic backdrops around is that the pancakes are fluffy (if a dash salty); the vegetable omelet is as green with fresh spinach as it is yellow from eggs; and marbled rye bread can turn even an unfortunate beef patty and barely melted cheese into a fair-enough sandwich.

Ultimately, the service leaves a better taste in my mouth, even though I once have to go outside to find my server to pay my check. (She was on a smoke break.) I salute the honesty, as on the night I ask about the day’s soup and am told it is “potato, but we’re at the end of it, and I wouldn’t do that to you.” And I admire a server who can read a table in a hurry, as the morning one pours “some nice hot coffee for you gentlemen. You look like you need to get back to the office.” Two of us order enough for four, a cross-section of the plastic menu. “If you eat all that food,” the server cracks, “I’m going to give you a hug.” Ten minutes later, a companion and I are biting into a dry cheeseburger served in a cottony bun, hoisting a leathery soft tortilla crammed with fish that appeared to be fried in a straitjacket and trying to decide which was more of a salt bomb: the thin batter-fried steak or the cream gravy covering it. Our table, in other words, has turned into a minefield. No hugs for us!

Cuisine: American.

Claim to fame: Open 24/7.

Slogan: “Eat up every moment.”

Best of the bunch: Patty melt, spinach-mushroom omelet (hold the flat hollandaise).

Steer clear of: Burgers, fried fish tacos, country-fried steak.

Tidbit: Four syrups (typically old-fashioned, butter pecan, blueberry and strawberry) are always offered. Franchisees can opt to swap in real maple syrup and boysenberry.

Defining moment: Eating pancakes and wishing I were enjoying them at Denny’s.

The Outback Steakhouse location in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

8. Outback Steakhouse

Grade: D

Let me just get it out of the way: The piece de resistance here is one of the most vulgar creations any chain has ever whipped up. The Bloomin’ Onion packs in more fat, more salt, more guilt than just about any single signature I can think of. So why is my party denuding the baseball-size vegetable of its greasy petals as if we’re in a race, even though we know we’re going to feel like beached whales afterward? Because Americans can’t resist over-the-top fair food, even in their restaurants. Also because strips of hot onions dunked in something cool and creamy (imagine ketchup-tinted mayonnaise with a slight bite) is a pretty addictive combination.

People come here for steak. They shouldn’t. While the beef looks the part of steak you want to slice in to, the cuts I try taste tame. The alternatives to beef here – bready crab cakes, arid pork ribs – are almost as sad. An exception to the rule is chicken, specifically the moist grilled chicken with an herbed Parmesan crust and a garnish of tomatoes and basil – everything fresher-tasting than the woody carrots riding shotgun. Don’t let the menu or the outdoorsy decor fool you. Outback has as much in common with Australia as Olive Garden has with Italy. The single-best dish turns out to be dessert: spiced carrot cake with actual threads of carrot in each big slice and a veneer of icing.

Cuisine: Steak, and a pretend notion of what’s cooking Down Under.

Claim to fame: The 1,950-calorie, enough-for-six Bloomin’ Onion.

Slogan: “Done Right.”

Best of the bunch: Wine by the glass poured from individual carafes, garlicky mashed potatoes, Parmesan-herbed chicken, spiced carrot cake.

Steer clear of: Crab cakes, fish tacos in leathery tortillas, pork ribs, not-so-hot and batter-heavy “volcano” shrimp.

Tidbit: The free-spirited Australian theme was chosen in part based on the success of the 1986 Hollywood splash “Crocodile Dundee.”

Defining moment: Gratis brown bread shows up with a steak knife plunged into the vaguely caramelly loaf.

Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits are so popular, you can get a mix from the supermarket to make them at home. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

7. Red Lobster

Grade: C-minus

Red lobster makes for blue diners, at least here, where the headliner can be found scattered on a thin but doughy pizza with a binder of mozzarella, and steamed and split to reveal seafood that tastes like . . . not much without melted butter, lots of it. Clams make a poor impression, too, be they the few in a bowl of pasty chowder with mealy potatoes or offered as chewy fried strips. Salmon might just as well have swum in from a banquet. Sometimes, the most nautical part of my visits are the garnishes on the walls: paintings of lighthouses and framed signal flags. Maybe I’d feel differently in the company of Beyoncé, who shouted out to the chain in “Formation.”

Exceptions give me hope. If snow crab claws require some work to tackle, at least their yield is sweet. And Yucatan shrimp, among the chain’s new “tasting” plates, benefit from diced caramelized pineapple and the heat of jalapeños. In the end, though, the choice parts of a meal are apt to be the warm and fluffy biscuits that launch every meal and the freshly creamy coleslaw you can request as a side. Anyone for a salad sandwich?

Cuisine: Seafood.

Claim to fame: Biscuits so popular their mix is for sale in supermarkets.

Slogan: “Now this is seafood.”

Best of the bunch: Cheese biscuits, Yucatan shrimp, coconut shrimp, crab legs.

Steer clear of: Doughy lobster pizza, fried clams, maple-glazed chicken that tastes like an airline issue, steamed lobster, achingly sweet and dense Key lime pie.

Tidbit: The chain sells 395 million cheddar biscuits a year.

Defining moment: “Do you ever get tired of the biscuits?” I asked a veteran waiter who told me he danced on the side. “I don’t,” he replied, turning his hips. “Because I have to watch out for this!” he said, playfully slapping his backside.

The ribs at Chili’s are the subject of one of the most invasive earworms in advertising, but they prove too dry to merit being immortalized in song. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

6. Chili’s Grill & Bar

Grade: C-minus

If all you were to eat were the ribs that spawned one of the most popular restaurant jingles of all time (don’t start singing it!), you would wonder what all the fuss is about. No amount of barbecue sauce hides the fact that the flesh is dry. (Like french fries, ribs are a dish that chains seem to have a hard time nailing.) As is true of a lot of restaurants higher up on the food chain, your best bet is to front-load, or focus on appetizers. Chili’s makes it easy with its Triple Dipper, your choice of three snacks. Zero in on the tasty mini-burgers, the spiced onion rings and the kicky Southwestern egg rolls filled with corn and black beans.

Elsewhere on the menu, Chili’s tries and fails to deliver on a few food fashions. The mushy ear of corn slathered with mayo and pops of harsh spices is a poor way to replicate the Mexican street food staple elote loco (crazy corn), and a cloying salted caramel molten cake in the shape of a volcano appears to use pancake batter in its base. As for the Cajun pasta, penne with chicken or shrimp in cream sauce is salty with Parmesan – a gummy bore. Simple is better. Rib-eye comes with a nice beefiness and a scoop of mashed potatoes loaded with bacon, cheese and scallions. Trying to eat healthfully lands you disappointments, including a “Caribbean” salad strewn with Mandarin oranges, pineapple and red bell peppers, along with a honey-lime dressing that tastes more like a dessert topping. I have to say, though, that the stinging citrus-chile sauce on the overcooked salmon, from the “Guiltless Grill” section of the menu, keeps the dish from being served DOA.

Cuisine: American with a Southwest touch.

Claim to fame: The earworm to promote Chili’s baby back ribs.

Slogan: “Like no place else.”

Best of the bunch: Southwestern egg rolls, mini-burgers, panko onion rings, rib-eye.

Steer clear of: Caribbean salad, Cajun pasta, salted caramel cake.

Tidbit: The creative director behind the chain’s song (brought back this year) says he’s never eaten Chili’s ribs.

Defining moment: Ice-cold “tableside” guacamole is simply dropped off at, well, the side of our table.

Cedar-grilled lemon chicken sits on a bed of quinoa jazzed up with dried cranberries at Applebee’s. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

5. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar

Grade: C

Eat out in enough full-service chains, and the similarities become clear: None of them can cook broccoli right. Salmon is almost always overdone. Napkins are doled out like club passes on the Strip in Vegas. Bigger is often perceived as better. (When a friend’s sangria, a ringer for spiked apple juice, shows up in a glass the size of a bird bath, I hear Miss Piggy in my head: Never eat anything bigger than your head, a rule that could also apply to drinks.) Also, if you don’t feel like talking, you can often play games on the tabletop tablets, a distraction that also allows you to pay, even split bills, without interacting with your server.

All of the above is true at Applebee’s, which nevertheless offers sufficient choices on its multiple plastic menus in its rec-room-dressed dining rooms to keep the brand interesting for discerning eaters. Skeptics can warm up to the mildly zesty Sriracha shrimp presented on tortilla strips and agreeable chicken tacos, the filling tucked into its wonton shells with a light slaw. Forget the arid ribs with their vaguely sweet glaze and the whiskey-bacon burger, best for its fried onion ringlets. Better than you might expect are the juicy-enough steak on the surf-and-turf combo and slices of lemony grilled chicken arranged on quinoa jazzed up with dried cranberries. The latter is a rarity among the chains: something relatively healthful that you could imagine actually finishing.

Cuisine: American.

Claim to fame: $1 margaritas (Dollaritas) and Long Island Iced Teas.

Slogan: “Eatin’ good in the neighborhood.”

Best of the bunch: Sriracha shrimp, crunchy-spicy chicken wings, steak quesadillas, skin-on mashed potatoes, grilled chicken with quinoa and cranberries.

Steer clear of: Ribs, salmon, apple chimicheesecake (caramel apples and cheesecake wrapped in a tortilla and fried).

Tidbit: The original 1980 menu included quiche and quail.

Defining moment: A server says he won’t charge us for playing games on our table screen, but then adds the cost ($1.99) to our bill.

There is serious comfort in a bowl of pasta at Olive Garden, including the create-your-own combination of spaghetti and meatballs. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

4. Olive Garden

Grade: C

Unlike some of its competition, Olive Garden smells as if actual cooking is going on: The scents of Parmesan and garlic hang in the air when I walk in. I’m further charmed by the honesty of the bartender when I ask her for the best white wine, and she says, “I’m supposed to say Porto Vita, our house white,” then suggests an unoaked chardonnay, Seven Suns, is superior. Of all the chain restaurants I surveyed, this one aspires to a modicum of sophistication; servers are more than happy to proffer tastes of wines.

Brick arches and sepia photographs play up an Italian theme, but the popular breadsticks – pillowy wands seasoned with garlic salt, brushed with margarine and palatable only when warm – are wholly American, as is the kitchen’s tendency to overcook its pastas. Steer clear of the three-dishes-on-one-platter Tour of Italy, whose chicken parmigiana and gloppy fettuccine Alfredo taste like nothing I’ve encountered in the Old World. (The herbed lasagna on the plate makes a better port of call.) A new item, citrus-glazed salmon served on “creamy citrus” Alfredo sauce, is by turns sweet and dull. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the fresh-tasting minestrone, thick with beans and tomato, and serious comfort can be found on a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a “create your own pasta” selection. “More salad? More soup?” the friendly severs repeatedly ask. What the restaurant lacks in finesse it makes up with generosity.

Cuisine: Italian.

Claim to fame: Unlimited breadsticks and bottomless salad bowls.

Slogan: “We’re all family here.”

Best of the bunch: Gratis wine tastes, minestrone, spaghetti with meatballs, tiramisu.

Steer clear of: Sangria that tastes like Kool-Aid for adults, Tour of Italy (not!).

Tidbit: The first restaurant was opened in 1982 by General Mills.

Defining moment: The menu suggests you wash back fried lasagna bites with Blue Moon on draft.

Almost anything featuring beef is a good idea at Texas Roadhouse, including hand-cut steaks such as this rib-eye. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

3. Texas Roadhouse

Grade: B

Talk about a howdy! Country music welcomes customers even from the outside. En route to a table, diners pass a scarlet display of raw meat that primes carnivores for lunch or dinner. Buckets of in-their-shell peanuts help stave off hunger while you peruse the menu. Like a number of chains, this one makes some noise for birthday celebrants, but this pine-walled roadhouse is the only brand I know that invites them to sit on a saddle-on-wheels while they’re being feted with staff-led cheering and clapping. Beef is your friend here, be it in a bowl of zippy chili, chopped steak under a cover of cheese and caramelized onions or an agreeable rib-eye cooked the color you ask and best paired with mashed potatoes cratered with cream gravy.

The initial bear hug of hospitality, which includes a drop-off of fresh-baked, butter-brushed, slightly sweet rolls, can’t mask some flaws, among them stiff catfish and dry pulled pork, the mass humiliated with a sweet barbecue sauce. (And my sticky plastic menu makes me wish more chains wiped their lists down, along with booths, after every use. No one wants to feel a stranger’s fingerprints.) But this establishment does enough well to become your choice between like brands. Indeed, the most pleasant surprise is the Cactus Blossom, a whole deep-fried onion, each bronzed slice crunchy, peppery – and far less greasy – than the bloomin’ draw at the place that pretends to take you Down Under.

Cuisine: Steaks with a Western theme.

Claim to fame: Steaks cut by hand and fresh-baked bread.

Slogan: “Legendary food, legendary service.”

Best of the bunch: Most anything starring beef, mashed potatoes, Cactus Blossom.

Steer clear of: Pulled pork (dry) and catfish (stiff).

Tidbit: Each branch employs a butcher and a baker.

Defining moment: Looking for the restroom, I’m pointed to the “outhouse” sign.

Fluffy buttermilk pancakes get a nod of approval at Denny’s. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

2. Denny’s

Grade: B

The cheeseburger? It’s a whopper. Bite down on the construction, built with a bun that’s freckled with sesame seeds, and the crusty patty might squirt juices – you know, like a decent hamburger might. The piping-hot fries are memorable more for their churro-like ridges than any potato flavor, but that means you might have room for the brownielike chocolate lava cake, a knockoff of the molten chocolate cake made famous decades ago by the esteemed Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York. (Chains are good at identifying fancy food trends and rethinking them for the masses.)

Breakfast is a ’round-the-clock option. I’m partial to the fluffy pancakes with their lacy edges, and I’d like the “loaded” breakfast sandwich more if its shaved ham was less salty and the swollen package was easier to tackle; my scrambled eggs slipped out when I chomped down. My go-to entree is spaghetti and meatballs, offered with a sauce that bridges sweetness and tang, and a buttery cushion of garlic toast. Lighter options include a pleasing chicken soup, sweet with carrots, and a dish of fresh fruit that brought together strawberries, apples and grapes. “Lemon for your water?” a server asks, just as waiters do in more upscale settings. My Uber driver asks for my review when he picks me up at what he said was his favorite location in Washington. Turns out he likes to go on Sundays, when gospel music is part of the mix. Then and there, he tells me, “It feels like my grandfather’s.” Proof, in other words, that chains can be personal.

Cuisine: American.

Claim to fame: The Grand Slam, starring pancakes, eggs, bacon strips and sausage links.

Slogan: “America’s diner is always open.”

Best of the bunch: Pancakes, hash browns, spaghetti and meatballs, warm chocolate lava cake.

Steer clear of: Seasonal specials such as pancakes smothered in what tastes like white chocolate with orange zest.

Tidbit: The chain made a special menu for several Hobbit movies.

Defining moment: Getting a Value Menu, with meals for as little as $4.

Cracker Barrels, including this one in Sterling, Virginia, feature homey touches and rocking chairs. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

1. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

Grade: A

Especially after eating a lot of food that tasted as if it came from a factory rather than a kitchen, it was clear: No other chain restaurant in my months-long survey comes as close to home cooking as this operation. If the chicken dumplings are a little doughy and the corn bread muffins prove a tad salty, just about everything else that crossed my lips in this barn-size dining room dressed with lanterns and license plates is something I’d be happy to try again. Seconds, please, of the tasty meatloaf streaked with vegetables, tender roast beef with peppery brown gravy, and lemony, skin-on trout fillets, a weekly special. You don’t have to eat rich here; a side of fruit brims with fresh pineapple, blackberries and blueberries, although the not-too-sweet pecan pie is worth the detour from any diet.

The all-American food is only part of Cracker Barrel’s charm. To reach the restaurant proper, you cross a porch set with rocking chairs (they’re for sale) and pass through a folksy retail store peddling candy, regional sodas, clothing, toys and Gwen Stefani’s Christmas release. Country music and a crackling fire – you read that right, the restaurant comes with a hearth – right any wrong you may have suffered that day, and the service couldn’t be more personable. Is the welcome mat out for everyone? An unfortunate history of corporate racism and discrimination has been addressed in recent years with inclusive declarations on the company’s website. An imbiber’s regret: no wine or beer to enjoy with my meals. Soda glasses are refilled without your having to ask, requests are met with “yes, sir” or “ma’am,” and should staff members see you struggling with a bag of leftovers, they rush over to help. Yes, I take what I can’t finish home with me. And every bite of those thin, well-seasoned pork chops, part of a “country boy” platter with fried apples and cheesy hash browns, makes me think of my grandmother – a feat matched by no other chain in my survey.

Cuisine: Southern-focused comfort food.

Claim to fame: Shopping and dining under one roof, and firing Brad’s wife that time.

Slogan: “Pleasing People” reads the company’s mission statement.

Best of the bunch: Meatloaf, pork chops, trout, macaroni and cheese, pecan pie.

Steer clear of: Pasty chicken and dumplings.

Tidbit: Every branch has an ox yoke and a horseshoe over the door and a traffic light over the restrooms.

Defining moment: Watching kids play checkers on the porch after dinner.

]]> 0 ribs at Chili's are the subject of one of the most invasive earworms in advertising, but they prove too dry to merit being immortalized in song. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 18:58:19 +0000
Woman parks in police chief’s spot while smoking pot Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:05:09 +0000 NORTHPORT, N.Y. – Authorities say a woman arriving at a Long Island court to answer a marijuana possession summons was smoking pot when she parked her vehicle in the local police chief’s spot.

Newsday reports that the 26-year-old woman had been ticketed in May for unlawful possession of marijuana. Police say she was arriving for her court appearance in Northport on Monday night when she cut off an unmarked police car in the parking lot while talking on her cellphone.

Police say she then pulled into the parking spot clearly marked as reserved for the village’s police chief, Bill Ricca. He says when the officers asked the woman to roll down her window, pot smoke billowed out.

Police issued the woman another appearance ticket for unlawful possession of marijuana. She was also ticketed for using her cellphone while driving.

]]> 0 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 17:31:18 +0000
Worm poop equates to fertilizer and cash for student entrepreneur Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:58:56 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – An entrepreneurial student who turns worm poop into organic fertilizer targeted for marijuana growers is generating buzz and earning accolades.

Joseph Walker, who’s studying at Brigham Young University, began the company OmniEarth to make fertilizer from worm castings – the technical term for worm poop, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .

Walker, 22, and originally from Eugene, Oregon, said he became interested in developing an organic fertilizer while working in landscaping and noticing that chemical fertilizers could be a contentious subject. His grandfather suggested worm droppings as a solution.

“At first, I’ll be honest, I thought he was crazy. It sounded like a ridiculous idea,” Walker said. “But after just five hours of research, I understood this could be a really cool organic solution for any industry, not just lawn care.”

After more research and contacting companies already selling worm castings, Walker said he learned that the fast growing marijuana industry was a prime target for his business. Growers often prefer organic and pesticide-free products.

“They all said it’s the marijuana market,” Walker said. “There is a seemingly insatiable need. None of the companies said they could keep up with current orders. There’s this huge need to go green.”

Walker found warehouse space and began searching for the right combination of temperature, humidity and water content of the soil to maximize production.

The research for Walker’s startup company has been aided by cash prizes won in student entrepreneurship competitions this year.

In January, Walker’s company earned a $900 grant from a program at the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.

OmniEarth then received $15,000 two months later after it was selected as a finalist in the New Venture Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.

In November, Walker’s company won a regional competition for the international Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. The overall winner to be selected in Toronto in April will receive $50,000.

]]> 0 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:58:56 +0000
Vets consider pot meds for clients Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:48:28 +0000 BEND, Ore. – Dr. Byron Maas surveys a supply of marijuana products for dogs that lines a shelf in his veterinary clinic. They’re selling well.

