Business – Press Herald Sun, 23 Apr 2017 12:29:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is your digital life private? A lot depends on your provider Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When President Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress swept away privacy rules preventing your internet service providers from selling your data without your permission, you might think Fletcher Kittredge would want to celebrate.

Kittredge, after all, is founder and CEO of Biddeford-based GWI, an internet service provider that serves more than 18,000 Maine customers and would benefit from the repeal, which lets companies like his sell his customer’s Web browsing history, geo-location movements, and all sorts of other valuable information to advertisers. The rules, repeal advocates said, had put more stringent restrictions on such firms than are applied to Web-based companies like Facebook or Google.

But Kittredge says the repeal is a disaster for his customers and anyone who cares about privacy or civil liberties, an ill-conceived move that will ultimately make people’s data less secure and the internet itself less valuable.

“ISPs have broader access to information about you than anybody else because everything else goes on top of the connection they provide,” he says. “They can tell who you’re having conversations with, where you go, and lots of information that’s best left private, especially as hackers will be attracted to it.

“If we all end up not being able to appropriately trust the internet, that’s not good for anyone.”

The rule repeal – which the president signed into law April 3 – will make most things we do on the internet much less private, privacy experts say, as providers learn how to make money selling their customers’ data. For years prior to the repeal, providers had been expecting tightened rules and had set their policies to anticipate this, but now are free to exploit data more aggressively. This has implications for Maine internet users and national policymakers alike.

Proponents of the repeal said it was necessary to create an even playing field between internet service providers and other Web-based companies, but the practical effect so far has been to shift the balance in favor of service providers, who can now operate with far fewer privacy restrictions.

“There are no rules here now,” says lawyer Peter Guffin, who heads Pierce Atwood’s privacy and data security practice and teaches information privacy law at the University of Maine School of Law. “There’s a complete vacuum in terms of when an ISP can see into the contents of our communications, what it can do with those contents, and even whether it has to tell us if this data has been hacked.

“From a user’s perspective, you should be on notice that the ISPs have been given the green light by the U.S. government to essentially surveil all of your electronic communications,” Guffin added. “My hunch is that many providers are rewriting their privacy notices, and whatever they said about opting out won’t be the same as a year ago.”

Internet providers can see a wide range of their customers’ online activity, according to Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group. Unless you’re using special tools like a virtual private network or the free, privacy-minded Tor internet browser, he says, “an ISP could definitely see and sell all the web addresses you visit,” though they would be limited to the domain name for “https” sites using encryption, such as banks, most online shopping sites, Google, Facebook, and Web mail.

They can also gather your geo-location data – especially interesting for mobile internet – and could glean what songs you’ve been listening to, movies you’ve watched, or items you’ve shopped for from any unencrypted addresses you’ve visited.

While they can also see the content of emails in accounts they provide their users, wiretapping laws likely prevent them from sharing or selling this information.

Reducing exposure to snooping

There are steps Mainers can take to reduce their exposure, says Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. One is to use the Tor browser (download the Tor browser here) – though it will slow down your internet traffic – and encrypted text messaging tools like Signal (download Signal here).

“That will at least protect the content of your communications,” he says. “But it doesn’t protect the metadata” – the digital equivalent of a letter’s envelope, with sender, receiver, time stamp, and size information about the text.

Users can also ask their ISPs to opt them out of at least some of their data being shared, though this process is often cumbersome. “An ACLU colleague of mine who is an expert on internet privacy tried as an exercise to contact different ISPs and exercise the opt-out option and found it incredibly challenging and confusing – and this is somebody who studies technology for a living,” he says. “But if you care about privacy and don’t want your personal browsing history stored, commodified, and sold then it may be worth it for you to take those steps to opt out.”

More sophisticated users may consider subscribing to a virtual private networking – or VPN – service, which masks much of one’s internet activity from your service provider, but experts say that comes with its own risks, as the VPN provider may be snooping on you itself.

“There’s a strong overlap between VPN companies and the dark web, because a lot of people who want to hide things this way are also doing something wrong,” says Kittredge. “It can be like hiring a security guard to protect your warehouse by going to the local bar and picking out somebody who looks tough.”

A fourth possibility, depending on your geographic location: “Vote with your wallets and choose ISPs that are protective of your privacy,” Heiden says.

Most ISPs active in Maine are seeking to reassure customers about their commitment to their privacy, but on closer scrutiny, the strength of their stated commitments varies considerably.

Another unknown is what lawmakers will do next.

Repeal’s goal: An ‘even playing field’

Congress repealed the privacy rules the Federal Communications Commission was about to put into effect that would have prohibited internet providers from selling or sharing a wide range of personal data without users’ consent, including Web browsing history, geo-location, and application usage. It was a party-line vote, with Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin voting with their Republican colleagues for repeal, independent Sen. Angus King, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and the entire Democratic caucus voting against.

The action also prevents the FCC – the only entity currently authorized to regulate ISPs – from developing new rules.

Supporters of repeal say it was necessary to create an even playing field between ISPs and other internet firms like Google and Facebook. The FCC rules on internet providers were stricter than those for Web-based firms and application developers, which are regulated by a different agency, the Federal Trade Commission. Opponents reject this as a false comparison.

Poliquin says that repealing the rule will enhance privacy. “I absolutely want to ensure there are proper safeguards to keep Mainers’ private data secure when they use the Internet, which is why I voted with Senator Collins to remove this FCC rule,” he said in a written statement to the Maine Sunday Telegram. “The reality is that the FCC rule creates a misleading sense of security for users” because they applied “to only a specific segment of the industry, while giving unequal advantage and preference to a handful of companies that wouldn’t be under their jurisdiction. This is not the way to regulate, as it would also undermine the very goal of protecting users’ data.”

His vote, he added, was “the right thing to do.”

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, internet firms have not been important campaign donors to either Collins or Poliquin. No member of the industry appears in the top 20 donors to either’s campaign or the political action committees they control.

Users don’t pay Google, Facebook

The most prominent lobbyist pushing for the changes is Jon Leibowitz, who was chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Obama, and now co-chairman of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, which represents Comcast, Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum), Verizon, DirecTV and other major internet providers who disliked the restrictions.

In interviews with the Telegram, Leibowitz defended the rule change on fairness grounds. “The whole history of American privacy protection is focused on three things: the data itself, the way in which it’s collected, and the way in which it’s used,” he said. “You shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of silos, on the basis of who is doing the collecting.”

ISPs, he and other proponents of the repeal argue, should be on an even playing field with other internet firms in terms of exploiting users’ digital data. But repeatedly asked why internet service providers should necessarily operate under the same rules as Web companies, he was unable to provide a clear answer. “It’s not about who is collecting your data, it’s about what data is being collected and how it is being used,” he reiterated, adding that he thought you could make a fair “apples to apples” comparison between ISPs and other internet firms.

Elsewhere he has argued that ISPs don’t really have a comprehensive picture of our internet use, both because they can’t see the content of browsing at “https” sites and because customers roam from ISP to ISP during the day, connecting at work or the local coffee shop.

Opponents of the rule change disagree, arguing there is a fundamental difference between the companies we pay to provide us internet access and those like Google and Facebook that are paid by advertisers for information about who we are and what products we might like. For internet service providers, they say, their users are their customers, while for Google and Facebook their users are the product they’re selling to their real customers, marketers and advertisers.

“It’s a little disingenuous for ISPs to argue they should be treated equally, because it’s not really comparing apples to apples,” Pierce Atwood’s Guffin says. “Unlike using Google, which is free, I’m actually paying my ISP 50 bucks a month to get that ISP connection, and now I find out all my data is also being monetized and leveraged to make more money.”

ISPs, he says, are more akin to the postal service – a conduit through which we conduct our digital lives, and one you can’t avoid having, which is why European regulations prohibit such firms from collecting user data. Nor do most Maine consumers have a lot of options, as many communities are served by just one or two providers. “It’s an essential service, and there aren’t hundreds of ISPs that are knocking at my door for business,” he adds.

Heiden at the ACLU of Maine agrees. “The rules should be different, because ISPs are literally invited into our home and provide a service that is almost necessary for participating in the public and economic life of our country,” he says. “That carries with it a social responsibility that’s different than that of the Web companies we may choose to visit through the internet.”

It’s unclear how or when privacy rules will be replaced

In the short term, the repeal has also created a profoundly uneven playing field, as ISPs are now far less regulated than other firms. It is unclear how and when Congress will move to rectify the situation, given that the FCC still has authority over the ISPs yet is barred from developing privacy regulations.

Some backers of the repeal appear concerned about the vacuum. On April 7, 50 Republican House members wrote the FCC chairman to urge him “to continue to hold ISPs to their privacy promises” laid out in the privacy policies they present their users. The letter also suggested the FCC should turn regulation of ISPs over to the FTC. (Poliquin was not a signatory.)

But Gillula of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that’s not reassuring, as many major ISPs’ privacy policies allow them to collect your browsing history and target ads at you unless you opt out, something most users are unaware they can do. “Basically, the letter is kind of like asking the FCC to ensure that the fox guarding the henhouse stands by the contract he imposed on the hens, which says in fine print that he’s allowed to eat one or two of them now and then,” he says.