“The `Up and Moving’ is for joints and for pain,” he explains. “The `Calm and Quiet’ is for real anxious dogs, to take away that anxiety.”

People anxious to relieve suffering in their pets are increasingly turning to oils and powders that contain CBDs, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. But there’s little data on whether they work, or if they have harmful side effects.

That’s because Washington has been standing in the way of clinical trials, veterinarians and researchers say. Now, a push is underway to have barriers removed, so both pets and people can benefit.

Those barriers have had more than just a chilling effect.

When the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced last year that even marijuana extracts with CBD and little or no THC – marijuana’s intoxicating component – are an illegal Schedule 1 drug, the University of Pennsylvania halted its clinical trials. Colorado State University is pushing ahead.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned companies that sell marijuana products online and via pet shops and animal hospitals that they’re violating laws by offering “unapproved new animal drugs.” The FDA threatened legal action.

But, seeing potential benefits of CBDs, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s policy-making body said last summer it wants the DEA to declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug “to facilitate research opportunities for veterinary and human medical uses.” It asked the board of the national veterinarians’ organization to investigate working with other stakeholders toward that goal. The board is awaiting a recommendation from two group councils.

“The concern our membership has is worry about people extrapolating their own dosages, looking to medicate their pets outside the realm of the medical professional,” Board Chairman Michael Whitehair said in a telephone interview. “This is an important reason for us to continue the research.”

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican, became an unlikely champion of this push when he introduced a bill in September that would open the path for more clinical research. While Hatch said he opposes recreational marijuana use, he wants marijuana-based drugs, regulated by the FDA, produced for people with disorders.

“We lack the science to support use of medical marijuana products like CBD oils, not because researchers are unwilling to do the work, but because of bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation,” Hatch said.

Dawn Boothe, of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is waiting for federal approval to begin a study of marijuana’s effects on dogs with epilepsy. The classification of marijuana products containing CBD as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and LSD, creates a “major, major, major, terrible roadblock” for researchers, Boothe said in a phone interview.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine were studying CBDs’ effects on dogs with osteoarthritis and pruritis, or itchiness, until the DEA released its policy statement.

“The ambiguity in this process has really brought us to a screeching halt,” said Michael DiGregorio, director of the university’s clinical trials center. “It is research that needs to be done, because there are a lot of CBD products out there.”

When it clarified that marijuana CBD extracts are Schedule 1 drugs, the DEA said it was assigning a code number to those substances to better track them and to comply with international drug control treaties.

DiGregorio complained that researchers seeking federal approval to study CBD products are told to provide certain data, but that data isn’t normally available until the study is done.

“If you don’t have the data, you can’t get the registration to do the work,” he said.

On a recent morning, Maas took a break from seeing four-legged patients in the Bend Veterinary Clinic. A stethoscope dangling from his neck over green scrubs, Maas said his clients have reported CBDs help relieve pain, arthritis, anxiety, loss of appetite, epilepsy and inflammation in their pets.

“Unfortunately there’s not a lot of research out there, especially on animals, on CBD compounds,” Maas said. “The research is really necessary to help us understand how to actually use these compounds on our pets.”

Veterinarian Janet Ladyga of the Blue Sky Veterinary Clinic, also in Bend, said she doesn’t recommend marijuana products because of the unknowns.

“We don’t have a lot of evidence right now, so we don’t know the toxicity or the safety profile … and we don’t have any good evidence to show either if it’s safe or efficacious,” she said.

The study at Colorado State University aims to provide some data. The roughly two dozen dogs in the arthritis study and the 30 in the epilepsy tests are given either CBD oil or a placebo. For the arthritis study, activity monitors are attached to the animals’ collars, to determine if they’re more mobile when they’re taking CBD.

Principal investigator Stephanie McGrath said she hopes the results will be a stepping stone for longer and more diverse studies, and that they provide useful information for human medicine.

“Every medication we’re taking has been given to a dog first,” the University of Pennsylvania’s DiGregorio noted.

Meanwhile, Boothe said she had everything ready to start her study in January, and was waiting for a green light from federal officials.

“I don’t know what’s taking so long,” she said.

]]> 0 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:48:28 +0000
L.A. lawmakers back new regulations on marijuana industry Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:41:01 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles lawmakers backed a host of new regulations for the marijuana industry last week, paving the way for the hotly anticipated business of recreational pot.

The unanimous vote Wednesday was a landmark step for the biggest city in California as the state prepares to start issuing permits to grow, sell, test and distribute recreational marijuana. Despite a slew of concerns about the exact details of the plan, the Los Angeles City Council voted 12-0 for the regulations, which now go to the mayor for his approval.

The elaborate rules reflect a tug of war at City Hall over the hopes and fears for the soon-to-be-legalized industry. They have been a prime focus of Council President Herb Wesson, who said Wednesday that cities across the country will be looking to Los Angeles as an example.

“We are L.A. We are leaders. We take on the tough issues,” Wesson said. Before the vote, he urged lawmakers, “Let’s make history.”

The City Council has been eager to pull in new revenue from the marijuana business, which is expected to generate more than $50 million in tax revenue for the city next year. California will start licensing the recreational pot industry in January, aiming to bring an illicit market out of the shadows.

The council also has vowed to make sure that disadvantaged communities that were hit hardest by the war on drugs can now cash in, a quest near and dear to political progressives. At the Wednesday meeting, Councilman Curren Price lamented that the criminalization of cannabis “unfairly targeted communities of color like the one I represent.”

“I’m ready to level the playing field so that everyone has a fair shot at reaping the rewards of this booming industry,” Price said. “Because we shouldn’t just be rolling out the red carpet to those individuals with deep pockets or powerful corporations.”

Under its “social equity” program, the city will give priority processing and other assistance to marijuana business applicants who are poor and were previously convicted of some marijuana crimes — or who have lived in areas that were heavily affected by cannabis arrests.

Before the vote, Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson declared that “we will shut down one of the major fronts of the war on drugs.”

While other cities have shied away from marijuana, “this is a city that is ready to make the jump and not just put their toe in the water,” said Brad Rowe, an adjunct professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and CEO of the research and consulting firm Botec Analysis.

But L.A. lawmakers have also imposed a long list of restrictions on where marijuana shops and other businesses can open their doors, amid concerns that the pot industry could be a new source of nuisance or blight.

Marijuana industry groups have bristled at some of those rules, which were tightened as the city regulations were drafted, while some neighborhood groups had pressed for much stricter requirements.

“We need to ensure that our communities, and particularly communities of color … are not negatively impacted by this industry,” Councilwoman Nury Martinez said.

Under the new regulations, pot shops can open their doors only in specific commercial and industrial zones and must operate at least 700 feet away from schools, public parks and libraries, child care centers, alcohol and drug treatment centers and other “sensitive” sites, as well as from other pot retailers.

Other kinds of marijuana businesses, including growers and manufacturers, would be confined to industrial zones and banned within 600 feet of schools. And marijuana manufacturers that use volatile solvents would also be prohibited within 200 feet of residential areas.

To prevent an “undue concentration” in neighborhoods, city leaders also decided to cap the number of pot shops, growers, manufacturers and marijuana “micro-businesses,” which do a combination of things, allowed in each community.

Martinez argued that they were crucial to preventing marijuana businesses from clustering in poor and minority neighborhoods, recounting her frustrations with illegal pot shops flocking to Van Nuys.

The limits are based on population and zoning ratios. City officials have calculated that under those restrictions, no more than 390 pot shops, 336 growers and 520 marijuana manufacturers could currently be licensed across the city.

Micro-businesses, which could also count toward the limits on pot shops or growers if they cultivate or sell marijuana, would be limited to a maximum of 520.

However, planning officials say that in many neighborhoods, zoning restrictions may prevent the number of marijuana businesses from ever reaching those maximum numbers. Virgil Grant, president of the industry group Southern California Coalition, argued that there was no need for such caps because the required buffers from sensitive sites would create “an organic cap.”

Sarah Armstrong, who serves as policy chair of the coalition, said she was worried about whether growers would be able to find enough space. “The great beating heart of the industry is the cultivators,” Armstrong said. “Without that, there is no industry.”

But cannabis entrepreneurs nonetheless heralded the new regulations as a victory, allowing business to move forward in what is expected to be one of the hottest marijuana markets in the country. Ricardo Mendoza, who manages a marijuana shop in Culver City, said his dispensary was planning to set up shop in the San Fernando Valley.

“It sounds like they really want to do this the right way,” Mendoza said.

]]> 0 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:43:32 +0000
Maryland medical marijuana dispensaries run out of pot in opening week Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:32:16 +0000 Maryland’s medical marijuana dispensaries finally opened this week after years of delay, but many are running out of the drug as limited supply is struggling to keep up with high demand.

Five of seven licensed dispensaries that started selling the drug in recent days say they’ve either completely or almost run out of flower – the raw part of the marijuana plant that is smoked or vaporized. The other two are limiting sales to a small group of preregistered patients.

Kannavis in Frederick County sold out of flower on its opening day Saturday, but still has pre-filled cartridges that can be attached to vaporizing pens. Like other dispensaries, Kannavis is banking on additional marijuana shipments before this weekend, and is keeping its patients updated on its Facebook page, website and email list.

“It’s all in a flux. We don’t have confirmation of anything at this point and that’s just the nature of the rollout of this industry,” said owner Jane Klink. “I wish we had something carved out in stone.”

Allegany Medical Marijuana Dispensary, one of the first two shops to open Friday, expected to run out of its remaining products Wednesday after serving about 150 patients. Most high-demand products including tinctures and creams have yet to arrive.

“It’s a very tense situation,” said general manager Mark Van Tyne. “It’s a learning curve, and there’s a lot of growing pains going on right now.

In Montgomery County, two dispensaries ran out of flower early this week and are awaiting the next shipments. Potomac Holistics in Rockville, which made its first sales Friday evening, closed temporarily Monday and then reopened Tuesday. One of the store’s owners, Bill Askinazi, said that the store was stocked with vape pens and tablets and that about 500 patients have come through since the opening.

“Nothing is perfect in a new industry, especially when it’s coordinated statewide,” Askinazi said.

Rise Bethesda has stayed open since its first sale Saturday morning, said Andy Grossman, a partner at the store’s Illinois-based parent company, Green Thumb Industries. Grossman said the store ran out of flower Tuesday but had received a delivery of Rhythm vape cartridges and was also stocked with Dixie tablets and elixirs.

Grossman said that Montgomery’s third dispensary, Rise Silver Spring, still did not have an opening date because of a product shortage.

Southern Maryland Relief dispensary in Mechanicsville ran out of its higher-end and midrange flower after just four hours of sales Sunday and Monday, leaving it with just its lower-end strains and a shipment of vaporizing pens from Chesapeake Alternatives, a licensed processor.

“Patients are just buying as much of it as they can so they don’t run out,” said Charlie Mattingly, who manages Southern Maryland Relief.

To get medical marijuana, patients must register with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and receive a recommendation from a doctor or other health care provider. About 15,000 patients have registered, and 8,500 of them are certified to purchase the drug. Nearly 550 health-care providers have signed up to issue recommendations.

Only 10 of 102 dispensaries preliminarily approved last year by state regulators have completed their licensing requirements.

The Peninsula Alternative Health dispensary in Wicomico County and Wellness Institute of Maryland in Frederick County still have flower because they are conducting soft rollouts.

“Every patient that is registered and isn’t being let in is rightfully upset with us, because they assumed they were going to get it first day,” said Michael Klein, who manages Wellness Institute of Maryland and is turning down preapproved patients. “But they’d be a whole lot more upset if they had to stand out in the cold only to be turned away.”

Peninsula Alternative Health has served fewer than a quarter of its 400 preregistered patients, and is prioritizing sales based on the severity of their conditions and who signed up first. The dispensary plans to open its doors to the public Dec. 19.

“We just didn’t open our doors and have lines of people waiting for 10 hours,” said Anthony Darby, the owner. “We tried to have a very organized opening.”

Meg Nottingham of Gaithersburg, Md., prepares to smoke a strain of medical marijuana called Northern Lights that she obtained from Potomac Holistics on Friday in Rockville, Md. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu.

Marijuana patients register at the counter with office personnel at Allegany Medical Marijuana Dispensary on Friday in Cumberland, Md. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti.

]]> 0 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:32:16 +0000
Architectural firm hires two Tue, 12 Dec 2017 20:46:08 +0000 NEW HIRES
SMRT announces two new hires in its Portland office.
Alyssa Phanitdasack joins the firm as an architectural designer.
Previously, she was an architectural designer for CO Architects in Los Angeles, and most recently was with PDT.



Renee Laplante joins SMRT as marketing coordinator for the firm’s justice and health care design practices. She previously was a marketing specialist with Stantec.




FocusMaine has hired Kim Hamilton as its first president.
Hamilton, of Yarmouth, was most recently chief impact officer at Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. She previously served in a variety of senior roles at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Barbora Higgins joined Bar Harbor Bank & Trust as assistant vice president, senior credit analyst.
Higgins, of Brewer, brings more than 14 years as an experienced credit professional. Most recently, she worked as a commercial credit analyst, underwriting large real estate and commercial and industrial loans.


Todd Zukowski was named vice president, commercial banking officer, at Camden National Bank.
Zukowski was previously with Northeast Bank in Portland, where he spent two years as vice president, commercial loan officer.

]]> 0 PhanitdasackTue, 12 Dec 2017 13:54:19 +0000
Federal judge again denies South Portland’s plea to dismiss pipeline company’s lawsuit Tue, 12 Dec 2017 18:47:46 +0000 Judge John Woodcock Jr. opened his written order issued Tuesday with a weary-sounding reference to “another motion to dismiss” from the city of South Portland.

The federal judge then firmly denied the city’s renewed motion to dismiss a nearly 3-year-old lawsuit by the Portland Pipe Line Corp. over a municipal ban on crude oil exports. Woodcock denied the city’s first consolidated motion to dismiss the lawsuit in August.

The city filed the latest motion in October, after TransCanada Corp. announced that it had abandoned plans to build the controversial Energy East pipeline, which would have carried 1.1 million barrels of crude oil daily from western Canada to the Atlantic coast.

Without the Energy East pipeline, the Portland Pipe Line could no longer claim to have a ready source of Canadian crude that would warrant reversing the flow of its 236-mile pipeline from South Portland to Montreal, the city’s lawyers argued in November in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The company is fighting a 2014 city ordinance that banned shipments of crude oil from South Portland’s waterfront and effectively blocked the company from reversing the flow of its pipeline, which currently transports a dwindling amount of imported crude to refineries in Montreal.

Woodcock flatly rejected the city’s latest challenge of the Portland Pipe Line’s right to fight the so-called Clear Skies ordinance based on the lack of demand for the pipeline’s use.

Woodcock cited the company’s claims that the pipeline could have access to other sources of Canadian crude and that it “will continue to be the sole operator of a crude oil pipeline running to the Atlantic coast.”

“The court still finds that if it is legally permitted to do so, Portland Pipe Line Corp. intends to and is sufficiently likely to be able to reverse the flow of oil in its South Portland-to-Montreal pipelines,” Woodcock said in his dismissal order.

That likelihood gives the company – a Canadian-owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil, Shell and Suncor Energy – the right to challenge the Clear Skies ordinance, Woodcock said. The company has two pipelines but currently uses only one intermittently.

The city has spent $1.4 million so far defending the Clear Skies ordinance and has received $168,000 in donations to the Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund.

Woodcock’s anticipated next step would be to rule on the merits of the company’s claim against the Clear Skies ordinance.

Whatever the outcome in U.S. District Court, the case is expected to wind up in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and take another two to three years to reach a conclusion.

“(The company) will not complete the reversal project for at least another three or four years,” Woodcock said. “Three or four years is a lifetime in the oil business.”

Despite the TransCanada decision, Woodcock said, “it remains true” that the Portland Pipe Line has reversed its flow in the past and it may not proceed with a reversal project now without violating the ordinance.

The court “does not need to resolve” the validity of the company’s prediction that 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil are currently available in Canada to transport daily to South Portland – enough to make a reversal financially feasible – or the city’s assessment that there’s only 25,000 barrels available daily on the spot market, Woodcock said.

If the pipeline did transport as much as 100,000 barrels per day, or 36.5 million barrels per year, south from Montreal to South Portland, that’s less than a quarter of the 160 million barrels of foreign crude that flowed north through the pipeline in 2004.

Since the lawsuit was filed in February 2015, the city has argued that the company has no cause to challenge the ordinance because it has no active plan or effort to reverse the pipeline’s flow. The city also contends that a $180 million reversal project wouldn’t be financially feasible under current market conditions because Canadian refineries have little demand for foreign oil.

The company claims the ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate commerce, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas of regulation best left to the federal government.

The city, meanwhile, is acting “to protect the health and welfare of its residents and visitors and traditional land use authority to promote future development consistent with the comprehensive plan,” it said in court papers.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 0 Pipe Line Corp. is fighting a 2014 South Portland ordinance that banned the shipping of crude oil from the city's waterfront and effectively blocked the company from reversing the flow of its pipeline, which currently transports a dwindling amount of imported crude to refineries in Montreal.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 23:45:37 +0000
French President Macron’s climate summit in Paris highlights new money, tech help for slowing global warming Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:35:14 +0000 PARIS — World leaders, investment funds and energy magnates promised Tuesday to devote new money and technology to slow global warming at a summit in Paris that President Emmanuel Macron hopes will rev up the Paris climate accord that U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected.

Trump wasn’t invited to the event but his name was everywhere.

One by one, top world diplomats, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, business leaders like Michael Bloomberg and even former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that the world will shift to cleaner fuels and reduce emissions regardless of whether the Trump administration pitches in or not.

Central to Tuesday’s summit is finding ways to counter Trump’s main argument: that the 2015 Paris accord on reducing global emissions would hurt U.S. business.

Macron – a 39-year-old former investment banker who’s using this summit to seize the global limelight – argues that the big businesses and successful economies of the future will be making and using renewable energy instead of pumping oil.

Bill Gates and Elon Musk are among the 164 prominent figures at the summit, where participants are announcing billions of dollars’ worth of projects to help poor countries and industries reduce emissions.

The summit, co-hosted by the U.N., the World Bank and Macron, is being held on the second anniversary of the Paris climate accord, which was ratified by 170 countries. More than 50 heads of state and government are taking part.

Activists kept up pressure with a protest in the shadow of the domed Pantheon monument on Paris’ Left Bank, calling for an end to all investment in oil, gas and resource mining.

That wasn’t far from the message opening the summit: Top officials agreed that the global financial system isn’t shifting fast enough away from carbon emissions and toward energy and business projects that don’t aggravate climate change.

“Financial pledges need to flow faster through more streamlined system and make a difference on the ground,” said Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, whose island nation is among those on the front lines of the rising sea levels and extreme storms worsened by human-made emissions.

“We are all in the same canoe,” rich countries and poor, he said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono described ways that Japan is investing in climate monitoring technology and hydrogen energy but said “we have to do more and better.”

As the day progressed, announcements started rolling in.

A group of 225 investment funds managing more than $26 trillion in assets promised to pressure companies to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and to disclose climate-related financial information.

The group, which includes the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest U.S. public pension fund, says it will focus on 100 of the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters.

Financial institutions are using the meeting to highlight the need to ensure that their investments don’t suffer from, or contribute to, the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather.

Macron also hosted leading world philanthropists Tuesday morning to encourage more climate-related investment.

Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, says environmentalists owe Trump a debt of “gratitude” for acting as a “rallying cry” for action on climate change. Bloomberg said the private sector coalition called “America’s Pledge,” that promises to honor goals set in 2015, “now represents half of the U.S. economy.”

Kerry told The Associated Press that many Americans remain “absolutely committed” to the Paris accord. He said 38 states have legislation pushing renewable energy and 90 major American cities support the Paris accord fighting global warming.