It’s also possible that the Maine Legislature could try to impose its own rules, though this might be tested in court. “This is all uncharted waters,” says Guffin. “But if you have Congress saying we’re not regulating ISPs, it may create an opening for states to step in.”

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Kittredge is founder and CEO of GWI, a phone and internet service provider that serves more than 18,000 customers in Maine. He says the repeal of rules governing what ISPs can do with customer data – which President Trump signed into law this month – will undermine users' trust in the Web.Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:20:31 +0000
Is your data for sale? We asked local internet providers about their safeguards Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Internet providers in Maine are reassuring customers that they have nothing to fear about the repeal of federal rules governing the exploitation of users’ data, but they have a range of positions on what is and isn’t being protected.

Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of Biddeford-based GWI, is the most blunt, saying his company won’t so much as collect users’ internet data, better yet share or sell it, and that would only change over “my dead body.”

“We don’t collect it, and that means it’s not there to be stolen, and we would not share it and we would not sell it,” added Kittredge, whose company operates in all 16 of Maine’s counties, but its service area is concentrated in the larger towns and along major highways.

Similarly, Susan Corbett, CEO of Machias-based Axiom Technologies, says “we do not collect, store, distribute, or otherwise sell our subscriber information” and that it’s company policy “to work directly with our customers about their information being protected.” Her company provides broadband access across Washington County and on Chebeague Island.

The state’s largest provider, Charter Communications’ Time Warner Cable, referred inquiries about its policies to a company blog post that said it does not sell or share customers’ “web browsing histories to third parties” or their “information for personalized third-party marketing or advertising” and would provide customers notice “in the event that we change these business practices.”

FairPoint Communications spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said via email that the company “remained committed to protecting (customers’) private information” and that its privacy policy “prohibits the selling of customer information without permission.”

Comcast – the primary broadband provider in 11 towns in the Brunswick area – plus Kittery, Berwick, South Berwick and Eliot in southernmost Maine – referred inquiries to a blog post by company deputy general counsel Gerard Lewis, who used some ambiguous language. Lewis said the company doesn’t sell customers’ “individual web browsing history” and complied with laws preventing sharing of their banking, health, and children’s information without consent. It also noted that Comcast allows customers to opt out of their data being used to send them targeted ads.

It was not clear if the company sells aggregated Web browsing history information or if lists of internet locations an individual has visited – not precisely the same thing as the history collected in the individual’s Web browser – might be fair game, and a company spokesman, Marc Goodman, declined to clarify.

Goodman also declined to say why customers attempting to opt out of being tracked by the 41 advertising networks Comcast partners with are required to enable third-party cookies to do so. (Cookies are files websites place on your computer to track your identity, preferences, and behavior.)

Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group, says this is problematic, as enabling such cookies would allow other third parties to track you online. “Requiring third-party cookies to opt-out of online tracking is a terrible design decision,” he says.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

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Michelle Singletary: Graduating from college debt-free Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 My husband and I recently invited our daughter Olivia to speak to students attending the money-and-marriage class that we teach at our church.

The couples were given free rein to ask her questions. They were dying to know what it was like growing up under such frugal parents. Eventually, the conversation got around to borrowing for college. Olivia will be graduating from the University of Maryland at College Park next month. She’ll leave with a double major – and no debt. And we won’t have any on her behalf either. (Thank you, 529 plan!)

If you’re a parent with young children, you should be interested in what she had to say.

And if you have a high school student trying to decide between a college that won’t require student loans – or very few – and one that would necessitate heavy borrowing, listen to what it feels like for a young adult not to have the burden of education debt.

“Even the friends that I have who are frugal, even they have debt,” Olivia began.

She shared that her friends talk about the anxiety they have about paying back their loans and how they are dreading the end of their six-month grace period when their loans go into repayment. “I just don’t have those fears,” Olivia said.

It’s in these types of moments, when your children are speaking to others, that you learn their heart.

“When you are little, you don’t care,” Olivia said. “‘College fund? Who cares? I want this toy.’ Or: ‘College fund? Who cares? I want that milkshake.’ But I didn’t need the toy. I didn’t need the milkshake. I’m going to graduate without debt. And I’m also going to go to grad school without debt.”

What Olivia presents is an ideal situation. But what if your child is going to graduate with debt?

There’s some relief. Borrowers with federal loans can opt for repayment plans to reduce their monthly payments based on their income and family size. There are four such plans:

 Income-contingent repayment. Your monthly payment is capped at 20 percent of your discretionary income.

• Income-based repayment. Generally, payments are set at 10 percent of discretionary income for new borrowers on or after July 1, 2014. Someone who has loans prior to that date will be at 15 percent even if they have some loans after that date, points out Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy at, a free website with information about college admissions and financial aid.

 Pay-as-you-earn repayment. Payments are set at 10 percent of discretionary income. But this option is only available to borrowers who have at least one federal student loan first disbursed on or after October 1, 2011, and no loans prior to October 1, 2007.

 Revised pay-as-you-earn repayment. This is the newest plan designed to give relief to all borrowers, not just those with recent loans. Payments are 10 percent of discretionary income.

To figure out which repayment plan is best for you, contact your lender.

“The important thing is to look for an affordable plan that you can work into your budget,” says Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Federation of America.

Lots of borrowers focus on the fact that debt can be forgiven under the various income-based plans after 20 or 25 years. But it’s a long road to forgiveness, and many borrowers don’t realize that if their loan balances are forgiven, the canceled debt is treated as income and will be taxed.

The May 1 college decision deadline is coming up. And where students choose to attend college can result in years of debt obligations. I’m glad that, for those aspiring scholars who do take on debt, there are plans that can ease their monthly burden.

But maybe Olivia sharing what it’s like to be debt-free at the start of her adult life will help somebody make a different decision.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:16:34 +0000
New crimp on seasonal hiring poses costly threat to tourism businesses Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 In an ordinary year, Julie Van de Graaf would be getting ready to open the Pentagoet Inn, a 16-room bed-and-breakfast and restaurant in Castine.

This year is anything but ordinary, and Van de Graaf is worried.

“It is the end of April, my staff should be arriving May 1, we should be opening the restaurant,” she said. Every year, the inn hires five or six kitchen workers and housekeepers – about a fifth of the staff – from Jamaica with H-2B visas, a tightly regulated seasonal foreign worker program heavily used by Maine’s hospitality sector in the summer tourism season. But because of a new restriction on the program, those workers, some of whom have been coming to work at the Pentagoet for years, haven’t been allowed into the country.

If the program isn’t amended quickly, Van de Graaf expects to lose thousands of dollars in revenue and even worse, tarnish her guests’ experience and overwork her local staff. She’s already had to tell a wedding party she couldn’t accommodate a July date because she isn’t sure she will have enough workers.

“If we are not open, then we are not buying from local farmers, local fishermen, the local bakery,” Van de Graaf said.

“One of the things we realize is that tourism is the engine that drives the economy in Maine. While we are suffering and losing money, it is impacting so many tourist areas in the state.”

The H-2B program allows businesses to hire seasonal foreign workers when they can’t find enough local help to fill jobs. With Maine’s unemployment rate at a historic low, business owners say getting local workers into jobs cleaning rooms and washing dishes is tough.

There is a cap of 66,000 H-2B visas a year in the U.S., but an exemption put in place in 2016 allowed businesses to hire returning workers without affecting the cap.

That exemption expired last year and was not renewed by Congress, just as demand for H-2B visas in Maine is surging. That has left many seasonal businesses, especially hotels, scrambling to find workers.

Maine’s congressional delegation, along with those from other states, is supporting legislation to improve the program and make the returning worker exemption permanent. A continuing resolution that will be under consideration this coming week to keep the government funded could include an extension.

It is still unclear if those efforts will be successful. If they are, help might come too late to relieve short-staffed businesses getting ready for a throng of summer tourists.

“It is really going to hurt operations,” said Raymond Brunyanszki, co-owner of the Camden Harbor Inn and Danforth Inn in Portland. His company expected six workers from the H-2B program this year.

“We are trying to fill some gaps, but it is definitely a very, very difficult year,” Brunyanszki said. “It will in general make Maine look bad and that is not good for a tourism destination.”


Businesses can start recruiting workers for the visas 120 days before the anticipated employment date, so places that open earlier in the season, like some resorts in southern Maine, apply earlier than businesses farther up the coast that open later. This year, visa processing stopped when the cap was hit March 13, leaving applications from many businesses in limbo.

“If you didn’t have a petition date on the very first day, you didn’t stand a chance to get seasonal help,” said Allyson Cavaretta, director of sales and marketing at the Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit. “It’s sort of like you are proving you are hungry, but there is nothing left to buy at the store.”

The Meadowmere was able to get the 18 workers it applied for this year, Cavaretta said. All but two are returning employees and some have worked at the resort for a decade.

“We made the cap. We are one of the very few businesses that have that luxury this year,” Cavaretta said. “It shouldn’t be a luxury.”