Some 3,100 security personnel fanned out around Paris for Tuesday’s event, including extra patrol boats along the Seine River. Macron will accompany the visiting leaders to the summit site on a river island by boat.

On Monday, Macron awarded 18 climate scientists – most of them based in the U.S. – multimillion-euro grants to relocate to France for the rest of Trump’s term.

The “Make Our Planet Great Again” grants – a counter to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan – are part of Macron’s efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was once labeled the ‘climate chancellor’ for her efforts to curb global warming, faced domestic criticism for failing to attend the summit.

Meanwhile, in the Dutch city of The Hague, experts launched a plan Tuesday aimed at addressing threats created by problems such as water and food shortages. It called for the United Nations to create a special “climate security” envoy and urged better coordination on international migration issues.

It also demanded action to counter food shortages in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin, security issues in Mali and water management in Iraq.

]]> 0's President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Arnold Schwarzenegger leave the One Planet Summit near Paris, Tuesday. American leaders there said the world will go greener with or without President Trump.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 20:32:47 +0000
Maine PUC opens inquiry into storm response by CMP, Emera Tue, 12 Dec 2017 15:54:14 +0000 The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted Tuesday to open an inquiry into responses by the state’s electric companies in restoring power after October’s destructive storm.

It asked Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine to file reports detailing their responses and lessons learned in 30 days. It also said it wanted to know how electric utilities and regulated phone companies worked together after the storm and whether changes need to be made.

The potent pre-Halloween wind and rainstorm cut service to more than 400,000 CMP customers and left some in the dark for up to 10 days. In eastern and northern Maine, roughly 90,000 customers served by Emera Maine also lost power. It took eight days to get everyone back on line.

Taken together, it was the largest power outage in state history.

The 30-day deadline – a tight time frame for data gathering, especially during the holiday season – was a signal that regulators see the issue as a priority, said Barry Hobbins, the state’s public advocate.

“I think the message is clear,” Hobbins said. “The PUC is going to put the utilities through their paces with a thorough review.”

The PUC’s inquiry will complement reviews set to be undertaken by the Office of Public Advocate and the Maine Legislature.

Hobbins said his office is close to engaging Sage Management Consultants LLC, a nationally recognized firm on utility industry issues. The consultants have worked on storm-cost recovery cases in southern New England, he said.

The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee also is planning to look into response and prevention questions after it convenes in the new year. Hobbins, a former legislator and co-chair of the committee, said that having the power companies’ responses to the PUC in hand by mid-January will give lawmakers a set of facts with which to start their work.


In the storm’s wake, frustrated residents and critical politicians are calling for someone to be held accountable for what they see as utility failings in quickly restoring power and keeping customers informed about restoration status. This reaction is common across New England, as the intensity of the storm and the damage it caused caught many residents and responders less than fully prepared.

CMP recently revealed that the storm took down its smart-meter network for a time, degrading its ability to recognize what was happening on the system.

There also are calls in Maine – the most forested state in the nation and a place where tree branches falling on local electric lines are the leading cause of lost power – for more action to prevent future outages.

Hobbins expects the pending reviews to balance the desire for accountability with insights into how to be better prepared.

“It’s good to look in the rear-view mirror and have an opportunity to see mistakes that were made,” he said. “Just as the (1998) ice storm was a wake-up call, this is a wake-up call. Systems failed and remediation is needed, to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”


For their parts, the power companies have said there are lessons to be learned, but that they restored power as soon as they could safely do it. They have noted that, with thousands of trees down and hundreds of snapped utility poles, the intensity of the storm defied predictions.

After Tuesday’s action at the PUC, Emera Maine said it’s not uncommon for regulators, lawmakers and officials to conduct reviews of the largest events to ensure things were done properly, and that the company was looking forward to collaborating. It also referenced predictions from climate scientists that storms will become more severe and frequent in a warming world.

“As the frequency of severe weather has increased, utilities have gotten better at responding to major events,” said Judy Long, an Emera Maine spokeswoman. “Not only does Emera Maine plan for storms and pre-stage crews to respond as appropriate, we also conduct post-event reviews to identify any lessons learned.”

CMP noted that investigations were conducted after storms that included those in 1998, 2002 and 2009.


Gail Rice, a CMP spokeswoman, repeated that the October storm caused more outages than any other in CMP history.

“We feel the commission is best equipped to conduct such a review in an open and transparent process,” she said.

Also pending at the PUC is an estimate of what Maine’s two largest power companies spent on restoration.

The PUC will scrutinize the requests, and could dispute some costs. But by law, customers will pick up most of the tab, which is expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars.

CMP said it expects to submit its information this week, or possibly next week. Emera Maine said its cost estimates will be presented in January.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

Twitter: TuxTurkel

]]> 0, ME - DECEMBER 12: Chairman Mark Vannoy speaks during a Maine Public Utilities Commission meeting on Tuesday Dec. 12, 2017 in Hallowell. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)Wed, 13 Dec 2017 01:10:27 +0000
In final report, NTSB cites multiple causes for sinking of El Faro and crew members’ deaths Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:39:26 +0000 Everywhere investigators looked, there were failures. Failures in inspections. Failures in maintenance of the vessel. Failures in communication.

In many ways, the cargo ship El Faro was doomed when it sailed from Jacksonville, Florida, more than two years ago, directly into the path of Hurricane Joaquin.

All 33 people on board were killed when the ship sank, including four from Maine, in the worst U.S. maritime tragedy in more than three decades.

During the National Transportation Safety Board’s daylong hearing Tuesday – the latest and final in the investigation into the tragedy – officials said the probable cause was multifaceted, but rested largely with the ship’s captain.

Just as the Coast Guard concluded two months ago, the NTSB agreed that Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham made decisions that contributed to the ship’s sinking, including failing to listen to other crew members’ concerns. The structural integrity of the 40-year-old ship also played a major role, as did a lack of oversight by the company that owned the vessel, TOTE Maritime, and outdated weather information about the Category 3 hurricane.

Also, had crew members been able to launch their safety boats – they couldn’t because of the listing of the ship and extreme weather – they likely still would not have survived because the boats were open lifeboats, not closed. Although legal, the ship’s use of the older-style boats was allowed only because of an exemption to safety rules for older ships such as the El Faro.

The NTSB findings, roughly 80 in total, led to 53 draft recommendations that the board hopes will improve maritime safety and prevent a future tragedy, said Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

“This draft report is more than 400 double-spaced pages, which makes it the longest report I’ve seen in my 11 years at the board, and the investigative staff made every word count,” he said. “This report will be studied by mariners young and old for many years, and I’m confident that this tragedy at sea, and the lessons from this investigation, will help improve safety for future generations of mariners.”

Those recommendations include establishing better communication protocol among crew members, requiring stricter safety inspections, mandating closed lifeboats and developing damage control plans. The NTSB also recommended that all mariners carry personal locator beacons to make it easier to find them during marine emergencies.


The final voyage of El Faro has been well-documented by now. The 790-foot ship, loaded with cargo containers and vehicles, departed Florida for San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 29, 2015, and sank two days later off the coast of the Bahamas.

The crew, led by Capt. Davidson, was aware of Hurricane Joaquin and planned to alter the ship’s route slightly to travel around the storm’s path. But at some point, the hurricane’s path shifted and the ship’s crew members were not aware of that in time because they were relying on hours-old weather information.

Davidson, as the ship’s master, had several opportunities to turn the ship around but didn’t. Large cargo ships travel in inclement weather, including hurricanes, on a regular basis and he told crew members in the hours leading up to the sinking that the ship would be able to handle the hurricane.

Much of what has been revealed about the final 24 hours of El Faro was contained in the ship’s voyage data recorder, which was recovered from the ocean floor last August after a 10-month effort that cost roughly $3 million.

The data recorder included audio from the vessel’s bridge. That audio has not been released publicly, but the NTSB and Coast Guard turned it into a transcript, which was released last December. Much of it, especially the final couple of hours before the ship went down, is harrowing.

At 7:29 on the morning of Oct. 1, Davidson made the call to abandon ship. Ten minutes later, the audio cut out. The last voices heard were Davidson and a crew member struggling to escape the rapidly submerging vessel.

Of the 33 who were killed, 28 were Americans. The other five were from Poland.

Four crew members were from Maine, including Davidson, 53; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton; and Danielle Randolph, 34, and Dylan Meklin, 23, both of Rockland. All four were graduates of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, as was a fifth crew member, Mitchell Kuflik of New York.

Holland’s mother, Deb Roberts, told the Portland Press Herald in October that the Coast Guard went over the report in detail with the victims’ family members before releasing it to the public. Roberts said the key takeaway for her was that no single person or entity was solely responsible for the tragedy.

“There were times that the crew didn’t have accurate information that could have made a difference,” she said. “There were things early on, even before the accident, that the Coast Guard could have done differently. There wasn’t any one thing – it was several factors, sometimes seemingly small, that caused the tragedy to happen.”


Carrie Bell, a member of the NTSB investigative team, outlined on Tuesday the ways in which human factors contributed to the tragedy. Her remarks focused largely on Davidson, who she said failed to gather crew to discuss any concerns about the hurricane, failed to return to the bridge even as weather worsened and failed to listen to crew members who did express concerns.

Bell said Davidson was a 24-year maritime veteran who had sailed in bad weather on numerous occasions, although it was clarified that his experience was not with that type of cargo ship and not as a ship’s master. She also noted that some within the company had “dwindling confidence” in his leadership. One employee, in an email, referred to Davidson as a “stateroom captain,” implying that he spent more time in his own room than on the ship’s bridge.

However, during Tuesday’s hearing, NTSB members added another finding: that had crew members more effectively stated their concerns, the captain’s situational awareness might have been improved.

Blame also was levied at the ship’s owner, TOTE Maritime, which owns several other cargo ships. The NTSB concurred with the Coast Guard that TOTE violated safety regulations to ensure the crew was well rested, and that the company had not replaced a safety officer management position. TOTE also had stopped employing port helpers who assist in safely loading cargo on ships.

The Coast Guard also found that El Faro’s crew had difficulty keeping up with the brisk loading pace required to keep the ship on schedule. Cargo shipping is a high-pressure industry in which containing costs are imperative.

Larry Brennan, a professor of maritime law at Fordham Law School and a retired U.S. Navy captain, said the NTSB’s findings could create a safer working environment for mariners in the future. For example, the board could help by calling for the removal of the safety exemption that allowed the El Faro to legally use old lifeboats.

“No one should use open boats in rough weather, or any weather,” Brennan told the Associated Press. “If the NTSB takes an aggressive course, they may be able to effectively change regulations and policies that will enhance safety at sea.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

]]> 0, 12 Dec 2017 23:44:00 +0000
Poland Spring poured $201 million into Maine economy in 2016, report says Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Poland Spring added more than $200 million to the state economy and employed 860 workers in Maine in 2016, according to an economic impact report released by the company Tuesday.

That makes Poland Spring the fifth-largest manufacturer in Maine and an important source of employment and economic growth in rural parts of Maine, where natural resource industries such as pulp and paper manufacturing are declining, said Charles Lawton, an economist who wrote the report for Poland Spring. Lawton also writes a column for the Portland Press Herald.

“To me the most significant surprise was the number of people employed,” Lawton said. The $201.6 million generated by the company included payroll, payments to vendors, sales and local and state taxes. Poland Spring added 200 jobs from 2005 to 2017, according to the company.

The company’s overall economic effect, including employee spending, is closer to $391 million, Lawton estimated.

“I would never say it was the same as the thousands and thousands of jobs associated with paper,” but there is “a widening shadow of impact from Poland Spring that helps support local communities,” Lawton said. “It is one of the few that is expanding in rural Maine.”

Poland Spring expects to add 40 to 80 jobs at its next bottling plant.

The bottled water company, a subsidiary of the Swiss food and beverage giant Nestle S.A., commissioned the report in advance of building a new bottling plant to keep up with heavy demand.

The location of the plant, either in Oxford County or Penobscot County, is expected to be announced by early 2018, according to community relations manager Heather Printup. The facility is expected to cost $50 million and create 40 to 80 new jobs, she said. This is the first time the company has enumerated its economic impact in a report like this, she said.

“It is a really exciting time for us – we are making a major growth announcement,” Printup said. “It really prompted us to take a comprehensive look at our contributions in the state.”

On average, Poland Spring workers make about $53,700 in annual wages and benefits, almost $12,000 more than the state average, according to Lawton’s report.

Poland Spring has bottling plants in Hollis, Poland and Kingfield and sources its water from Fryeburg, Poland, Hollis, Dallas Plantation, Kingfield, Pierce Pond Township and Denmark. The company extracted more than 900 million gallons in 2016 and has signed long-term deals with water districts in Rumford and Lincoln to source water from those towns. It is prepared to invest $150 million in Maine over the next five years, according to the report.

The company has courted controversy as it expanded in Maine in the past 15 years. Environmental groups have argued the company makes huge profits while endangering vital public resources, although the company has always rejected allegations it threatens local aquifers. Last year the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of Poland Spring in a lawsuit brought by a Fryeburg resident and a national environmental group over a 25-year extraction agreement with Fryeburg Water Co.

Poland Spring also has fought off multiple lawsuits accusing it of mislabeling its “spring” water because it gets much of its product from freshwater wells.

“We do attract some controversy, but at the end of the day we are truly invested in Maine,” Printup said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 worker moves bottles of Poland Spring at the Hollis facility last year. The company also has bottling plants in Poland and Kingfield and water sources in nine towns. It extracted more than 900 million gallons of water in 2016.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:33:01 +0000
Boy, 6, rakes in $11 million with toy reviews on YouTube Tue, 12 Dec 2017 02:23:35 +0000 For kids these days, some of the biggest stars are not actors but YouTube stars.

And one of the biggest of them all is a 6-year-old named Ryan who plays with toys – mesmerizing millions of children across the globe.

Since he was 3 years old, Ryan’s parents have been capturing videos of him opening toys, playing with them and “reviewing” them for videos posted on their YouTube channel, “Ryan ToysReview.”

Ryan’s last name, and his place of residence are a closely guarded secret, and not without reason.

Ryan has become a multi-millionaire, according to Forbes magazine’s just-out list of highest paid YouTube entrepreneurs. He was ranked number eight, having brought in $11 million in revenue between June 1, 2016, and June 1, 2017, before management fees and taxes, of course. He tied with the comedy channel Smosh, created by Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox.

Children everywhere have become hooked, watching his videos for hours a day, even mimicking him and starting their own YouTube channels.

Combined, the world’s 10 highest-paid YouTube stars earned $127 million, up 80 percent from last year. According to Forbes, this boost came thanks to ad dollars from a surge in views – including a healthy sum from “Ryan ToysReview.” During the 12 months considered by Forbes, “Ryan ToysReview” counted over 8 billion views.

What has grown into a viral phenomenon began with a simple, unremarkable 15-minute video about a Lego Duplo train set. When his family started recording and posting the videos in March 2015, the 3-year-old barely had any views let alone reviews, according to a profile of Ryan in Verge. In his first video, he simply opened a Lego box, set up the blocks, and played with them.

“Ryan was watching a lot of toy review channels,” his mother, who declined to be named, told TubeFilter last year. “One day, he asked me, ‘How come I’m not on YouTube when all the other kids are?’ So we just decided – yeah, we can do that.”

About four months in, his channel saw an explosion of traffic, driven primarily by a viral video of Ryan reviewing a hundred toys at once.

“Ryan ToysReview” took off. Now, he’s at more than 10 million subscribers and over 16 million views.

Each time someone clicks on one of Ryan’s videos, his family makes money. There are ads and links to ads all over the place.

Ryan has real impact.

“If a product gets ten million, twenty millions views, and you see that Ryan loves it, or other kids love it, it has a huge impact at retail,” Jim Silver, CEO of the review site Toys, Tots, Pets, and More, told the Verge when Ryan was still 5 years old. “He’s really the youngest success that we’ve seen.”

]]> 0, 12 Dec 2017 05:44:37 +0000
Trump to push oil and gas drilling off the East Coast Tue, 12 Dec 2017 01:57:01 +0000 The Trump administration is preparing to unveil as soon as this week an expansive offshore oil plan that would open the door to selling new drilling rights in Atlantic waters, according to people familiar with the plan.

President Donald Trump ordered his Interior Department to write the new blueprint with the aim of auctioning oil and gas drilling rights off the East Coast – territory that former President Barack Obama, ruled out. The Interior Department’s coming draft proposal, an initial milestone in replacing the Obama-era sale plan, dovetails with the oil industry’s push for new places to drill, said the people, who asked not to be identified before a formal announcement.

Trump’s proposal would span the years 2019 to 2024, replacing the Obama plan, which runs through 2022.

Industry leaders have lobbied the Trump administration to sell drilling rights in the U.S. Atlantic as a way to complement existing oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. It is not clear how much oil and gas exists off the East Coast, because existing data stems largely from decades-old geological surveys and more than four-dozen wells drilled in the 1970s and 1980s.

Oil companies also want the Trump administration to sell drilling rights in Arctic waters north of Alaska and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico – where federal law bars new oil leasing through 2022. Lawmakers from Florida have fought efforts to expand offshore drilling they say would imperil the state’s tourism-tied economy and are seeking to extend that ban.

While most U.S. waters are technically open for oil and gas development, the activity can only take place on leases sold under the government’s five-year plan. The legal process starts broad, with the number of potential sales and the available acreage often whittled down as regulators move from an initial draft to the final program.

Industry trade groups have urged the government to take an inclusive approach and leave all options open for now, because once offshore areas are yanked, they can’t be easily restored.

“It’s important that the federal government make available new prospective areas … to ensure we keep up with future demand,” said Dan Eberhart, chief executive officer of drilling services company Canary LLC.

]]> 0 Mon, 11 Dec 2017 20:57:01 +0000
Bitcoin price swells on first traditional trading day in U.S. Tue, 12 Dec 2017 01:37:27 +0000 Bitcoin prices surged Monday as contract futures for the cryptocurrency began trading Sunday evening on the Cboe Global Markets, the first traditional platform serving the currency.

Bitcoin contract futures opened at $15,000, and 890 contracts were traded in the first 2 hours and 15 minutes Sunday evening, according to the Chicago-based Cboe. The Cboe said 4,127 bitcoin futures contracts were traded in the first full day.

Cboe reported two trading halts overnight of Cboe Bitcoin Futures (XBT) due to heavy demand. One halt lasted two minutes, the other for five, according to a Cboe spokesman. There were no trading halts Monday.

“We are very pleased with the results so far,” said Michael Mollet, director of product development at Cboe. “The trading has been orderly. We hit a couple of our circuit-breaker halts, but those were due to price movement in futures and not due to any systems issues. We halted like our rules said we would and opened back up.”

Bitcoin values have skyrocketed more than 15-fold in 2017, and the digital currency has been on a tear, last week topping $17,000 a coin before settling back around $15,000. It has risen $5,000 in the past week.

The currency was back trading around $17,300 at 4 p.m. Monday, a 12.6 percent increase in 24 hours. The Cboe Futures Exchange daily settlement price for January bitcoin futures was $18,545 when the market closed Monday.

Bitcoin has become part of the national conversation, dominating Wall Street, the financial press and its broadcast arms. It even was included in a Saturday Night Live skit on Saturday.

“Despite fears by many of the bubble popping, so far the price is going up,” said J.R. Lanis, an attorney with Drinker Biddle. “The demand seems to be real. It is beyond just technologist speculators. You now have institutional investors participating in the market and keeping the price high. We will see if that continues.”

As bitcoin goes mainstream, industry observers said investors should be cautious.

“Digital currencies are volatile and the prices can go up and down,” said Brian Armstrong, chief executive at digital currency exchange Coinbase, in a blog. “Due to the rapidly changing price of digital currencies, some customers may not have sell limits that are sufficient relative to the value of total digital currency they are storing on Coinbase. Sell limits are one of the many measures Coinbase takes to protect client accounts and assets.”

]]> 0, 11 Dec 2017 20:37:27 +0000
S&P 500, Dow set records yet again Tue, 12 Dec 2017 01:09:39 +0000 Technology companies led U.S. stocks modestly higher Monday, driving the market to another set of milestones.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average finished at new highs. Both indexes also hit record highs on Friday.

Solid gains by health care companies also helped lift the market, outweighing losses among banks and industrial stocks. Energy stocks rose along with the price of crude oil.

Investors had their eye on bitcoin futures, which made their market debut. But traders were mostly looking ahead to the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers.

“The market is kind of in a holding pattern, just sort of waiting for the Fed meeting,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading & derivatives at Charles Schwab.

The S&P 500 index rose 8.49 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,659.99. The index has risen on a weekly basis the past three weeks. The Dow gained 56.87 points, or 0.2 percent, to 24,386.03. The Nasdaq composite added 35 points, or 0.5 percent, to 6,875.08. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slipped 1.88 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,519.84.

The Fed is scheduled to issue an interest rate policy update on Wednesday. Economists expect the central bank to lift short-term rates by 0.25 percent. That would be the third interest rate hike by the central bank this year.

While inflation has remained low, the central bank has seen a path to gradually raise rates as the economy and labor market have strengthened.

The Labor Department said Monday that U.S. employers posted slightly fewer job openings in October than the previous month, but the number of people being hired increased. Last week, another report showed that employers added a net total of 244,000 jobs in October and 228,000 in November. The trend helped keep the unemployment rate at 4.1 percent.

“The Fed sees enough strength in the overall economy, despite the lack of inflation, to still go ahead and continue to hike rates,” Frederick said.

]]> 0 Mon, 11 Dec 2017 20:09:39 +0000
Yellen’s farewell may provide hint of the future for interest rates Tue, 12 Dec 2017 01:01:56 +0000 WASHINGTON — Investors seem certain about this: The Federal Reserve is going to raise interest rates this week for the third time this year.

They’re less sure about what the central bank might have in store for 2018, and they will look to Janet Yellen’s final news conference as Fed chair Wednesday for any clues.

Will the Fed’s policymaking change once Yellen steps down in February and is succeeded by Jerome Powell? Powell was a Yellen ally who backed her cautious stance toward rate hikes in his five years on the Fed’s board. Yet no one can know how his leadership or rate policy might depart from hers.

What’s more, Powell will be joined by several new Fed board members who, like him, are being chosen by President Trump. Some analysts say they think that while Powell might not deviate much from Yellen’s rate policy, he and the new board members will adopt a looser approach to the regulation of the banking system.

Most analysts have said they think the still-strengthening U.S. economy will lead the Fed to raise rates three more times next year. A few, though, have held out the possibility that a Powell-led Fed will be compelled to step up the pace of rate hikes as inflation finally picks up and the economy, perhaps helped by the Republican tax cuts, begins accelerating.

“While the Fed has been indicating that they will hike rates another three times in 2018, I think Powell will depart from that forecast and the Fed will end up hiking rates four times,” said David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors. “That is based on the added growth that will come from the tax cuts.”

At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Powell impressed his listeners as an evenhanded moderate who favored the kind of incremental stance on rate hikes that both Yellen and her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, embraced. The committee approved Powell’s nomination and sent it to the full Senate, where his confirmation is considered certain.

Besides Powell, Trump has so far chosen two new members for the seven-member board. And he has the opening to nominate three more, including a Fed vice chair. In his view of the Fed, Trump has made clear that he favors low rates. But he has also expressed a desire to pull back on many of the regulations that were imposed on banks after the 2008 financial crisis. Trump and many Republicans argue that those regulations are too burdensome, especially for smaller banks.

It was in the midst of the 2008 crisis that the Fed cut its key rate to a record low near zero and left it there for seven years. Eventually under Yellen, the Fed responded to a steadily improving job market and economy by modestly raising the rate – in December 2015, in December 2016 and twice this year. Since June, the policymakers have left rates alone while puzzling over why inflation has slipped farther below their 2 percent annual target.

The widespread expectation that the Fed will raise rates three additional times next year – possibly causing higher rates on some consumer and business loans – comes from the Fed’s so-called “dot plot.” The dot plot, updated quarterly, displays the anonymous projections of individual Fed officials for the path of their benchmark rate, as well as for inflation and economic growth. The dot plot, which the Fed will update when its policy meeting ends Wednesday, most recently showed an expectation of three rate increases in 2018.

In updating its projections, it’s possible the Fed will take account of the likelihood that Congress will pass tax cuts and perhaps cause the economy to accelerate next year. In its latest survey, SIFMA, a lobbying group for the U.S. securities industry, found that 41 percent of its respondents foresee three rate hikes next year, 38 percent foresee two hikes and 17 percent expect four.

Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities and chairman of SIFMA’s economic advisory group, said his personal forecast was for four hikes because of the boost he expects from tax cuts.

“While the tax package is not a game changer, it does add more confidence that the Fed can keep going” with its rate increases, Ryan said.

He suggested, too, that the Fed’s evolving committee of board members and regional bank presidents who set rates will tilt slightly toward “hawkish” officials – those who tend to worry more about the threat of higher inflation than about the need to further increase employment.

On Wednesday, at her final news conference as Fed chair, Yellen may feel at liberty to go further than usual in illuminating the Fed’s outlook for the coming months.

“I would expect her to be more vocal about her beliefs,” said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University, Channel Islands. “This could be one of the more interesting press conferences she has given.”

Others said they would be surprised if Yellen diverts from her usual cautious demeanor.

“Yellen gets to do a victory lap: She is going out with low unemployment and stronger growth,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at DS Economics. “But with just one month to go in her term, she doesn’t want to do anything to undermine Jay Powell.”

]]> 0 Yellen will hold her final news conference as Fed chair Wednesday, and may feel at liberty to go further than usual in illuminating the Fed's outlook for the coming months.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 20:01:56 +0000
Gas prices still falling in northern New England Mon, 11 Dec 2017 22:24:45 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. – Gasoline prices are falling in northern New England.

GasBuddy’s daily survey of gas outlets says the price has fallen 4.1 cents per gallon in Vermont in the last week, averaging $2.50.

The price in Maine went down 3.9 cents to an average of $2.48 a gallon.

New Hampshire’s price decreased 3.1 cents to $2.46 a gallon.

The national average fell 2.5 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.45. It’s 11.2 cents per gallon lower than last month, and 23.9 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

]]> 0, 12 Dec 2017 00:28:04 +0000
Unitil to offer 600,000 shares of stock Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:47:18 +0000 Unitil Corp. said Monday that it plans to issue an additional 600,000 shares of stock in order to fund natural gas operations and pay down debt.

The Hampton, New Hampshire-based utility is the largest natural gas provider in Maine. It has 105,000 electric customers and 80,000 natural gas customers in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Based on Unitil’s share price of $49.81 as of 4 p.m. Monday, the stock offering would generate nearly $30 million in cash for the company, excluding the cost of the offering.

Unitil said in a news release that the funds “are expected to be used to make equity capital contributions to Unitil’s regulated utility subsidiaries (primarily to its regulated natural gas subsidiary), to repay short-term debt and for general corporate purposes.”

RBC Capital Markets and BofA Merrill Lynch will act as joint book-running managers of the offering, while Janney Montgomery Scott is acting as co-manager, Unitil said.


]]> 0, 11 Dec 2017 16:56:43 +0000
MEMIC awards $100 for each employee to donate to charity Mon, 11 Dec 2017 19:29:48 +0000 MEMIC Group employees are spreading some seasonal cheer this year at the behest of its corporate parent.

All 400 employees of the Portland-based workers’ compensation insurance company can direct a $100 company donation to the charity of their choice, according to a release from the company.

“MEMIC has a long tradition of community engagement but we don’t necessarily know what is personally important to each employee such as education, fighting hunger, improving health, sheltering pets or providing housing,” said Michael Bourque, president and CEO, in the release. “As we complete another successful year, we thought this idea would be a great way for our employees to mark the beginning of our 25th anniversary by contributing to organizations and programs that capture their hearts.”

The donation program was announced at the end of the company’s holiday party Friday.

]]> 0, 11 Dec 2017 14:41:13 +0000
Mario Batali steps away from his restaurant businesses and TV show after sexual misconduct allegations Mon, 11 Dec 2017 17:06:29 +0000 Celebrity chef Mario Batali is stepping away from the TV show “The Chew” and the day-to-day operations of his businesses after a report detailed sexual misconduct allegations from multiple women spanning at least two decades.

Batali did not deny the allegations against him, saying in a statement Monday that “although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match … ways I have acted.”

“That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses,” he said. “I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.”

In an investigation published Monday by food website Eater, four women – three of whom had worked for Batali in some capacity – said he touched them inappropriately.

According to the Eater piece, a woman who worked for Batali in the late 1990s told Eater he came up behind her in the dining room “put his hand on half of my butt and he squeezed it. Another former Batali employee said he repeatedly grabbed her from behind and held her tight against his body. Another former worker said he groped her. A woman who never worked for Batali said the chef rubbed her breasts at a party about 10 years ago after someone spilled wine on her shirt.

Eater did not publish their names.

Batali gained mainstream recognition with the 1997 debut of his TV show “Molto Mario” on Food Network. Five years later, the chef was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as the best chef in New York City.

Batali co-hosted the ABC daytime talk show “The Chew” since it launched in 2011.

On Monday morning, B&B Hospitality Group, which provides operational services to 24 restaurants owned by Batali, said it took the allegations “very seriously.”

“Mr. Batali and we have agreed that he will step away from the company’s operations, including the restaurants, and he has already done so,” the company said.

]]> 0 Batali is stepping down from daily operations at his restaurant empire following reports of sexual misconduct by the celebrity chef over a period of at least 20 years. In a prepared statement Monday, Batali said the complaints match up with his past behavior.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:52:07 +0000
Maine ski resorts touting new glades, lifts, trails and snowmaking prowess Mon, 11 Dec 2017 01:38:18 +0000 Black Mountain’s Angry Beavers created four new glades. Sugarloaf spent $250,000 on a pair of snow machines that open up back-country terrain for an experience it says can’t be found anywhere east of Michigan.

Sunday River Resort skiers are already riding its first new lift in nine years and its Christmas week bookings are up 44 percent over this time last year.

Another ski season’s here with great investment – $4.7 million at Sunday River alone – one great unknown (Where art thou, Saddleback?) and the industry’s trademark optimism.

It’s the first time in Greg Sweetser’s memory that two Nordic centers and two Alpine slopes were open and skiing at the end of November in Maine.

“That’s an optimistic sign and gotten buzz among skiers, ‘Wow, there’s both cross-country and downhill already,'” said Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association.

He’s watching the jet stream, talking to meteorologists, monitoring snowpack in Canada and hoping Farmers’ Almanac got its predictions right.

Portland received 95.2 inches last winter, more than 50 percent above the historical average. That led to a good season for most resorts and just under 1.3 million skier visits, the average for the past three years, Sweetser said.

Ski Maine estimates skiing’s economic impact at $300 million. The Maine Office of Tourism is looking to up that this winter by more than doubling the outreach of its advertising, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Geiger.

Geiger said the office is looking “to build on momentum.” Winter visits to Maine have increased 7 percent each of the past five years. One-third of those visitors are looking to head outside.

What they’ll find and when they’ll find it at ski resorts around western Maine:


Black Mountain of Maine, Rumford

Target opening: Dec. 26

Look for: Four new glades, new snowmaking on the lower half of the Allagash Trail, a repainted lodge and newly town-paved roads leading to and from the mountain.

Volunteers known as Angry Beavers spent more than 500 hours over the summer creating the new glades and cleaning up existing ones, according to spokeswoman Deanna Kersey.

Two trails, Moxie and Bagaduce, were also de-stumped. The nonprofit mountain has more than 50 glades and trails at capacity. Glades in particular have been getting more popular there for cross-country skiers.

“(Last year) we got tons of snow and we saw a lot of new people,” Kersey said. “We saw a lot of people who had been skiing at Saddleback previously and didn’t have a home to go to. We were really happy to welcome those families in. We gained a lot of their ski patrols … so we’re very optimistic this season.”


Titcomb Mountain, Farmington

Target opening: Dec. 16

Look for: Improved snowmaking and vastly improved parking after construction crews dug up a foot of clay throughout the main lot.

“They’ve improved the parking lot 100-times-fold,” said Frank Chin, assistant manager at the nonprofit, volunteer-run mountain. He hopes to see the ski hill open with part of the main trail and part of the bunny slope. Titcomb has 20 trails at capacity.

“Last year was just skiing, skiing, skiing, both family (and) races,” Chin said. “The weather is 80 percent of it – we just had so much snow here.”


Lost Valley Ski Area, Auburn

Target opening: Dec. 15

Look for: Three new trails, a new kitchen, new rental equipment and the addition of Lost Valley Brewing.

John Herrick, its new general manager, came on this fall.

“This year we focused on hiring experienced people. We’ve got a brand-new crew, top to bottom,” Herrick said. “My new mountain manager is from Copper Mountain out in Colorado. I just picked up a new lift supervisor from Okemo, which is in Vermont. We’re getting some experienced talent to streamline the processes.”

Strong early-season pass sales have him hoping skiership is up this winter on its 18 trails.

The ski area plans an open house/launch party on Dec. 14.

“There’s a lot of curious people walking around; they want to check out improvements,” Herrick said. “(It’s) just like a celebration to get us going”


Shawnee Peak, Bridgton

Target opening: Dec. 16

Look for: A new Magic Carpet lift in its beginner area, the first full season of the mountain’s new Winch Cat and a lot of celebrating its 80th anniversary.

The Winch Cat, a groomer with a cable to anchor itself, came online at the end of last winter, according to Rachael Wilkinson, marketing director.

“The winch allows you to pull from all kinds of different directions, so that you can move a lot more snow uphill and side to side. It just helps with grooming a lot of the steeper trails or trickier trails,” she said. “The outside crew is really very excited.”

Skiers make a run at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton last year. The mountain, celebrating its 80th anniversary, has a new “Magic Carpet” lift in its beginner area to relieve congestion. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The Magic Carpet, its second surface lift in the beginner area, will help with congestion. At capacity, that mountain has 40-plus trails and glades.

“It looks like it’s going to be a good snow year – give us a week, and I think it’ll feel like it’s going to be a good snow year,” Wilkinson said. “The forecast looks great, looks very similar to last year, which was a lovely year. ”


Mt. Abram, Greenwood

Target opening: Dec. 16

Look for: Reconfigured lodge space with more seating capacity, a new seasonal locker room, new weekly rail jam snowboard competitions and a new alpine center.

Spokesman Uel Gardner said the Norway Savings Bank Alpine Center, under construction this week, will have space for coaches to meet with athletes on the first floor and second-floor space for timing and event announcements.

Mt. Abram has 48 trails at capacity. Gardner’s anticipating the snowboard competition to be a popular draw, potentially luring talent from as far away as Portland.

The mountain has a new general manager this winter, Bob Harkins, a former U.S. Ski Team coach and one of the founders of Cold River Vodka.


Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley

Opened: Nov. 9

Look for: Upgrades in snowmaking efficiency, improved snowmaking on Skidder Trail and its new “cat skiing” operation on Burnt Mountain.

The new Skyline lift at Sugarloaf is shown during the winter of 2011. It replaces the Spillway East lift that derailed Dec. 28, 2010, injuring at least six and left dozens more stranded in frozen suspension. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

The cats are a larger version of a snow-grooming machine with a cab that fits up to 12 passengers, according to spokeswoman Noelle Tuttle.

In “cat skiing,” skiers will hop in for a 20-minute ride along a newly cut half-mile road on the eastern side of Burnt Mountain, a trip that used to take an hour on foot.

“It accesses almost 1,000 acres of rugged and remote back-country terrain,” Tuttle said. “It’s an experience that’s totally unique to East Coast skiing and riding. Some other cat- skiing operations access trails that can also be accessed via chairlift – the terrain accessed by our cats would otherwise only be accessible by hiking.”

Parent company Boyne Resorts invested $250,000 for the new rides and skiers will have to pay an extra fee to use them.

Sugarloaf has more than 160 trails and glades at capacity, the largest number for a Maine mountain.

“This season is off to a really good start,” Tuttle said. “We’re up more than 10 percent in season pass sales … .”


Sunday River Resort, Newry

Opened: Nov. 11

Look for: $4.7 million in capital investments from Boyne Resorts that include the new Spruce Peak Triple chairlift, a new beginner trail with 8,000 feet of snowmaking and a massive deck expansion at The Mountain Room restaurant.

The chairlift, the resort’s first new lift since 2008, is capable of carrying 1,480 skiers an hour at 500 feet per minute, according to spokeswoman Darcy Lambert.

The new trail this season, Bear Paw, was cut on Locke Mountain in a partnership with Gould Academy in Bethel. Bear Paw is expected to move beginner traffic away from the Monday Mourning Trail, the dedicated race trail on the mountain.

“It’s really kind of a fun switchback trail – beginners are going to like it because it’s the easiest way down,” Lambert said.

At full capacity, with 15 chairlifts, Sunday River has 135 trails. It’s the most-visited ski mountain in Maine. Season pass sales are up 20 percent year-to-date. November lodging was up 28 percent over last November.


Saddleback Maine, Sandy River Plantation

Target opening: A big question mark.

Saddleback has been closed since the spring of 2015, and this past summer Australian-based Majella Group announced it was purchasing the resort. In a Nov. 9 post on Facebook, CEO Sebastian Monsour said the company had encountered delays in closing the sale but was “committed to opening in some capacity for the 2017/18 ski season.”

The resort’s website last week said simply, “Alpine skiing and snowboarding … the way it should be” with links to an old Q&A and press release.

This past week, management deferred comment to a Majella spokeswoman who didn’t respond to requests for comment.


Spruce Mountain, Jay

The Sun Journal also reached out to Spruce Mountain but didn’t hear back from officials.

Kathryn Skelton can be contacted at:

]]> 0 future of Saddleback Mountain, shown here in a 2008 photo, is still uncertain, though the new owner of the Rangeley resort is "committed to opening in some capacity" this season.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 07:15:13 +0000
Fast-moving tax bill gains amendments on the fly Mon, 11 Dec 2017 00:42:36 +0000 WASHINGTON — Republicans are moving their tax bill toward final passage at stunning speed, blowing past Democrats before they’ve had time to fully mobilize against it but leaving the measure vulnerable to the type of expensive problems already popping up in their massive and complex plan.

Questionable special-interest provisions have been stuffed in along the way, out of public view and in some cases literally in the dead of night. Drafting errors by exhausted staff are cropping up in need of fixes, which must be tackled by congressional negotiators working to reconcile competing versions of the legislation passed separately by the House and the Senate.

And the melding process underway has opened the door to another frenzy of eleventh-hour lobbying as special interests, including President Trump’s rich friends, make one last dash for cash before the final bill speeds through both chambers of Congress and onto Trump’s desk. Passage is expected the week before Christmas.

Veterans of congressional tax overhauls, particularly the seminal revamp under President Ronald Reagan in 1986, have been stunned and in some cases outraged at how swiftly Republicans are moving on legislation that touches every corner of the economy and all Americans. And although Republican leaders make no apologies, some in their rank and file say that the process would have benefited from a more deliberate and open approach.

“I think it would have looked better if we had taken more time and had more transparency, had more open committee hearings,” said freshman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky. “Having said that, the goal that everybody had was to reduce the tax rates. … So at the end of the day the goal is going to be achieved, but we could have done it in a more transparent manner that probably would have given the voters that are being polled a little more confidence,” Comer said, referring to the effort’s poor showing in opinion surveys.

It has been just more than a month since the $1.5 trillion legislation was introduced in the House, and in that short time it has cleared the two key committees in the House and Senate and won approval on the floors of both chambers, all without a single Democratic vote. If Trump signs the bill as planned before Christmas, that would mean a journey of less than two months between introduction and final passage.