Restrictions on the program are coming at the same time Maine’s demand for H-2B visas is at a nine-year high. As of Thursday, 140 employers had requested 2,877 H-2B workers, roughly 370 more than in 2016 and almost twice the number requested in 2009, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

Conservative critics of the program have said it takes jobs away from Americans who need them, while some liberal politicians and labor unions point to abuses and cases of exploiting foreign workers.


The critique that visa holders are taking jobs from Americans doesn’t line up with reality, said Patrick Morgan, president of Witham Family Hotels. The company owns 13 hotels in Maine, including several in Bar Harbor. It has used H-2B workers in each of its properties for years, and Morgan is holding out hope for legislation to reinstate the returning worker exemption so the company can find enough workers to fill its housekeeping ranks.

“The part that is frustrating is the argument against it is that these jobs are available to able-bodied American workers,” Morgan said. “It simply isn’t the case. Opposition to the issue just isn’t applicable in Maine.”

Seasonal foreign workers also bolster the business during the important shoulder season in September and October, when seasonal employees from high school and college have left, Morgan said.

In order to qualify for a visa, businesses have to prove they tried to hire locally. If there are no local hires, businesses can then go through the expensive and time-consuming visa process. It costs between $1,500 and $2,000 per H-B2 worker with the help of an agency, said Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for the Maine Innkeepers Association. That doesn’t include the cost of airfare and housing for workers when they arrive. Visa workers are paid a prevailing wage set by the U.S. Department of Labor, which means they cannot be paid less than local hires.

“Most people would rather hire someone from around here. If they don’t exist, you have to go this route,” Dugal said.

Van de Graaf, from Castine, puts it in starker terms.

“Why in the world as this tiny little business would I pay out $15,000 to get employees if I didn’t have to?” she said.


Many coastal employers find it hard to hire locally for seasonal jobs either because the workforce just isn’t there, or potential hires are looking for full-time employment.

But there is a geographic obstacle, too. Many of the seasonal positions are in areas far away from a potential labor pool, said Julie Rabinowitz of the Maine Department of Labor.

“Someone who lives in Millinockett year-round is not going to commute to Mount Desert Island. It is not a reasonable expectation,” she said. The department is encouraging employers and local business groups to think outside the box and come up with transportation and housing programs that could connect Maine workers with seasonal employment.

The hospitality industry is competing with employers who are offering year-round jobs. Maine just broke a record for private sector employment and the state’s unemployment rate is only 3 percent, the lowest in 40 years.

“All these year-round jobs have grown, they are pulling people who might have had a part-time job in the winter and a full-time job in the summer,” Rabinowitz said. Even when jobs are scarce, foreign workers from the H-2B program and J1 student visa program meet a critical need, she added.

“There are certain jobs in the hospitality industry that are always going to be hard to fill,” Rabinowitz said.

The problems with H-2B visas this year are severe, but Maine businesses are used to volatility in the program. Rule changes, holdups in visa approvals, program freezes and other hiccups are commonplace in hiring foreign workers. The returning worker exemption is the “issue du jour,” said Dugal, from the Maine Innkeepers Association. “It isn’t always the same issue with this program, but there is usually an issue,” he said. “In the last 14-15 years this is definitely the worst, the need is greatest and the supply is small.”

It was volatility with H-2B visas that led Bob Smith, owner of the Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg, to stop using the program several years ago. “We abandoned the program because it wasn’t reliable,” Smith said.

He tried again this year and hired 12 workers from Jamaica. He thought all his workers were lined up, until he learned the returning worker exemption didn’t apply anymore. Now, he expects a stressful summer for his depleted staff and a hectic fall when some seasonal workers leave.

“We spent all this money, put all this effort forward, and in all likelihood, unless something happens soon, it will be a waste because we won’t be able to use them,” Smith said.

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Smith, owner of Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg, is frustrated by the limits in a visa program that are hurting Maine's hospitality industry.Sat, 22 Apr 2017 22:26:59 +0000
Week in review: Unemployment rate is lowest on record; downtown projects get underway Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 TOURISM & HOSPITALITY

Maine’s tourist hot spots report no sign of a ‘Trump slump’

Despite worries that the Trump administration’s national security and immigration policies might hurt the U.S. tourism industry, one Maine town that relies on foreign visitors is gearing up for a busy summer. Several of President Trump’s proposals, such as a ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and intensified border security have led some tourism experts to warn of a “Trump Slump” in international visitation. But here in Maine, where the summer economy thrives on millions of Canadian tourists every year, Trump’s policies don’t appear to have had an effect yet, and some innkeepers say the exchange rate is a more important factor. In Old Orchard Beach, a popular destination for generations of visiting Quebecois, 2017 is shaping up to be better than last year. Read the story.