The specific legislation that probably will become law, sold as a middle-class tax cut but featuring a massive corporate rate reduction at its center, is moving from release toward passage without any hearings, unusual for a bill of such magnitude. And as it tumbled along it picked up some startling new features, to the surprise of affected industries, Democrats and in some cases Republicans themselves.

Some of the most notable changes came in the hours preceding the Senate’s passage of its version of the bill, which happened about 1:50 a.m. Dec. 2.

The final vote was preceded by hours of inaction as Republicans fine-tuned their legislation behind closed doors, while fuming Democratic staffers ate Chinese food and poured over versions of the bill and lists of amendments that had been leaked by lobbyists on K Street before Republicans had made anything public.

As they got additional drafts of the bill, Democrats were incensed at some of what they found, including new breaks for the oil and gas industry, and a provision that appeared aimed specifically at helping Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts college in Michigan that doesn’t accept federal funding and has a large endowment funded by wealthy conservatives including the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

An angry Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stood on the Senate floor to declare that “the federal treasury is being looted.” In their one victory of the debate, Democrats offered an amendment to strike the Hillsdale provision, and with the help of four Republicans it passed.

Democrats weren’t the only ones surprised by what was in the bill. Republicans and the business community were stunned when the final Senate version restored the alternative minimum tax for corporations. The tax, aimed at keeping companies from shirking their tax duties entirely, had been repealed in the House bill and earlier versions of the Senate measure.

Restoring the corporate alternative minimum tax created $40 billion in revenue for the bill, which helped Republicans come in under complex budgetary guidelines saying the legislation can’t go over the $1.5 trillion the Republican Party has agreed to add to the deficit over the next decade. Still, some Republicans professed not to know how the change had come about.

And under the new tax code the Republican bill would create, including the alternative minimum tax could have the unintended consequence of preventing companies from using other deductions, including the popular research and development tax credit.

“I’m guessing they just needed something quick to make the bill work,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who is one of the conferees charged with blending the two bills together.

Now, as quickly as it reappeared, the corporate alternative minimum tax probably will disappear again. Republican lawmakers widely agree that it doesn’t work and can’t be included, but it remains a mystery where they’ll find revenue to offset that change and pay for others they’re looking to include in the final package.

There has been discussion of moving the corporate rate to 22 percent, but the backlash against that proposal has been intense, and it probably will be dropped. But revenue must be found somewhere because there are some changes that look nearly certain, including adjusting the new limit on deducting state and local taxes. Both the House and Senate legislation would allow taxpayers to only deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes. Some of Trump’s New York friends have taken exception to that provision and have lobbied the president personally against it.

It’s all part of a breakneck pace of the tax bill that contrasts with the nearly a year-and-a-half that passed between when Reagan unveiled his initial version of the 1986 tax plan and its ultimate passage into law. The less far-ranging tax cuts that President George W. Bush signed in 2001 took four months to become law after the release of Bush’s initial blueprint. And the Affordable Care Act took nearly a year to complete, including a congressional summer recess featuring angry town hall meetings that turned public sentiment sharply against the bill.

Democrats accuse Republicans of whisking the legislation along to avoid extended public scrutiny and prevent them from mounting an offensive at public hearings or over lengthy congressional breaks. The Republican bills have endured neither.

“It’s clear that we could have defeated this bill had we gone through regular order and had any expert witness from any blue state or high-tax state come in,” said Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., who was a member of Democratic leadership during the much lengthier and more open process of passing the ACA. The provision limiting taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes hits high-tax areas like California, New York, New Jersey and Larson, Connecticut, particularly hard.

“People would have said ‘Well wait a minute,’ ” Larson said.

Republican congressional leaders dispute such comparisons, saying that the process on taxes has been going on for years, given that the party has long been debating the idea and an early foundational bill was released by then-Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, nearly four years ago. House Republicans led by Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also campaigned last year on an agenda called Better Way agenda, which featured a tax plank similar in many respects to the bill the House ultimately passed, though it drew scant attention at the time.

“These are relatively small bills, 400 pages or so; they’re not hard to digest. The policy decisions, the thoughtfulness, a lot of these issues we’ve been debating together and apart for years,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “Bottom line is the American people have been waiting 30 years. So to paraphrase a hardware store: less talking, more doing.”

Even before the late-night Senate dramatics, the process offered surprises and sudden twists.

A provision repealing an Affordable Care Act requirement for most Americans to carry insurance or pay fines was added to the Senate bill with little warning over the course of an afternoon, a major health policy decision that is projected to leave 13 million more Americans uninsured in a decade but that would give Republicans $330 billion to pay for other things they want to do.

And the release of the House bill stunned manufacturers when they discovered it contained an “excise tax” on purchases from American companies’ foreign subsidiaries that some said could drive them out of business. The provision was watered down before passage by the Ways and Means Committee, but companies are still fighting to keep it out of the final bill, said Nancy McLernon, president of the Organization for International Investment, which represents global companies with U.S. operations. Despite the years-long focus on tax overhaul, such a provision had not been debated – even after companies beat back a different import tax, she said.

The Senate has a different provision that companies like better, but as far as the cost of going from one to the other or how it will all shake out, “It’s all a Rubik’s cube,” McLernon said.

Many lobbyists, Democrats and other observers expect to find the final version of the bill, which could be filed late this week, just as full of surprises as the various iterations that have appeared. But as they gun for a legislative win that has eluded them this year, Republicans show little interest in slowing down to take a closer look.

“The frenzy, and I would call it a frenzy, to get it done and have a Christmas present for America – number one, I think it’s unnecessary; it’s a self-imposed deadline, and number two, it makes the possibility for error much greater,” said Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center who was staff director of the Senate Budget Committee during the 1986 tax effort. “This is a rush without a reason other than the political desire for a Rose Garden signing ceremony.”

]]> 0 code books sit on a table as the House Ways and Means Committee begins markup of the GOP tax bill on Nov. 6. MUST CREDIT: Andrew Harrer, BloombergSun, 10 Dec 2017 20:17:40 +0000
Maine parody site is far from fake news, and enough readers get the joke Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In early December, New Maine News reported that climate scientists had determined the cause of the state’s unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of snow: a new snowmobile purchased by a man from Rangeley.

The parody news site (think Maine version of The Onion) was, of course, poking fun at a gripe you’re likely to hear by the coffee pots at a corner store – that as soon as you buy an expensive new snow toy, the weather won’t cooperate.

It’s about as believable a news story as “Sexy Paul LePage” being the least popular Halloween costume for seven years in a row, or Portland’s mayor calling out the name of his native New York in bed – other “articles” on the site. But, these days, with ads and click bait posing as news stories, journalism being dismissed as fake news and politicians offering “alternative facts,” it can be hard to tell whether a ridiculous headline is real or, as in this case, satire.

Fortunately for New Maine News creator Seth Macy, enough people get the joke. Macy, a writer and former estate caretaker from Rockland, started the site in October. With an average of 50,000 page views a week and more than 7,300 followers on Facebook, he’s already drummed up enough ad revenue to cover his costs.

Fans say it’s obviously satire and are laughing out loud at New Maine News’ take on the people, trends and quirks unique to Maine. But some critics say the site, which isn’t clearly labeled as satirical content so as not to ruin the joke, helps continue the trend of blurring the line of what’s true and what isn’t, especially when it comes to the internet.

Belfast City Councilor Michael Hurley was upset by a New Maine News story in November that said Belfast was stamping out poverty by making it illegal for poor people to live in the well-heeled tourist town, attributing fake quotes to a real city councilor, Mary Mortier, such as: “Let’s face it, the poor are noble, hard-working and downtrodden, but they also drive their loud trucks through town and shop at places like Walmart.” Macy, who picked Mortier’s name at random from the city’s website, removed it after getting several complaints. She didn’t return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

“I do think the site is funny, but I think it’s sophomoric, to just make up quotes from a real person,” Hurley said. “People read things online and believe what they want. If you look at the comments on (New Maine News), some people believe the stories.”

One of those people is Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling’s mother, who called him to ask what was going on when she saw the story: “Portland City Council Says Mayor Must Pay for Own Top Hat and Sash” – a dig on Strimling for being accused of trying to grab more power than the city charter allows.

Strimling, however, has a sense of humor about it. Both times he was lampooned by the site, he posted the stories from his own Facebook page.

“I thought the pieces were very funny,” he said. “I think parody can get at deeper truths. He (Macy) touched on some of the back and forth, some of the tension, that’s going on with the council.”

Still, people do get fooled by the ever-growing number of parody and fake news sites that post enticing headlines just to get page views, like stories that appeared last year about pop star Katy Perry moving to Portland and a Harry Potter spinoff film being shot in Maine. New Maine News has a motto across its homepage that, to someone unfamiliar with Maine media, could be taken at face value: “Maine’s only trusted source for local real breaking news.” But since satire and parody are included in the First Amendment, Macy is pretty confident what he’s doing is protected speech.

Macy has written satire before, for gaming sites mostly. He’s a big fan of The Onion, probably the best known national satire site. He also remembers, as a youngster in the ’80s, seeing the Maineiac Express — a twice-printed newspaper parody with headlines like “Northern Maine Secedes!” and “Illiteracy declared official second language.”

Macy, 40, grew up on North Haven island near Rockland, where his father is a minister. Married with two children, he has worked as a caretaker of island property and is currently working as a freelance writer for gaming sites like Imagine Games Network and Hard Drive.

He started New Maine News mostly “to write some funny stuff and make my friends laugh.” He doesn’t want his satire to be political, like so much is, but wants to follow The Onion’s lead and lampoon the nuts and bolts of daily life – in his case, daily life in Maine.

“The Onion makes fun of everybody and everything, and that’s what I’m striving to do. I never want my stories to let people know what my politics are,” Macy said.

Macy writes all the satirical stories himself, usually posting one a day with photo-shopped art – like a woman in a winter scene wearing a sleeping bag with arm holes and a headline claiming it’s the season’s “hottest trend.” He pays close attention to Maine news and events, and keeps an eye out for anything that’ll make a funny headline. His advertisers, such as Yopp Skis in Bethel, pay enough to cover the costs of producing the site at home on his computer, including software and WordPress services. He also sells New Maine News hats and T-shirts on the site and has started a campaign on the funding site to raise money to pay people who want to submit satirical articles to New Maine News.

Tim Sample, a veteran Maine humorist known nationally, said he enjoyed several of the stories he saw on New Maine News, including one about Uncle Henry’s new swimsuit issue. It said the venerable Maine publication, where people place ads for everything from firewood to unwanted wedding rings, was putting out an edition listing ads for swimsuits. No pictures, just written ads, including one for a “lace-up flower 2-piece,” $140 or best offer, in Rumford.

Sample thinks parody is getting harder and harder to do, because some of the things happening in the world – like the president’s Twitter usage – already seem like something a comedian might dream up.

“Parody is an interesting form of humor, very hit-and-miss, and it depends largely on how familiar someone is with the subject, and what their own views on it are,” Sample said. “For parody to work, you need an agreed-upon norm and then you have to exaggerate that. But today it’s hard to find an agreed-upon norm about anything, or something that doesn’t already seem like exaggeration.”

]]> 0, ME - NOVEMBER 9: Seth Macy created and writes pieces for the satirical website New Maine News, which pokes fun at all things Maine. Macy is photographed at his Rockland home on Thursday, November 9, 2017.Sat, 09 Dec 2017 20:57:09 +0000
Out-of-state riders boost Maine snowmobile registrations Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Michelle Vincent lives in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. But on winter weekends she can be found on the snowmobile trails of northern Maine.

“To be honest with you, I don’t ride in Massachusetts,” she said. “We haven’t had a winter in Massachusetts in three years. You can get on a trail in Maine and ride all the way to Canada.”

Vincent and other out-of-state riders have helped boost Maine snowmobile registrations by 11 percent over the past five years, according to data from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. More than 23,000 nonresidents registered snowmobiles in Maine last winter – the second-largest total in 25 years.

And riders from away are accounting for a growing percentage of annual snowmobile registrations in Maine. In 2000, 15 percent of registrants were from out of state; last winter, 27.3 percent were nonresidents.

“Most of my peers ride in Maine,” said Melvin Bertram of the Lunenburg Snow Riders in central Massachusetts, a group that makes an annual trip to the Moosehead region. “You’ve got to go where the snow is.”

Snowmobilers contribute an estimated $350 million annually to Maine’s economy, according to Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. A portion of registration fees go toward helping to maintain 14,500 miles of snowmobile trails in the state.

Maine requires all snowmobile operators – regardless of where they reside – to register their sleds if they want to ride here. Residents pay a flat $46 for the season. Out-of-staters pay $100 for a full season, $76 for a 10-day pass and $50 for a three-day pass.

The prime attraction, of course, is the snow. While many areas of the Northeast have had several below-average snow seasons in the past decade, northern Maine is becoming a destination spot for snowmobilers. Caribou, in Aroostook County, has recorded more than 100 inches of snow in six of the past seven winters. In 2016 – the warmest winter on record in northern Maine – 95 inches fell in Caribou. The same winter, upstate New York received 55 inches, New Hampshire 35 and Vermont 34.

“At least 80 percent of the time (in winter) we have at least a foot of snow,” said Francis Kredensor of the National Weather Service in Caribou. “There is almost always enough here to have safe snowmobiling.”


While snowmobile registrations are up in Maine, they have declined in much of the Northeast over the past five years. New Hampshire has seen a 15 percent increase, but registrations are down by 16 percent in Massachusetts, 7.5 percent in New York and 2 percent in Vermont.

Last winter, 85,035 sleds were registered in Maine, the highest total since 2011. It was a 44 percent leap from 2016, after registrations plunged to 59,111 during that historically warm winter. Despite that blip, Maine has exceeded 76,000 registrations in four of the past five years.

Bob Casey, trailmaster for the Windham Drifters Snowmobile Club, drives a trail marker into the ground as fellow club member Ted O’Brien holds it upright Saturday as they prepped some of the club’s 45 miles of trails for the season. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

Registrants from Massachusetts accounted for 43 percent of the out-of-staters last winter, followed by New Hampshire (18 percent) and Connecticut (11 percent).

But word of northern Maine’s snowpack has spread beyond the Northeast, Meyers said. Last winter’s snowmobile registrants came from as far away as Texas (26 sleds), California (14), Arizona (4) and even Hawaii (1).

“I had a lengthy phone conversation with a man from North Carolina,” Meyers said. “He’s bringing his whole clan up here. Half the clan is going skiing and other half wants to try Millinocket or The Forks, to rent (snowmobiles) and hire guides.”

But Meyers cautions that Maine may be “reaching the ceiling on both resident and nonresident registrations.” He cites the cost of snowmobiles, which range from $7,000 to $12,000. Registration in Maine reached its peak in 2002 with 107,285 riders before declining throughout the next decade, particularly during the recession.

Snowmobile sales have been down nationally since 2006, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association in Haslett, Michigan. After reaching a peak of 170,000 in 1997, 50,659 snowmobiles were sold in the U.S. last winter. The organization does not keep data by state or region.

At Reynolds Motorsports in Buxton, one of southern Maine’s biggest dealers, sales manager Ozzy Osmond said sales last winter were up 15 percent to 20 percent. He attributes it to the improved economy.

“Snowmobilers are hard-core for their sport,” Osmond said. “They want to have a new one every other year. They’re serious. They buy their sleds here and then they go up north to ride.”

Snowmobiles are on display at Reynolds Motorsports in Buxton, one of southern Maine’s biggest dealers. Sales manager Ozzy Osmond said last winter’s sales were up as much as 20 percent. Staff photo by Ben McCanna


Snowmobilers in southern Maine agree the sledding is best up north.

Terry Webber of the Gorham Sno Goers, which maintains 50 miles of trails around Gorham, said the riding in southern Maine can’t compare.

“When you go ride, you want to ride,” Webber said. “There are places in northern Maine you can only get to on a snowmobile. The backwoods are beautiful.”

Bob Casey, the trail master with the Windham Drifters Snowmobile Club, said he would go north every weekend if not for work obligations.

“People who can, go north,” Casey said. “The trails are wider and faster. My buddies all head up there. The local riding scene is second-choice.”

In the far northern reaches of Maine, the economic impact is evident in February and March, according Gary Marquis, the Caribou trail coordinator. Even in 2016, Marquis said there was not a vacant hotel room from Presque Isle north.

“We know in northern Maine we will get snow,” Marquis said. “We never have a lack of snow. It just depends what time of year it comes.”

Steve Dobson, who owns two motels near Presque Isle, said many out-of-state riders discovered northern Maine during the winter of 2016 and returned last year.

“We got people who had never been to Aroostook County,” Dobson said. “I saw people from Niagara Falls and people from western Massachusetts, and they came back last year. If you’ve got snow and you get them here – you’ll get them back.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

Twitter: FlemingPph

]]> 0 Pruett, a member of the Windham Drifters Snowmobile Club, helps mark trails early Saturday in preparation for the season. The club looks after about 45 miles of trails. All told, snowmobilers contribute $350 million annually to the state's economy.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:17:12 +0000
Week in review: Scarborough Downs redevelopment planned Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 REAL ESTATE & DEVELOPMENT

New owners intend to redevelop Scarborough Downs

The owners of Scarborough Downs have agreed to sell a sprawling parcel that includes the struggling harness racetrack to a local company that is planning a major redevelopment of the property. Scarborough-based Cross Roads Holdings went under contract in October to buy the 480-acre parcel at Scarborough Downs and lease the track to its existing owners. The holding group’s management team includes William, Marc and Rocco Risbara III of Risbara Bros., and Peter and Richard Michaud, formerly of Michaud Distributors, all longtime residents. The potential owners envision a long-term redevelopment of the property into a town center with housing, shopping, dining, offices, an interconnected road network, trails, recreation facilities and more. Read the story.

Modular home plant in Waterford for sale

Paris-based KBS Builders has put its Waterford plant on the market for close to $1 million. The Dunham Group in Portland is marketing the 61,850 square-foot manufacturing plant at 947 Waterford Road for KBS Builders for $995,000, according to the Dunham Group’s web page. It is unclear what effect this sale has on the operation of KBS Builders or its employees. In recent years, the plant has traditionally closed in the winter and laid off from 20 to 60 employees, or moved them to the Paris plant. Officials have said in previous years that the lack of commercial building work in Maine and overhead costs in the Waterford facility were the major reasons they shut the plant down each winter. Established in 2001, the modular home company was formed as KBS Building Systems, offering a diverse line of housing and commercial and industrial buildings. Read the story.


MaineHealth members vote to create centralized board

All members of MaineHealth have voted in favor of unifying into one board to oversee the state’s largest health care network. The new governance structure will likely start in January 2019. MaineHealth – the parent organization for Maine Medical Center, Franklin Community Health, Pen Bay Medical Center, Southern Maine Healthcare and several other community hospitals and health care systems – has been working on unifying the system for more than a year. The unification, when it’s complete, will mean that one board of trustees will ultimately make decisions instead of 10 separate, independent boards. The voting started on Nov. 2, and by Thursday, all hospital boards had voted in favor of unification. Under the new structure, local boards will continue to formulate budgets and strategic plans, oversee quality of care and handle credentialing of physicians and others. The new governing structure allows MaineHealth to more easily move funds from one health system to another, and also run the system more efficiently, MaineHealth officials said. Read the story.


L.L. Bean sales up and down into holiday season

L.L. Bean’s holiday sales have been steady but not record-breaking, as the company prepares to offer employees buyouts aimed at freeing up cash. The family-owned company does not publicly release sales figures. Spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said sales leading up to the holidays have been up and down, but “there is no reason to be concerned for the future of the company.” L.L. Bean reported $1.6 billion in sales last year, essentially flat from 2015. It’s too early to predict what sales will be this year because there are three months until the end of the company’s fiscal year, Beem said. Last year, L.L. Bean said it would offer roughly 900 employees early retirement packages in an effort to trim its U.S. workforce of 4,500 to 5,000 by 10 percent and free up cash to grow the business. Read the story.


Rare toxic bloom closes parts of Casco Bay

A rare late-season toxic algae bloom has closed most of the fertile shellfishing areas in Casco Bay, disrupting the region’s wild-caught and farmed shellfish industry. The state Department of Marine Resources expanded the area of the harvesting ban Tuesday so that it now stretches from Portland Harbor to the west side of Harpswell. The closure was triggered when tests of shellfish flesh showed elevated levels of domoic acid, a naturally occurring toxin that can produce sickness and brain damage in humans. The ban affects hundreds of acres of productive clam flats in Freeport and Brunswick and at least a dozen mussel and oyster farms in those towns and around Chebeague Island. This is the first recorded bloom of toxic Pseudo-nitzschia in Casco Bay. Read the story.

Addiction task force for fishing industry opposed

The head of the Maine Department of Marine Resources has come out against a proposed bill to study the high rate of addiction in commercial fishing. Patrick Keliher said a task force bill that will be introduced by Rep. Mick Devin, a Newcastle marine biologist who sits on the committee that oversees Keliher’s agency, focuses too narrowly on one industry. Keliher acknowledges the commercial fishing industry has a drug addiction problem, but no more so than any other line of work. Addiction is an issue that transcends the fishing industry, he said. Devin, who has yet to write the bill, proposed the task force bill after two lobstermen from his district complained about the number of young fishermen using drugs before going out to sea to work. Read the story.

Association receives grant to help restore fisheries

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is giving a grant of nearly $100,000 to a Maine group that advocates for marine conservation and the livelihoods of small fishermen. The grant is going to the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, which is based in Brunswick. The group says the money will help with its mission of restoring fisheries in the Gulf of Maine and preserving Maine fishing communities for the future. Read the story.


Investor joins artificial intelligence firm

The former head of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development has joined a Portland company that develops artificial intelligence. Don Gooding has been named chairman of the board for Introspective Systems, a small company that works on a myriad of complicated, data-based problems such as realigning the power grid for the U.S. Department of Energy. Gooding, who was an angel, or seed, investor when the company started, has increased his stake. His new duties include guiding Introspective Systems through funding rounds, identifying market opportunities and investors, and providing leadership counsel to ensure and accelerate growth, according to a news release from the company. Read the story.


Colby campaign plays out in NYC

Colby College this week celebrated its $750 million comprehensive campaign in New York City with a trustee making it possible for the Empire State Building to be lit in Colby blue Tuesday night. The Colby and Dare Northward campaign theme logos were projected on the Nasdaq sign in Times Square as part of the activities, which represent the first of many regional events planned around the country in the next couple of years, according to college officials. On Wednesday night, alumni, parents and friends celebrated by attending Jazz at Lincoln Center, according to Colby’s communications director. On Oct. 20, Colby launched the $750 million fundraising campaign in Waterville. Officials announced the college had already raised more than $380 million toward that goal. Since then, the campaign total has increased to $387 million. Read the story.


CMP touts transmission bid for Massachusetts

Central Maine Power is facing tough competition in a $1 billion bid to build a transmission line from Canada through Maine and held a news conference Wednesday to challenge its rivals and assert itself as the cheapest and most reliable choice to supply Massachusetts with hydroelectricity. The event took place in Augusta, and was attended by Maine business leaders and municipal supporters. But the message was meant for New England media, which joined via conference call. The takeaway was: CMP’s project will save Massachusetts electric customers $600 million over two competing proposals – Northern Pass in New Hampshire and the New England Clean Power Link in Vermont. The assertion was contested by CMP competitiors. Massachusetts passed a law last year requiring the state to seek long-term contracts for offshore wind farms and land-based renewable energy. Dozens of bids were submitted from across New England and eastern Canada, including a handful of other proposals from Maine. Initial land-based winners are scheduled to be announced on Jan. 25. Read the story.

]]> 0's rooftop solar installers won a four-month reprieve Tuesday when the Maine Public Utilities Commission voted to maintain the status quo on how homeowners and small businesses are compensated for the electricity they feed into the grid. A rule change, which was being challenged last week in court, is under consideration by regulators.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:11:32 +0000
Michelle Singletary: Guide gives finances visual clarity Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 What’s your style of learning?

Me, I’m a verbal learner. I love words. I love lectures.

The way I learn works well when I’m reading a book on personal finance or attending an investment seminar.

But what if your learning style is visual?

A visual learner absorbs information better if there are pictures, graphs, charts or diagrams. You probably get lost pretty quickly in the dense terminology of money management.

It’s particularly helpful to know your learning style when it comes to personal finance, because so much of it can give you a headache. It’s complicated. conducted a survey earlier this year to test people’s knowledge of financial terms and concepts. Survey participants were quizzed on how to determine one’s net worth, how a 401(k) works, and what terms like “CD” and “HELOC” stand for.

The site also posted an amusing video titled “Do You Know Your Money?” which showed young adults struggling to answer basic financial questions.

Here are some examples of what they said:

Q: What does the “S&P” stand for?

A: “Spending and payment,” one young woman answered.

Q: At what age can you start collecting Social Security?

A: “Is 34 an option?” one guy replied.

Their answers were comical and yet a little worrisome, because not knowing this stuff can lead to bad financial decisions that cost you real money. And, that’s not cute or funny.

For example, the GoBankingRates survey found that almost 40 percent of respondents couldn’t describe a 401(k), with some thinking it was a tax credit for retirement. At least they were in the ballpark. It’s an important savings vehicle for retirement – and not enough people are investing enough money in these accounts.

Most respondents 45 and older answered correctly that a CD is a certificate of deposit, but only 36 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds got the question right.

Net worth stumped a lot of people. Only 59 percent of folks knew it’s the value of what you own minus what you owe. A lot of respondents thought it was income after taxes.

Your net worth is a good barometer of how you’re doing financially overall. When I meet with folks to go over their finances, it’s the first thing we do. Because people incorrectly think their income tells the story of how well they’re doing.

Twenty-two percent of respondents thought a HELOC – or home equity line of credit – was a made-up term. It’s a real way to borrow money.

I spend a lot of time with financial literacy advocates, and we’re always debating why some people score so poorly on these types of tests. I think it’s because often the way personal finance is taught is too technical. It’s too dense.

If we want people to be better informed, we have to meet them where they are and tailor teaching techniques to best fit various learning styles. For the visual learners, for example, we’ve got to create material that’s visually engaging.

If this is your style, then you’ll like my choice for this month’s Color of Money Book Club. It’s “The Infographic Guide to Personal Finance” ($16.99, Adams Media) by Michele Cagan and Elisabeth Lariviere.

Cagan is a certified public accountant (the money person) and Lariviere is an artist and designer.

Throughout this reference guide are bold, colorful illustrations covering budgeting, saving, spending, debt, credit, investing and housing.

Not sure how a budget works?

Apply the 50-30-20 rule, Cagan suggests, using buckets to illustrate the point. In one bucket are your “needs,” which make up 50 percent of your expenses. These necessities include such things as housing, food and medical costs.

In the “wants” bucket, which accounts for 30 percent, you have clothing, vacations, eating out and entertainment.

The remaining 20 percent pail is earmarked for your emergency fund, retirement savings and extra debt payments.

Confused by how to calculate your net worth? The book’s graphic of assets and liabilities makes it easy to understand.

“Smart money strategies – like paying down debt and saving for retirement – send your net worth higher and beef up your financial fitness. Imprudent moves, like shopping sprees and ballooning credit card debt, can put your net worth on life support,” Cagan writes.

If you’re looking for a way to introduce financial concepts to a young adult, this book will do the trick. It doesn’t patronize them, it simply delivers a tough topic in graphically appealing, digestible bites.

I’m hosting an online discussion about “The Infographic Guide to Personal Finance” at noon on Jan. 4 at Cagan will join me to answer your personal-finance questions. All types of learners are welcome!

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. Readers may write her at:

]]> 0 Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:12:58 +0000
For Utah college student, going green pays off Sun, 10 Dec 2017 03:03:18 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — An entrepreneurial student who turns worm poop into organic fertilizer targeted for marijuana growers is generating buzz and earning accolades.

Joseph Walker, who’s studying at Brigham Young University, began the company OmniEarth to make fertilizer from worm castings – the technical term for worm poop, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .

Walker, 22, and originally from Eugene, Oregon, said he became interested in developing an organic fertilizer while working in landscaping and noticing that chemical fertilizers could be a contentious subject. His grandfather suggested worm droppings as a solution.

“At first, I’ll be honest, I thought he was crazy. It sounded like a ridiculous idea,” Walker said. “But after just five hours of research, I understood this could be a really cool organic solution for any industry, not just lawn care.”

After more research and contacting companies already selling worm castings, Walker said he learned that the fast growing marijuana industry was a prime target for his business. Growers often prefer organic and pesticide-free products.

“They all said it’s the marijuana market,” Walker said. “There is a seemingly insatiable need.”

OmniEarth was selected as a finalist in the New Venture Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.

In November, Walker’s company won a regional competition for the international Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. The overall winner to be selected in Toronto in April will receive $50,000.

]]> 0 Sat, 09 Dec 2017 22:03:18 +0000
Lisbon aquaponics operation gets funding to expand Sat, 09 Dec 2017 20:08:11 +0000 In early 2016, aquaponics farmer Trevor Kenkel vowed that he would expand his already-flourishing operation.

You can’t say Kenkel isn’t true to his word.

Kenkel’s business, Springworks Farm, has secured $1.6 million to create a second greenhouse, larger and more efficiently designed than the first.

Kenkel says that with the funding, the three-year-old company’s 6,000-square-foot greenhouse will be complemented by a new 8,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to open by summer of 2018.

The expansion will earn Springworks the distinction of being the largest aquaponics farm in New England.

In his marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics, wastewater from 1,000 tilapia swimming in several large tanks is channeled through greenhouse beds growing crops such as lettuce, tatsoi, bok choy, cilantro and mizuna — products that are sold to local restaurants and other clients.

“Lettuce is a $3 billion a year industry, with over 98 percent of the product grown in, and shipped from, California and Arizona,” Kenkel said in announcing the expansion. “The time is ripe to disrupt an agricultural system that no longer works for those who understand the critical need to shift to a more sustainable model for growing food.”

Kenkel, now 22, is a Montana native studying biology and economics at Bowdoin College.

According to a news release, his new facility represents the latest model in a series of experiments with aquaponics that Kenkel has been exploring since childhood. He was first drawn to the field when he noticed the degradation of the pristine creek where he fly-fished as a child in Montana.

After learning that pollution from a nearby farm was responsible, Kenkel started investigating sustainable agriculture. That began a series of projects funded by summer jobs during Kenkel’s high school years. Those experiments culminated in a 2,000-gallon greenhouse system that supplied enough greens to feed his family and supply a local restaurant.

Kenkel’s academic investigation of the aquaponic principles he put into practice allowed him to create a miniaturized version of the models he’s been perfecting for most of his life. The Springworks ‘microfarm’ is an aquarium-fitted aquaponic system that turns a 10-gallon tank into everything needed to grow fresh herbs from water exchanged with the aquarium’s fish.



]]> 0, 09 Dec 2017 15:15:26 +0000
Storm in October took down CMP’s $200 million smart-meter network Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:27:56 +0000 AUGUSTA – The October windstorm knocked out power to half a million Mainers and a $200 million smart-meter network that aimed to improve outage communications and storm recovery.

Maine Public reported that Central Maine Power representatives say the meters accurately charted the climb in outages until they flatlined midday.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the storm took down radio transmitters for wireless smart-grids components installed at the top of poles. A federal grant covered roughly half of the grid with customers funding the other half.

CMP CEO Sara Burns said the inability to “ping” meters didn’t slow the company’s storm response. The system is 100 percent functional today.

However, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, called it a “colossal system failure” leaving taxpayers responsible for cleanup costs.

Lawmakers and utility regulators plan to investigate the storm response.

]]> 0 utility pole with a transformer attached still lies in the middle of Flying Point Road in Freeport on Nov. 3 , under wires weighted down by trees that block the road. Central Maine Power officials say they have made significant progress 'Äì restoring power to nearly 340,000 customers 'Äì but progress is slowing down, as line and tree crews move into rural areas with more localized damage. (/Staff Photographer)Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:44:57 +0000
Companies risk a monumental fight Sat, 09 Dec 2017 03:05:08 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — Outdoor clothing giant Patagonia and other retailers have jumped into a legal and political battle over President Trump’s plan to shrink two sprawling Utah national monuments, a fight that would scare off most companies but galvanizes customers of outdoor brands that value environmental activism.

Patagonia filed a lawsuit late Wednesday over Trump’s announcement this week cutting Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent. The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with a rock-climbing advocacy group and other organizations, is among a flurry of lawsuits that have been filed over Trump’s move to reduce the size of Bears Ears and also cut the land protected in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half.

California-based Patagonia’s legal move followed a spat on Tuesday with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who accused the company of lying when it replaced its usual home page with a black screen and stark message: “The President Stole Your Land.”

Hilary Dessouky, Patagonia’s general counsel, said the company spent years supporting groups creating other national monuments and directly lobbied for protections at Bears Ears.

“It was just never a question about whether we were going to continue the fight to protect it once it came down to that,” she said.

In the lead up to former President Barack Obama’s December 2016 declaration creating Bears Ears, Patagonia used its social media channels, website and catalogs to call for a monument in the area, produced two films about the region and organized phone and letter-writing campaigns. Patagonia officials lobbied U.S. officials to encourage the designation and participated in public meetings the administration held to seek comments on the idea.

Trump’s monument downsizing has also been protested online and in social media by outdoor retailers, including The North Face, Keen, Black Diamond and REI. The companies have urged support for the monuments and are raising and giving money toward preservation efforts.

Retail experts say that while most companies try to avoid hot-button issues, Patagonia not only spoke up but went much further by filing a lawsuit and directly confronting a White House administration.

“It’s a bolder, riskier move,” said Allen Adamson, founder and CEO of BrandSimple Consulting. “This steps it up a little. This separates them from the pack. Any time you’re out of the pack, you’re more vulnerable.”

Most mass retailers generally try to appeal to a broad audience and stay apolitical for fear of offending potential customers, but Patagonia’s history and the nature of its business will likely endear it to its customers, Adamson said.

“By not only speaking out socially against this but actively taking this cause on, it’s going to deepen and strengthen their relationship with the majority of their users,” he said.

“They will see some backlash, but I think it’s a calculated bet that the upside will outweigh the downside in this case,” he said.

The North Face, Black Diamond and REI said they have no plans to file lawsuits. Keen did not immediately respond to an emailed message Friday seeking comment.

But the outdoor sector as a whole flexed political muscle over the issue earlier this year when Patagonia and Utah-based Black Diamond helped lead a revolt by outdoor companies angered over calls by Utah officials to rescind the designation of Bears Ears as a monument.

After heavy lobbying by the sector, organizers of the biannual Outdoor Retailer gear show that has taken place in Salt Lake City decided to move it to Denver. Utah lost $45 million in annual spending generated by the event.

It makes sense for outdoor companies to get into political debates over public lands because it’s part of “their brand DNA,” said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of the WSL Strategic Retail consulting firm.

“Shoppers see brands as their spokespeople. Many shoppers expect them to stand for something,” she said.

Patagonia, which says it has given nearly $90 million to environmental groups over the years, says the activism is not only a core part of its history and brand, but it’s required as part of the company’s business license.

The company was founded by Yvon Chouinard, a native of Lisbon, Maine.

The privately held company in 2012 became one of the first businesses licensed under a California law that allows corporations to pursue social and environmental advocacy as part of their missions. The classification shields Patagonia from potential claims that company advocacy expenses are hurting profits.

Under the license’s terms, Patagonia committed to contributing 1 percent of annual revenue to charities that promote conservation and sustainability.

Patagonia “will suffer direct and immediate injury” from the size reduction of Bears Ears because the company will now have to spend more time and money defending the monument instead of working on other social equity and conservation projects, Patagonia’s lawsuit said.

Patagonia also said Trump’s proclamation exceeds the president’s authority and strips much-needed protections from what are considered sacred tribal lands for Native American tribes.

The lawsuit also said Patagonia’s customers and employees visit Bears Ears to hike, climb, run and explore the remote, stunning landscape full of archaeological treasures, and protecting that area is key to their use and enjoyment of the space.

The company has given money to environmental litigation funds before but has never directly sued over one of its conservation causes.

“This is an unprecedented moment and this is a moment that calls of strongest response possible,” said Patagonia’s advocacy director Hans Cole. “We want to use all the tools in our tool kit, everything that we have at our disposal to fight back.”

]]> 0 Upper Gulch section of the Escalante Canyons within Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 22:47:46 +0000
Global growth drives up U.S. employment Sat, 09 Dec 2017 03:02:25 +0000 WASHINGTON — The U.S. job market is benefiting from an unlikely source: Other countries.

The global economy is showing renewed strength, with Europe, Japan and many developing nations growing in tandem for the first time in a decade. The brightening international picture is encouraging more hiring in the United States – even among manufacturers, which have been hurt in the past by global competition.

“We’re seeing demand coming from where we haven’t seen it in a long, long time,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West. “We’re riding the wave of that added global growth.”

In November, U.S. employers added a substantial 228,000 jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. It was the 86th straight month of gains, the longest on record, and a sign of the job market’s enduring strength in the economy’s ninth year of expansion. The unemployment rate held at 4.1 percent, a 17-year low.

Friday’s jobs report coincided with other signs that the U.S. economy remains on firm footing. In the past six months, economic growth has exceeded an annual rate of 3 percent, the first time that’s happened since 2014. Consumer confidence has reached its highest level since 2000.

Europe’s economy is poised to grow at the fastest pace in a decade, and its unemployment rate has reached its lowest level in nearly nine years. Japan’s economy expanded in the fall for the seventh straight quarter, its longest period of growth since 2001. Such developing economies as China and India are growing steadily.

The overall global economy is expanding at its fastest pace in seven years, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, a Paris-based think tank. It should fare slightly better in 2018, the OECD says.

Stronger economies overseas have helped boost profits at U.S. multinational corporations, a key reason why the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has climbed 18 percent this year. U.S. companies in the S&P index derive about half their revenue from abroad.

Exports contributed 0.43 percentage point to economic growth in the July-September quarter, the most in nearly four years. Factories are making more goods for overseas markets, including agricultural and mining equipment. Exports of aircraft engines are up 13 percent, overseas shipments of semiconductors up 8 percent.

Manufacturers have stepped up hiring. In November, they added 31,000 jobs. Over the past year, they’ve added 189,000.

“More than anything, a marked improvement in the global economy is what is driving a better US manufacturing picture,” said Cliff Waldman, chief economist at MAPI Foundation, a manufacturing research group.

Still, solid hiring and a low unemployment rate have yet to accelerate wages, which rose 2.5 percent in November compared with a year earlier. The last time unemployment was this low, average wages were growing at a 4 percent annual rate.

The November jobs data make it a near-certainty that the Federal Reserve will raise short-term interest rates for the third time this year when it meets next week, economists said.

Hiring last month went well beyond manufacturing. Construction firms added 24,000 jobs. Retailers added nearly 19,000 positions, a sign that physical stores are hiring for the holiday shopping season even in the face of brutal competition from e-commerce companies.

Transportation and warehousing companies, which are benefiting from the e-commerce boom, added 10,500.

Hiring has slowed slightly since last year, which is typical when unemployment falls to low levels. Employers have added an average of 174,000 a month this year, a bit below last year’s monthly average of 187,000.

There are also welcome signs that the recovery is finally benefiting workers who were enjoying little benefit in earlier stages of the economic rebound, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at job listing website Indeed.

Workers with just a high school diploma are much more likely to have jobs than they were a year ago. And employees in some of the lower-paying industries are receiving the biggest pay gains: Average hourly pay has risen a healthy 3.8 percent for workers in a category that includes hotel and restaurant employees.