Augusta Civic Center expected to be profitable for second year in a row

The Augusta Civic Center is expected to turn a profit for the second year in a row, a milestone that officials say shows the growing strength of the local economy as more people attend events and spend money there. The city-owned convention center and auditorium will likely finish the current fiscal year with a profit of between $40,000 and $50,000, Earl Kingsbury, director of the civic center, told city councilors during a recent budget workshop. That won’t match the $272,000 in profits the civic center brought in the previous year, but continues the recent trend of the facility running “in the black.” That isn’t the case every year, as sometimes it loses money, including as recently as 2015, when expenses exceeded revenues by $120,000. Kingsbury said the civic center is getting new business, having booked about a dozen new events this year, most of which have also re-booked for the following year. Read the story.


Maine’s unemployment rate falls to historic low in March

Maine’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3 percent in March, the lowest on record since the current methodology was implemented in 1976, driven in part by high job gains in construction, transportation, education and healthcare. The March rate was down from 3.2 percent in February and 3.7 percent a year ago. The number of unemployed Mainers was down 4,500 over the year to 21,000. The unemployment rate was below 4 percent in 14 of the last 17 months, only the third such period in the last 41 years. That compares to the national preliminary unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, down from 4.7 percent in February and 5.0 percent a year ago. The New England unemployment rate averaged 3.8 percent in March. Read the story.


Project to transform ‘dead space’ at Portland’s Canal Plaza begins

Work crews began a redevelopment of Canal Plaza in the heart of Portland’s Old Port on Monday. The open plaza next to Middle Street is nestled between tall office buildings and has long featured concrete planters and trees and been used mostly as a cut-through to nearby office buildings and the lower Old Port. The multimillion-dollar redesign will include the addition of a free-standing building and new landscaping that the owner hopes will make it a more vibrant space. Owner Tim Soley, of East Brown Cow development company, plans to replace one of the planters and its six mature trees with a circular single-story building for use as a cafe or retail store. He also plans to replace the brick-and-concrete plaza with 17,000 square feet of granite and add benches and new trees. Read the story.

Developer begins 28-unit downtown Portland apartment project

A Portland developer has begun construction on 28 apartment units inside the Clapp Memorial Building at 443 Congress St. in Portland, including four units that will meet the city’s requirement for affordable housing. Northland is building eight two-bedroom apartments, sixteen one-bedroom apartments, and four studio units on the former office building’s upper floors. Two commercial tenants on the first floor, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Planned Parenthood, both have long-term leases and will remain. Northland is the first developer to include affordable apartment units under Portland’s relatively new requirement, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. Developer Chip Newell’s 26-unit Luminato Condominium project on Newbury Street was the first condo project to include affordable units under the ordinance, she said. Read the story.


Buyers of Harris Golf discount passes unhappy that they now exclude Sunday River

Some golfers are disappointed that discount passes sold by Bath-based Harris Golf Inc. can no longer be used to play the award-winning Sunday River Golf Club course in Newry. However, the passes can be used at other Harris Golf properties, and the company has promised a refund to at least one customer who called to ask for his money back. Harris Golf had owned and operated the Sunday River course since it opened in 2005, but recently lost those rights while a legal dispute over its ownership is pending. Portland-based Newry Holdings LLC, the sole creditor on the property’s mortgage, took possession of the course Jan. 5, saying Harris Golf failed to make a required mortgage payment. Read the story.


Regulators vote to allow lobstering in Gulf of Maine coral protection zones

New England regulators have voted to allow lobster fishing in proposed deep-sea coral protection zones, including two heavily fished areas in Down East Maine. The New England Fishery Management Council voted 14-1 Tuesday to ban most fishing in the canyons and plateaus where slow-growing, cold-water coral gardens flourish in the dark waters of the Gulf of Maine. But pleas from Maine lobster fishermen who say a trap ban in fertile gulf fishing grounds would cost them millions of dollars helped sway an initially resistant council to grant a lobstering exemption. If approved at the council’s June meeting in Portland, the exemption would allow lobstering in coral protection zones on Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge, where Maine officials believe state-based boats land about $4.2 million worth of lobster a year. Read the story.


Madison Paper sells its hydropower facility to New Jersey firm

Hydro power assets at the shuttered Madison Paper Industries have been sold to a New Jersey hydroelectric power producer, marking the final step in the sale of the paper mill and opening the door for future plans at the site. Madison Paper Industries, a former partnership of UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Company, signed an agreement to sell its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey. The paper mill, which closed in May and put about 215 people out of work, was sold in December to a buyer with plans to put the property back into use as an industrial site. Future uses of the mill site have been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. Read the story.


Reformed scam artist tells Mainers how to protect their data

Frank Abagnale Jr. visited the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland Thursday to teach Mainers how to avoid identity theft. Abagnale’s life as a teenage fraudster and his ultimate transformation into an anti-fraud innovator was immortalized first in book form, then in the 2002 Steven Spielberg-directed movie “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. More recently, the story was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. For the past three years, Abagnale has been touring the country with the AARP Fraud Watch Network to teach audiences how to avoid being scammed at a time when personal information is everywhere and fast-changing technology is constantly creating new security problems and solutions. Abagnale offered a variety of lessons to the audience in Portland. Read the story.

]]> 0 dense, multi-species deep-sea coral garden was found 200 meters below sea level in a federally funded survey of the Gulf of Maine in 2014. New England regulators have voted to allow lobster fishing in proposed deep-sea coral protection zones, including two heavily fished areas in Down East Maine. (Courtesy of NOAA Fisheries/New England Fisheries Science Center/University of Connecticut/University of Maine)Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:14:59 +0000
For Domino’s owner, former Gardiner bank a good spot to make some dough Sat, 22 Apr 2017 23:55:28 +0000 GARDINER — Fernando Jantorno Stelser doesn’t do things slowly.

He talks fast and he moves fast, because as the owner of six Domino’s restaurants he has a lot to do.

“Maybe I slow down when I’m sleeping,” he said Friday.

Right now, he’s working on his newest restaurant at 192 Water St., the site of the former Maine Trust & Banking building.

Stelser, 38, is planning for a June opening, if all goes smoothly. Last Wednesday, he was in Gardiner overseeing the delivery and installation of his pizza ovens. By afternoon, he had already dropped off payroll at his Augusta restaurant and stayed long enough to make some pizza before heading south.

Work at the restaurant started in earnest in March, and it’s expected to wrap up at the end of June when Domino’s is expected to open.

And when it does, it will be unlike any other Domino’s restaurant because Stelser and Haldria Vale Jantorno, his wife and partner, are keeping many of the historic details of the former bank building intact, including the trim and the vault, which will be dining space for customers. They are also planning a small function room along the front of the restaurant. And if the state Historic Preservation Commission agrees, they will have a take-out window where the ATM used to be.

“It’s easier than you think,” he said. “People are afraid of historic towns.”

“One of the things I was struck by is the juxtaposition of the modern business and finishes in a historic building,” which are complementary, Gardiner Maine Street Executive Director Patrick Wright said.

Like most other Domino’s owners, Stelser started as a driver. In 2002, he drove for a restaurant in Acton, Massachusetts, before returning to his native Brazil to complete college.

When he was ready to return to the United States in 2004, he started managing his first Domino’s in Kittery. Stelser and his wife bought his first restaurant in Bath in 2009 and started adding from there. In addition to Gardiner and Augusta, they own restaurants in Auburn, Brunswick and Freeport, which was the most recent addition before Gardiner and is also in a historic building.

What attracted him to Domino’s was the pace and the dynamic environment when he was a driver, and it stuck.

“Every day is a different day,” he said. “Different customers and different routes.”

What attracted him to Gardiner was the city’s location in relation to his other restaurants. He had been looking in the area for a couple of years before focusing on the former bank building, which they bought last year.

Domino’s is a franchise operation putting down roots in a city that has well-established pizza restaurants.

Wright, who in addition to his Gardiner Main Street duties is also Gardiner’s economic development coordinator, said he’s heard some concern about a franchise restaurant moving in.

“Our experience of local franchise owners has been very positive,” he said. They include Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway and Craft Beer Cellar.

“Our brand is that we’re welcoming to people, and we welcome any business that wants to do business here,” he said.

Stelser, who is already scoping out his next restaurant, said he hopes to have good sales and be a part of the community.

“I really like Maine. It’s a safe state,” he said, and it’s a place he wants to be in and chooses to raise his family in.

“Brazil is very dangerous,” he said. “It’s a paradise here.”

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

Twitter: JLowellKJ

]]> 0 native Fernando Jantorno Stelser started managing his first Domino's restaurant in Kittery in 2004, and he now owns six in Maine. The former Maine Trust & Banking buildiing at 192 Water St. in Gardiner will be the next Domino's.Sat, 22 Apr 2017 20:40:42 +0000
Defunct Madison mill churns with uncertainties amid hopes of a revival Sat, 22 Apr 2017 23:13:23 +0000 MADISON — There is a different sort of hum at the former Madison paper mill these days.

Gone is the hot, loud blast of a giant paper machine rolling out 195,000 tons of paper annually after the mill closed in May 2016 and put about 215 people out of work.

The hum amid the quiet industrial corridors of the mill and its offices now is all business – phone calls and walking tours with prospective buyers taking notes on the mill’s equipment and value.