“In a tight labor market, employers may look to a wider set of candidates than they would when unemployment was higher,” Kolko said.

Brian Ernest, who owns a small home-renovation and contracting firm in Edgewater, Maryland, just hired a project manager to help him keep up with his fast-growing business. He advertises on the Web and relies on word of mouth among real estate brokers.

When he has advertised jobs this year, he hasn’t found many takers, given the low unemployment rate. Rather than raise base pay, he started providing profit-sharing.

“I offered what everybody is really looking for: Incentives to increase their salaries,” he said.

Rising confidence among consumers is translating into major purchases. Auto sales rose at a solid pace last month.

In October, newly built homes sold at their fastest pace in a decade, and existing homes sold at their quickest rate since June.

Though wages have yet to pick up, Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said he thinks a continued decline in unemployment will lead to higher pay. U.S. metro areas with unemployment rates of 3.5 percent or lower are reporting annual wage growth of roughly 4 percent, Shepherdson said in an email.

]]> 0 Fri, 08 Dec 2017 22:48:40 +0000
Fisheries council boosts Gulf of Maine quotas for cod, haddock, pollock Fri, 08 Dec 2017 21:55:40 +0000 The New England Fishery Management Council voted to increase cod and pollock quotas for 2018, a move that is expected to benefit New England’s fishing industry.

The council passed a rule Thursday that sets new quotas and has a number of other groundfish adjustments.

The species with substantial quota increases are Georges Bank cod, Gulf of Maine cod, Gulf of Maine haddock and pollock.

The redfish quota will rise by 5 percent.

The biggest percentage increases all were in the Gulf of Maine, where haddock has been nearly tripled to 8,738 tons, and pollock doubled to 37,400 tons.

Cod was increased 156 percent on Georges Bank and 39 percent in the Gulf of Maine, both signs of improving health of the cod stock.

In 2016, groundfish valued at $5.8 million accounted for only 0.8 percent of Maine’s $700 million commercial fishery.

However, southern New England fishermen overall may not get much of an advantage from the increases because of a severe cut of 77.5 percent in southern New England yellowtail.

Yellowtail is also a bycatch in the scallop industry. With a quota allocation to the fishery of only 42 tons, this has the potential to shut down fishing for the species in the southern New England area. This catch limit on yellowtail is the lowest ever set by the council.

The allocation of yellowtail to the scallop fleet was even lower, from 34 to 5 tons, an 85 percent decrease.

A southern New England flounder stock, called windowpane, saw a 49 percent quota reduction. This species is not part of the directed quota system, but once a catch limit is reached, it can trigger gear and area closures.

“Overall, however, the 2018 quotas are expected to provide a number of groundfish fishing opportunities on healthy resources,” the council said in a statement.

Recreational groundfish, specifically Gulf of Maine cod and haddock, also were increased in line with the commercial increases.

]]> 0, ME - JANUARY 14: With already a good haul of fish in the boat, fishing mate Charles Welshman (L) and Captain Tim Rider Commercial ground fisherman Tim Rider talk in between fish during a fishing outing 61 miles out in the Gulf of Maine on Saturday, January 14, 2017. Instead of dragging for their catch, as a majority of ground fishermen do, Tim and his crew fish with rod and reel. Rider does this, instead of dragging and netting, to leave a Òvery small environmental footprintÓ in the groundfish ecosystem and produce a top notch fish product. To his knowledge he is the only one in Maine currently employing this method of ground fishing full time.(Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer)Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:46:46 +0000
CEI made bulk of its loans to Maine businesses in 2017 Fri, 08 Dec 2017 21:45:21 +0000 Coastal Enterprises Inc., an economic development and financing agency in Brunswick, deployed $51.7 million to 79 businesses in mostly rural regions across Maine and the U.S., according to its annual report released Wednesday.

Of that, CEI invested nearly $14.8 million in loans, microloans and equity in 62 small and medium sized businesses, and approximately $37 million in loans, equity, and tax credits in 17 businesses and projects through its subsidiaries.

In Maine specifically, $11.4 million was loaned to Maine organizations, more than three times as much as was loaned outside of the state. Additionally, $1.8 million was invested as venture capital from CEI to six Maine startups.

The bulk of the 2017 financing was directed out of state, through CEI’s federal New Markets Tax Credit program. Two deals split $30 million in allocated tax credits.

The impact of CEI’s investments were magnified by the advice and consulting provided by the organization’s staff to 2,820 entrepreneurs and business owners, including women and immigrants, employers, farmers and fisheries entrepreneurs, and people seeking housing counseling and education.

“CEI was founded 40 years ago to expand options for Mainers to earn a decent livelihood in the face of a changing economy,” said CEO Betsy Biemann, in the release. “We are building on our legacy, revitalizing our rural regions and gateway cities by making the kind of investments that impact people with low incomes—expanding the numbers of good jobs, and ultimately, increasing shared prosperity.”

CEI estimates 2,000 jobs were preserved as a result of its investments in the last year.

Among its highlights:

• Helped these entrepreneurs grow their businesses: Paul and Theresa Lancisi of Dove Tail Bats in Shirley Mills; Julie Swain of Dog Not Gone in Skowhegan; Jim Chattley of Meineke Topsham Car Care Center; Ten Ten Piè in Portland; and Corrin and Shirley Conforte of Kindred Farms Market and Bakery in Casco;

• Helped to finance the completion of eight historic redevelopment projects, injecting economic vitality in Maine’s downtowns from Biddeford to Waterville;

• Made a first-in-the-nation loan from the innovative USDA Community Facilities Relending Program to support the expansion of a YMCA in Central Lincoln County;

• Supported the design and commercialization of innovative technologies at companies such as Pemaquid Mussel Farms and Ocean Renewable Power Co.; and

• Successfully exited an equity investment in the software company Certify.

CEI also conducts a variety of local and federal policy work.

]]> 0 Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:45:40 +0000
New stealth destroyer cuts short first sea trials, returns to BIW Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:57:34 +0000 BATH — The second stealth destroyer being built in Maine for the Navy has cut short its first sea trials after an equipment failure.

The Navy said the problem happened Tuesday, a day after the future USS Michael Monsoor left Bath Iron Works.

Last year, the first stealth destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, also experienced several high-profile mechanical failures after it was delivered to the Navy, including one incident while transiting the Panama Canal.

At the time, experts said that mechanical and technological problems are anticipated in the first ship of a new class. The Zumwalt is currently being outfitted with its weapons and other systems at its home base in San Diego.

A spokeswoman for the Naval Sea Systems Command said the equipment failure during builder trials of the Monsoor prevented workers from testing propulsion and electrical systems at full power. The ship returned to the shipyard under its own power Thursday, and will return to sea after the problem is addressed.

Fabrication of the Monsoor began in 2010, with the keel-laying ceremony taking place in May 2013 and the christening was held last June. The ship is named for Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL who was killed in Iraq in 2006 when he covered a grenade with his body to shield others from the blast. Monsoor was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.

Sea trials are the first major test of the high-tech ship before a Navy inspection team conducts additional at-sea testing early next year. The high-tech ships utilize new technology including a new electric-drive propulsion system.

BIW, which is owned by Virginia-based General Dynamics, currently has six destroyers at various stages of construction in its Bath shipyard: two Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers and four of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that have provided guided missile capabilities around the globe.

The Zumwalts are the largest and most technologically advanced destroyers ever built for the Navy. They are designed to appear as much smaller vessels on radar thanks to their smooth exterior surfaces, “tumblehome” hull and other design features. While they are significantly larger than Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, automation will allow the Zumwalts to operate with half the crew of the other class. Zumwalts also are regarded as technological showcases for future ships in terms of their all-electric powerhouse and weaponry.

All of that technology comes at a cost. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that each of the three ships will cost more than $4 billion to construct, compared to about $1.6 billion for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

]]> 0, ME - DECEMBER 4: Children run on the beach near Fort Popham as BIW’s new Zumwalt destroyer cruises past on its way into Sagadahoc Bay Monday afternoon. (Staff photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer)Sat, 09 Dec 2017 00:49:47 +0000
Jeff Marks stepping down as E2Tech executive director to pursue animal rescue work Fri, 08 Dec 2017 19:08:15 +0000 Jeff Marks is stepping down as executive director of E2Tech, ending nearly six years at the helm of the environment and energy group to pursue volunteer work abroad.

Jeff Marks

After a career in government relations and policy work in California, Washington D.C., and Maine, Marks was hired in 2012 to help E2Tech grow, both operationally and financially. In that time, he has landed grants and led special projects to promote and support the energy and environmental sector in Maine, the organization said in a statement. His last day is Dec. 31.

“E2Tech is an incredible network of private, public and nonprofit leaders on the cutting edge of the environmental, energy and clean-tech sectors,” Marks said in the release. “If not for this new opportunity, I would love to continue working with the dedicated individuals who bring innovation and progress to this community.”

Marks will be traveling overseas to volunteer with an animal and wildlife rescue operation.

Melissa Winne, E2Tech’s project director, will serve as interim director while the board searches for a new executive director.

Patrick Coughlin, chair of E2Tech board, thanked Marks for his work elevating the organization and increasing its standing around the state. E2Tech is planning a networking reception Dec. 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Cloudport in Portland to thank Marks for his leadership.

]]> 0, 08 Dec 2017 20:48:49 +0000
Seven rural Maine hospitals make nation’s best list Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:28:44 +0000 Seven Maine hospitals were cited among the nation’s best in The Leapfrog Group’s latest Top Rural Hospitals list.

Included was Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, which was graded as one of the worst hospital in Maine by Leapfrog just a year ago.

Bridgton Hospital was ranked among the best for the second straight year.

Maine hospitals included in the 18 Top Rural Hospitals list include:

• The Aroostook Medical Center, Presque Isle

• Inland Hospital, Waterville

• Blue Hill Memorial Hospital

• Bridgton Hospital

• LincolnHealth, Damariscotta

• Down East Community Hospital, Machias

• Franklin Memorial Hospital, Farmington

Leapfrog, founded in 2000, recognized 109 Top Hospitals across the country, including 10 Top Children’s Hospitals, 45 Top General Hospitals and 36 Top Teaching Hospitals. No Maine hospitals were included in those lists.

According to The Leapfrog Group, performance across many areas of hospital care is considered in establishing the qualifications for the award, including infection rates, maternity care, and the hospital’s capacity to prevent medication errors.

]]> 0 Memorial Hospital is increasing visitor restrictions in response to the flu spreading through the region.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:51:09 +0000
Brexit breakthrough on ‘divorce’ clears path for tougher trade talks Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:06:09 +0000 The U.K. and the European Union have struck a deal to unlock divorce negotiations, opening the way for talks on what businesses are keenest to nail down – the nature of the post-Brexit future.

A deal was sealed before dawn Friday in Brussels after talks went through the night. While the EU said it had given ground, Prime Minister Theresa May conceded on all the main issues, bringing to Brussels an offer on the financial settlement, an agreement on Europeans living in the U.K. and a solution to keep open the border that divides the island of Ireland after the split.

The last turned out to be the thorniest, requiring delicate four-way talks as the Northern Irish party that holds the balance of power in London wielded a powerful veto until the last minute. The issue is far from resolved and threatens to dog the next stage of negotiations. The leader of the Northern Irish party that holds the balance of power in London said her lawmakers could still vote down a final exit deal if they’re not happy.

The U.K. has now won the prize it has been seeking since March – the right to start discussing relations between the two when Britain parts ways with the bloc after 40 years. Crucially, the EU said it was ready to start talking about the transition deal that businesses are keen to pin down. But EU officials warned that the most difficult bit lies ahead.

“So much time has been devoted to the easier part of the task and now to negotiate a transition arrangement and the framework for our future relationship we have, de facto, less than a year,” European Council President Donald Tusk said. “We all know that breaking up is hard but breaking up and building a new relation is much harder.”

A trade deal may take years to formulate, and allowing companies and even people to adapt to the new reality will take time. That’s why the two-year transition that May seeks is key – businesses want to know how long they have to plan for the future, whether that means relocation or continued investments.

May’s Conservative administration is fiercely divided over Brexit – her Cabinet has yet to decide what kind of trading arrangements it wants from Europe. Tusk called for clarity on that on Friday.

The second phase will be even more delicate and important than the first. The two sides are going in with widely different expectations; the EU unity that was on display in the first phase could now splinter as interests diverge; and trade deals don’t usually cover the service industries that make up most of the U.K. economy.

Britons will also be watching to see if talks live up to what was promised: they were told that Brexit would mean free trade deals with Europe and the rest of the world, controls on European immigration and the repatriation of regulation.

May has said she wants a deep and special partnership and a better deal than the free-trade agreement that Canada secured from the EU. But ministers will have to decide what they are willing to sacrifice in order to get what they want and the answer will vary from one faction to another within government and within the Tory Party.

The EU has already started mapping out what it intends to put on the table – a deal along the lines of the one it offered Canada. That deal was the best in its class but still far short of what the U.K. currently enjoys as a full member of the single market and customs union.

May has got the deal that she needed – and the agreement that businesses were clamoring for. Amid off-and-on threats to oust her, failure to move talks along could have cost May her job, and brought more instability.

Pro-Brexit Conservatives including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson were initially supportive of the deal. But lawmakers have objected to the role given to the European Court of Justice in the U.K. after Brexit. Johnson voiced concerns to May earlier this week when it looked like she was aiming for to preserve EU rules after the divorce and he made clear in a tweet what he expects to come next.

Also, no one should expect the Irish problem – whose roots go back centuries – to go away. The wording of the Irish text leaves room for the border issue to continue rearing its head in the second phase of talks. The Republic of Ireland wants no border on the island, the U.K. wants to leave the single market that makes the almost invisible border possible, and the Democratic Unionist Party that props up May in London is adamant that any efforts to prevent a border on the island don’t create the need for a boundary between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

Bloomberg’s Tim Ross, Dara Doyle, Marine Strauss, Jones Hayden and Alex Morales contributed to this story.

]]> 0, 08 Dec 2017 08:13:55 +0000
Old drug conviction puts Maine marijuana expert on the defensive Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 A 2005 felony drug conviction is coming back to haunt an emerging figure in Maine’s marijuana industry and threaten his consulting gig in Ohio.

Trevor Bozeman

But Trevor Bozeman, a 33-year-old Brunswick chemist, says his experience growing marijuana before it became legal only boosts his value to the industry, making him a better expert witness to testify in front of Maine lawmakers launching the state’s nascent adult-use cannabis market, and a better lab manager and researcher at Canuvo, one of Maine’s eight state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

In Ohio, however, some lawmakers say Bozeman’s felony conviction disqualifies him to judge who should get one of the state’s 24 medical marijuana licenses. His one-person company, iCann Consulting LLC, won a share of a $150,000 state contract in June to score medical marijuana license applicants. One of the companies that didn’t secure a license outed Bozeman’s criminal record this week, sparking a political firestorm in the midst of a hotly contested gubernatorial race.

The Ohio regulatory agency is standing by Bozeman, saying the application process will continue without interruption to its time line or personnel. While applicants for the licenses had to undergo a criminal background check, and would be rendered ineligible for even an ancient drug misdemeanor, Ohio’s request for proposals didn’t ask the respondents to disclose their criminal record nor require a criminal background check, according to records. In other words, Bozeman didn’t lie.

But the degree-laden chemist – Bozeman has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Arizona State University – now finds himself defending his right to work the cannabis field.

“The industry is going to have to come to terms with the fact that most of us who have a lot of experience in this field are going to have a criminal history,” Bozeman said. “It’s the elephant in the room. Do we want people who don’t have a lot of experience shaping this industry? No. And if you have a lot of experience, you probably started before it became legal. Some of us got caught, and some of us didn’t. I was one of the ones that got caught.”


Bozeman was 21 years old when he was arrested in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, in 2005 for having 200 grams of marijuana, less than half a pound or a little less than three times the amount of cannabis that a Maine adult can now possess under the Maine Legalization Act. Police there say he was selling the pot to fellow students at Susquehanna University. He pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of manufacturing, delivering and possessing marijuana, court records show.

Bozeman paid a $2,100 fine and served three years of probation, court records show. Susquehanna expelled him, forcing Bozeman to return to Maine, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Southern Maine, Bozeman said. After getting his doctorate, he went on to work in the pharmaceutical field, on a drug that treats cancer, before getting disgusted with that industry’s profit obsession and getting a paid job in his passion field, marijuana.

The articulate, soft-spoken Bozeman testified frequently before Maine’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee in Augusta as it worked to develop a set of cultivation, processing and sales regulations for Maine’s commercial recreational pot market. He often cited his consulting job in Ohio and his degrees before he offered up his opinions on the best practices on issues ranging from marijuana cultivation to extraction to social clubs.

He never mentioned his conviction, but no one on the committee ever asked him, or any other expert, about it. But the subject of criminal backgrounds did come up.

Although Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the committee bill in October, the bipartisan committee agreed that no one with a disqualifying drug offense – a conviction for a state or federal drug crime punishable by a year or more of jail time – should be able to get a Maine adult-use license. It requires the same clean record for anyone who wants to work at a medical marijuana dispensary or become a caregiver.

But a felony drug conviction doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a Mainer’s marijuana dream job – more like a delay. Because the committee, along with those who wrote the state’s medical marijuana law, agree that someone who has completed his or her sentence for a disqualifying drug offense more than 10 years prior to application can still apply for a license. And if the drug offense is for marijuana cultivation or possession, they can apply even before 10 years is up.

Groups like Marijuana Policy Project of Maine have lobbied to allow Mainers who have operated in the cannabis black market in the past a route to legal participation in a medical or adult-use marijuana market, as long as the cannabis they were growing and selling did not end up in the hands of children and there was no violence involved. This kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to a person’s black-market marijuana history is often dubbed “the original sin” of the industry.

That 10-year statute of limitations is what allows Bozeman to participate in the medical marijuana industry here in Maine. If the adult-use cannabis committee’s approach to applicants’ criminal backgrounds stands, Bozeman also would be eligible to apply for a license to grow, process, sell or test adult-use marijuana. In both cases, an applicant who had been convicted of a crime that would no longer be illegal under current law could apply.


Bozeman also has a criminal record in Maine. In March 2003, he was arrested in South Portland and charged with assault, carrying concealed weapons, and threatening, court records show. A TV report on the incident at the time said police seized two knives from Bozeman, who was 18 at the time. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor threatening, received a six-month suspended sentence and was put on probation for a year.

Bozeman described the incident as a “lover’s spat” that happened after he learned that his girlfriend had been unfaithful. He said there was a lot of yelling, but neither he nor his girlfriend touched each other during the incident. A coworker called the police, he said. The knives that were seized were pocket knives found in his pants when the police searched him, he said. “We were emotional high schoolers,” he said. “It was not a big deal.”

His boss, Glenn Peterson, agrees. The outspoken dispensary co-founder hired Bozeman about three months ago, after watching him share his “wealth of knowledge” at marijuana committee meetings. He said Bozeman is a valued member of his staff, running his lab and helping Canuvo hone its in-house extraction processes. He is also conducting in-house product testing and research and development.

Peterson was not surprised when Bozeman told him about the arrest in Pennsylvania. He investigated it and concluded it was “all smoke, no fire,” Peterson said.

“What he did is legal in California now,” said Peterson, who himself has faced down decades-old drug charges. “But hey, welcome to the club. Cannabis is not for wimps.”

In light of the Ohio controversy, Peterson noted that he had paid the $56 required to have the state conduct a background check on Bozeman. In return, the state sent a card back that allows Bozeman to work at Canuvo, meaning that he passed the background check. While Peterson isn’t exactly sure what the background check entails, he knows that it includes a review for disqualifying drug offenses. As far as Peterson is concerned, Bozeman is a godsend.

“I think of Trevor as an American success story,” Peterson said. “There he was, 20 years old, caught dealing a little pot. It seems like his life is over, but it’s not. He does probation and pays for his crime, such as it was. He goes on to get not one, but two, degrees, a Ph.D. in chemistry no less. I mean, this guy is doing cutting-edge stuff with this plant. … He has become a huge contributor in the cannabis community, making a living helping sick people get their medicine.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

]]> 0 taken at a grow house shows marijuana plants ready to be harvested. New Hampshire may soon join its New England neighbors in removing criminal penalties for possessing pot, but the measure faces challenges.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 05:47:45 +0000
Agency withdraws plan calling for early disclosure of bag fees in airfare purchases Fri, 08 Dec 2017 01:46:42 +0000 WASHINGTON — An Obama administration proposal that would have required airlines to disclose checked and carry-on bag fees at the start of a ticket purchase rather than later is being dropped by the Department of Transportation.

The DOT said in a notice posted online Thursday that it is withdrawing the proposed rule, along with a second, early stage rulemaking to force airlines to disclose more information about their revenue from fees charged for extra services. The rules would have been “of limited public benefit,” the DOT said.

Work on the proposals was frozen shortly after President Trump took office.

Airlines are already required to disclose bag fees, but critics say the information is often hidden until after consumers have taken several steps toward purchasing a ticket.

Congressional Democrats and consumer groups decried the withdrawals, saying they would have protected airline passengers by providing greater transparency of airfares and fees.

“The administration is turning its back on airline passengers just before families are about to head home for the holidays,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Charles Leocha, president of Travelers United, said passengers have no one to protect them from unfair airline practices except the DOT because no other federal or state agency regulates air carriers.

“It is a dereliction of duty for the DOT to stop its review of unfair and deceptive pricing of ancillary fees, which make it impossible for consumers to comparison shop for the best costs of airfare,” he said.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2017 22:52:13 +0000
KBS Builders plant in Waterford is for sale Fri, 08 Dec 2017 01:35:57 +0000 WATERFORD — Paris-based KBS Builders has put its Waterford plant on the market for close to $1 million.

The Dunham Group in Portland is marketing the 61,850 square-foot manufacturing plant at 947 Waterford Road for KBS Builders for $995,000, according to the Dunham Group’s webpage.

A “For Sale” sign has been placed at the site.

It is unclear what effect this sale has on the operation of the KBS Builders or its employees. Efforts to get a comment from KBS officials were unsuccessful Thursday.

In recent years, the plant has traditionally closed in the winter and laid off from 20 to 60 employees, or moved them to the Paris plant. Officials have said in previous years that the lack of commercial building work in Maine and overhead costs in the Waterford facility were the major reasons they shut the plant down each winter.

Established in 2001, the modular home company was formed as KBS Building Systems, offering a diverse line of housing and commercial and industrial buildings. The main office and factory are in Paris.

In late 2007, KBS Building Systems purchased the former Waterford Homes property in Waterford from a Massachusetts firm. Waterford Homes had defaulted on mortgage and loan payments and closed in 2006.

The Waterford manufacturing plant was reopened early the following year with some 20 new workers, boosting KBS’ production by as much as a third.

In April 2014, Minnesota-based manufacturer Aetrium purchased KBS Building Systems from Robert Farnum in a deal reportedly worth $10.5 million. Aetrium is part of the semiconductor industry.

The buyer retained the approximately 200 employees and changed the name to KBS Builders Inc.

The property is currently assessed at $814,200, according to town records. That includes $50,600 for the land and $763,600 for the building. A tax payment was made last month for a total of $12,416.55 paid in property taxes for this year. The taxes are paid through Dec. 31, 2017, the town clerk’s office said.

]]> 0 Thu, 07 Dec 2017 21:42:33 +0000
Many business owners are rethinking how to cover employee health insurance Fri, 08 Dec 2017 01:00:00 +0000 NEW YORK — As small business owners learn what their 2018 health insurance costs will be, some are considering providing different types of coverage for their employees.

Companies are receiving notices of premium and coverage changes for 2018. The changes vary, depending on factors including the state where a company is located, how many employees it has and how comprehensive its insurance is. But many owners are seeing rate increases of double-digit percentages, finding dramatically reduced coverage, or both. Health insurance consultants expect more owners to rethink their strategies beyond 2018 and choose alternatives like paying for claims themselves or adding health services that can lower costs.

Gail Trauco’s insurer is eliminating her company’s policy known as a preferred provider organization, or PPO, replacing it with a health maintenance organization, or HMO, a change that would limit the choice of doctors for her five employees. Her annual costs were scheduled to rise nearly $10,000 in 2018.

The HMO was a deal-breaker, says Trauco, owner of The PharmaKon, which helps coordinate clinical drug trials.

“It’s important for a patient to choose a physician they can have a good relationship with,” says Trauco, whose business is based in Barnesville, Georgia. Trauco hired a health insurance broker who helped her find a PPO with a different carrier, and she’s saving enough money to add dental coverage.

Some owners say they may not be able to keep shielding their staffers from rising health costs.

Workshop Digital’s premiums are soaring 55 percent, and co-founder Brian Forrester says the business will be less profitable next year as it absorbs the increase. He may have to ask the Richmond, Virginia-based marketing agency’s 30 staffers to pay more for coverage in the years ahead. The company currently pays 83 percent of medical insurance, 90 percent of vision care and 52 percent of dental coverage.

“We never plan on removing our coverage or reducing the type of coverage we offer, but the out-of-pocket costs for our team may have to go up over time,” Forrester says.


Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with fewer than 50 employees aren’t required to offer insurance, but many do because they feel it’s right or because it helps them compete for and retain top workers. Fifty percent of companies with three to 49 workers have offered health benefits this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care trends. That compares with 53 percent of all employers, and is little changed from the previous three years.

James Bernstein, an executive at benefits consulting firm Mercer, says many offer employees a choice of plans to serve staffers’ needs but also keep their own costs in line.

“What they’re saying is, a one-plan-fits-all strategy does not work, especially with a multigenerational workforce: millennials, young families, baby boomers,” Bernstein says.

A Mercer survey found many small businesses are considering coverage that has a higher deductible and in turn, lower premiums. These plans shift more costs to employees, but many owners contribute money to Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, to help staffers pay medical expenses. The combination of a high-deductible plan and an HSA is known as a consumer-driven health plan, because it allows people to determine where they spend their health dollars.

Mercer found about a fifth of companies with 50 to 199 employees and 37 percent of companies with 200 to 499 workers plan to offer consumer-driven plans as a choice in the next three years. Those with 10 to 49 workers are less inclined to do so; only 10 percent said they will offer one.


Employers’ health care costs have been rising for decades, not only since the ACA mandated minimum levels of insurance coverage in 2014. Health care costs at W.H. Christian soared between 150 percent and 180 percent over nine years, says Scott Christian, director of operations for the New York-based company that sells and rents work uniforms.

W.H. Christian ended the spiral last year, switching to what’s called self-funded coverage for its 72 staffers. In self-funding, a company sets aside money to pay employees’ claims rather than have an insurer do so. It buys stop-loss insurance or reinsurance to pay claims in case employees submit more claims than expected.

Money was just one factor in the change, Scott Christian says. The company saw the quality of its coverage declining, with doctor networks shrinking; it kept switching carriers in hopes of better coverage, but each renewal offer was a disappointment.

“The main driver was we wanted to give our employees a good plan,” Christian says. “That seemed more and more impossible to provide given where the health insurance universe was going.”

The number of small businesses that self-fund is small – 15 percent of workers covered by insurance are in self-funded plans, versus 79 percent in large companies, according to the Kaiser foundation. Self-funding can be particularly beneficial for a company with a young and healthy staff, says Craig Scurato, a vice president with Leslie Saunders, an insurance and benefits broker based in Lutz, Florida.

Scurato also sees a growing interest in nontraditional medical services like direct primary care practices, doctor’s offices that provide medical services including examinations and laboratory testing. The company pays a flat fee per month; insurance companies are not involved.

Midwest Scrap Management was interested in health services that would help it save money when it switched to self-funding in March – one of the plan’s appeals was that the metal processor would have more say over what its coverage would include, Chief Financial Officer Craig Ward says.

The Kansas City, Missouri-based company offers its 120 employees 24/7 access to telemedicine, allowing them to consult with clinicians and get advice and prescriptions when they don’t feel well. It costs less than office visits. Midwest Scrap Management also offers biometric screening, which among other things measures cholesterol and blood sugar levels, letting staffers know if there’s a problem.


The company has saved $20,000 off its projected health care costs since it switched, Ward says. And because an insurer is no longer in charge, there’s no mystery about where the company’s money is going.

“When you get a renewal every year from a traditional carrier, they tell you what your rate increase will be, but you never get a reason why,” Ward says.

]]> 0 Trauco, owner of The PharmaKon in Georgia, used a health broker to find a plan with more choices after Trauco's original insurer restricted the firm to a health maintenance organization with fewer available doctors.Thu, 07 Dec 2017 21:43:12 +0000
Bitcoin price fluctuates wildly as listing on two U.S. exchanges nears Fri, 08 Dec 2017 00:20:33 +0000 NEW YORK — The price of bitcoin swung wildly Thursday, rising to more than $19,000 only to fall sharply within minutes, as both the euphoria and anxiety surrounding the virtual currency escalated just days before it starts trading on a major U.S. exchange.

At 3:25 p.m. EST, bitcoin was valued at $15,930, according to Coinbase, after briefly surging above $19,000 Thursday morning. At the start of the year, one bitcoin was worth less than $1,000.

The swings in price occurred as the trading community prepares for bitcoin to start trading on two established U.S. exchanges. Futures for bitcoin will start trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange on Sunday evening and on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange a week later.

Yet the onset of futures trading has parts of Wall Street concerned. A group of banks came out and complained that federal regulators approved the futures, which begin trading Sunday, too quickly and without properly considering the risks inherent in bitcoin.

The futures signal more mainstream acceptance of the currency, but also open up bitcoin to additional market forces. Futures allow for the shorting of bitcoin – betting that the price of bitcoin will go down – which presently is very difficult to near impossible to do. With the currency’s tremendous run-up in price in recent days, it could become a target for those who doubt that it deserves its current lofty value.

The Futures Industry Association, which represents Wall Street’s biggest banks and clearinghouses, sent a letter to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, saying that as the guarantors of customers’ trades, they should have been consulted before trading in bitcoin futures was approved. They expressed concern that the extreme volatility tied into bitcoin could leave clearinghouses exposed when the futures move too violently.

The frenzy of interest and the rapid rise in the price of bitcoin have put significant strain on the major bitcoin exchanges. Coinbase, the largest bitcoin exchange, at one point tweeted that record-high traffic had caused interruptions to its service. Bitfinex, which trades several digital currencies including Bitcoin, tweeted out that it had suffered an unusual surge in traffic the last few days.

Bitcoin is the world’s most popular virtual currency. Such currencies are not tied to a bank or government and allow users to spend money anonymously. They are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they are traded.

A debate is raging on the merits of such currencies. Some say they serve merely to facilitate money laundering and illicit, anonymous payments. Others say they can be helpful methods of payment, such as in crisis situations where national currencies have collapsed.

Miners of bitcoins and other virtual currencies help keep the systems honest by having their computers keep a global running tally of transactions. That prevents cheaters from spending the same digital coin twice.

Online security is a vital concern for such dealings.

In Japan, after the failure of a bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox, new laws were enacted to regulate bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Mt. Gox shut down in February 2014, saying it lost about 850,000 bitcoins, possibly to hackers.

Earlier Thursday, NiceHash, a company that mines bitcoins on behalf of customers, said it is investigating a breach that may have resulted in the theft of about $70 million worth of bitcoin.

]]> 0 bitcoin logo is displayed at the Inside Bitcoins conference and trade show in New York.Thu, 07 Dec 2017 22:48:48 +0000
MaineHealth members vote for unification Thu, 07 Dec 2017 23:06:35 +0000 All members of MaineHealth have voted in favor of unifying into one board to oversee the state’s largest health care network. The new governance structure will likely start in January 2019.

MaineHealth – the parent organization for Maine Medical Center, Franklin Community Health, Pen Bay Medical Center, Southern Maine Healthcare and several other community hospitals and health care systems – has been working on unifying the system for more than a year. The unification, when it’s complete, will mean that one board of trustees will ultimately make decisions instead of 10 separate, independent boards. The voting started on Nov. 2, and by Thursday, all hospital boards had voted in favor of unification.

“I think it’s fair to say we were skeptical at the start,” said Clint Boothby, chair of Franklin Community Health Network, which oversees Franklin Community Hospital in Farmington, in a release announcing the vote. “We joined MaineHealth in part because it offered a degree of local independence, and people legitimately asked, ‘Why give up more local control.'”

But Boothby said that ultimately, in a “challenging health care environment” giving MaineHealth more resources in “support of care in local communities” was the correct choice.

Local boards will not be dissolved, but will become committees of the centralized board of trustees. The proposal guarantees members at least one representative on the centralized board for the first five years.

Under the new structure, local boards will continue to formulate budgets and strategic plans, oversee quality of care and handle credentialing of physicians and others.

The new governing structure allows MaineHealth to more easily move funds from one health system to another, and also run the system more efficiently, MaineHealth officials said.

“We believe this is how we provide the best care for the 1.1 million people in the MaineHealth service area who rely on Maine Medical Center to be the place that’s there for them when they face the most serious illlnesses,” said Bill Burke, chair of the Maine Med board of trustees.

The proposal is still subject to a due diligence review by MaineHealth and its members.

The other hospital members of MaineHealth are Lincoln Health in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway and Memorial Hospital in North Conway, New Hampshire. Other system providers include Maine Behavioral Healthcare, NorDx Laboratories and MaineHealth Care at Home.

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Empire State Building lit in ‘Colby Blue’ to celebrate $750 million campaign Thu, 07 Dec 2017 22:51:56 +0000 WATERVILLE — Colby College this week celebrated its $750 million comprehensive campaign in New York City with a trustee making it possible for the Empire State Building to be lit in Colby blue.

The Colby and “Dare Northward” campaign theme logos were projected on the NASDAQ sign in Times Square as part of the activities, which represent the first of many regional events planned around the country in the next couple of years, according to college officials.

Dan Lugo, Colby’s vice president for college advancement, was interviewed about the campaign in a Facebook Live segment at NASDAQ.

Through the generosity of a Colby trustee, the Empire State Building was lit up in Colby blue Tuesday night, drawing attention to the college’s capital campaign. Contributed photo

With support from trustees, the Empire State Building was lit in Colby blue Tuesday night, and on Wednesday night, alumni, parents, and friends celebrated by attending Jazz at Lincoln Center, according to Colby’s communications director, Kate Carlisle.

Performances included those by Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson and several Colby students, including jazz band members, and with Katie Monteleone and Josua Lutian, who performed selections from their original musical, “Lost With You.”

An original film about Edwin Torres of the Colby class of 2012 was screened at Wednesday night’s event. Torres is now the official photographer for the mayor of New York and won the Pulitzer Prize for news photography this year as part of a New York Daily News/ProPublica team.

Colby officials say Torres is a great example of the access and inclusion — and the type of successful student outcome — Colby’s campaign supports.

On Oct. 20, Colby launched the $750 million fundraising campaign in Waterville. Officials announced the college had already raised more than $380 million toward that goal. Since then, the campaign total has increased to $387 million.

Thanks to a trustee, Colby College leaders were invited to NASDAQ to witness the opening bell of Wednesday’s session. Logos for Colby and Dare Northward, the name of the college’s capital campaign, were projected on the NASDAQ sign in Times Square. Contributed photo

Colby President David Greene, who has led the effort to help revitalize the city’s downtown, and more than 800 Colby trustees, alumni, donors, administrators, faculty, students, Waterville city officials and others turned out Oct. 20 at the Waterville Opera House for the campaign announcement.

The campaign will enable Colby to improve access to a Colby education for deserving students from around the globe, provide new facilities that support a multidisciplinary approach to learning and connect the college to the community beyond its campus, according to college officials. Construction of a new performing arts and innovation center also will be built as part of the effort.

Campaign funds will allow Colby to continue to redefine the liberal arts, offering distinctive programs to connect students to a rapidly changing world and prepare them to solve the most vexing issues of our time, Colby officials said.

The Dare Northward campaign theme reflects the bold and unprecedented nature of the initiatives and priorities it will support, they said.

Eric S. Rosengren, chairman of the Colby board of trustees and a 1979 Colby graduate, told the crowd Oct. 20 that Dare Northward refers not just to the current upward momentum of the college but also to its remarkable history, starting with its founders who sailed up the Kennebec River in a sloop aptly called The Hero, to charter the school in 1813.

“In 1877, Colby admitted women, more than 100 years before many of our peer institutions,” Rosengren said.

Rosengren said Waterville residents raised $107,000 to buy land on Mayflower Hill in 1930 for the college, as the survival of Colby was in question, financial institutions were failing and unemployment was rising.

It was a daring move, according to Rosengren. Just as the country fell into the Great Depression, Colby’s leaders were willing to take a significant risk to secure the future of the college.

Colby is working with civic, philanthropic and art leaders to help revitalize downtown Waterville.

Colby invested $5 million to renovate the former Hains building, a historic bank building on Main Street, and is building a $25 million mixed-use development that will open in the fall of 2018 and house 200 Colby students and faculty and staff members working in civic engagement. Colby also plans to build a hotel and restaurant next year on Main Street that would serve the Waterville community and visitors.

Colby’s total investment in Waterville is expected to exceed $45 million, with significant additional resources being committed by private investors, according to college officials.

Major campaign commitments include a gift from Colby trustee and campaign co-chairman Bill Alfond, a 1972 Colby graduate, and his wife, Joan, to name the residential and mixed-use complex that Colby is building downtown at 150 Main St.

Major gifts to the campaign include more than $100 million to establish the Lunder Institute for American Art, which was launched this fall. The campaign commitment from Overseer Peter Lunder, a 1956 Colby graduate, and his wife, Life Trustee Paula Crane Lunder, included nearly 1,150 new works by artists including Maya Lin, Joan Mitchell, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.

The Lunder commitment established Colby as the only liberal arts college with both an innovative art museum dedicated to cross-disciplinary study and a global research center for American art.


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The Diocese of Portland names John Fencik as director of cemeteries Thu, 07 Dec 2017 20:30:00 +0000 NEW HIRES
The Diocese of Portland announced that John Fencik was named the new director of cemeteries.
Most recently, Fencik was the director for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services for the Diocese of Spokane in Washington from 2014 to 2017. The Diocese of Portland currently owns and operates two diocesan cemeteries (St. Peter’s Cemetery in Lewiston and Calvary Cemetery in South Portland) and collaborates in the operation of more than 75 parish cemeteries.

The Northcross Group hired Mike Scully as a senior analyst.
Scully is a recent University of Maine School of Law graduate. He brings extensive experience in control frameworks, risk management, policy development and process change management.



Marc Smith and Cathy Johnston joined the sales team at SymQuest Group Inc.
Smith was hired as an IT sales account executive.
He brings more than 20 years experience in IT and telecom services.




Johnston was hired as a document solutions account executive and brings to the organization experience in outside sales and sales management.




Oxford County Regional Communications Center hired Tammy Maurer as a full-time dispatcher.
Maurer, of Waterford, will spend the next few months in training at the center and at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro.

Gary Trempe, a financial adviser at S&B Financial Services, completed the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor Professional Designation Program from The College for Financial Planning. He also completed the Accredited Investment Fiduciary Designation Program from the Center for Fiduciary Studies.
Trempe, of Biddeford, has worked for S&B Financial Services since 2012.


Wallace Camp Jr., president of Rowe Ford Sales in Westbrook, will represent the Maine Automobile Dealers Association in the annual Time Dealer of the Year award. The event recognizes community service and professional achievement. Camp joins 46 nominees who will be honored at a National Auto Dealers Association meeting in March.

]]> 0 FencikThu, 07 Dec 2017 15:27:42 +0000