Everything is for sale, said Jerome Epstein, 81, whose father, Perry Epstein, founded Perry Videx, a used equipment and machinery company in 1932. Perry Videx is one of the partners of Somerset Acquisition LLC, the group of new owners who purchased the mill in December. The mill property was sold to a joint venture of New Mill Capital Holdings, of New York; Perry Videx, of Hainesport, New Jersey; and Infinity Asset Solutions, of Toronto.

“We buy and sell machinery just like people buy and sell used cars,” Epstein said from the mill offices this past week. “And when someone shuts a plant down, we buy it and occasionally we’ve been able to sell plants completely the way they are, but mostly we sell off the equipment and repurpose the real estate to see if we can find other uses for it.”

Epstein said there are several companies interested in the equipment at the mill, including the paper machine itself, which under the agreement with the former seller, UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Co., could be used in place to make paper, so long as the product is not in direct competition with UPM.

“We are trying to sell the paper machine,” he said. “It’s not a dead certainty by any means – it’s a long shot because it’s a big machine – but it’s a beautiful machine. It’s in wonderful condition.”

Epstein said the best case would be to find someone to come in, buy the machine and operate it right there in Madison without having to spend money to take it apart, move it and reassemble it.

The final part of the sale of the mill properties came Tuesday, when the former owners announced an agreement on the sale of its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey.

Now, according to Epstein and Gregory Schain, principal of New Mill Capital Holdings, the plan is to sell what they can and find tenants or buyers for the vacant buildings.

Tours of the old paper mill are conducted by Jaime Broce, the manager and supervisor for Somerset Acquisition. That group escorts prospective buyers through the sprawling plant, which had produced supercalendered paper used for glossy magazine publishing in Madison since 1978. Broce, 69, moved temporarily to the Madison area in January with his wife from their home in Monterrey, Mexico. He has worked with Epstein’s company since 2007, but this was his first winter in Maine.

“It was terrible,” he quipped of the recent winter, during a tour of what was the No. 3 paper machine, the drying room and the maintenance area of the shuttered mill, now all sitting silent. Paper machines No. 1 and 2 were dismantled years ago, he said.

Touring the mill last week, there was an eerie quiet with only the buzz of electric lights in the air.

“It was really, really loud,” Broce said of the mill when it was up and running. “All the pumps running, all the agitators working, the rollers, they make a lot of noise. Now it’s very quiet – sad.”

In the last 16 years, demand for newsprint declined 15 percent and for glossy paper between 30 and 50 percent, according to an industry analyst.

Once employing more than 18,000 workers at its height in the 1960s, the papermaking industry in Maine has lost more than 1,500 jobs in the last two years. There are just six operating paper mills left in Maine.

Broce said the best way for Somerset Acquisition to make a profit on its purchase is to sell the equipment whole, not in pieces or parts and not as scrap metal.

He said there are papermaking plants in other countries such as Brazil, India and Turkey that could be interested in a working American paper machine that if purchased new would cost $500 million.

The Madison paper machine was upgraded in 2001 at a cost of $55 million and is in good condition, he said.

The Catalyst paper mill in Rumford already has purchased some pieces of equipment and some valves have been sold, Broce said. He said there will be an auction of some of the smaller, movable items such as stepladders, floor cleaning machines, regulators and fans this summer.

Future uses of the mill site have been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. The acquisition of the mill site – which closed for an undisclosed price – included the real estate of the main paper mill site as well as all mill equipment.

The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

Schain, at New Mill Capital, said the announced sale of the hydropower assets helps turn the page and open up a new era for central Maine.

“I think it’s great,” he said this past week. “It finally closes one chapter and hopefully opens another for property in the area. Now that UPM is mostly out of the picture, hopefully the two parties – us and Eagle Creek – can work together to bring some economic life back to the site.”

Schain said there are businesses interested in the site, but would not say which companies have their eye on Madison. The town has courted Poland Spring about possibly occupying the site. Schain said discussions with future buyers or tenants have been on hold, pending the sale of the hydro assets. Now, he said, those discussions can advance.

Epstein said Perry Videx is now into its fourth generation, with his son and now his granddaughter having a role in operations. He said he started with his father’s company, Perry Equipment & Supply of Philadelphia, in 1957.

He said his company was successful in repurposing the former Wausau paper mill in Groveton, New Hampshire. He said a new company has come in and is manufacturing metal products there. It employs only about 40 people, a far cry from when the mill was making paper, but it is a start, he said, and it’s better than no jobs at all.

New Mill Capital had a success in Maine a year ago with the sale and repurposing of the 265,000-square-foot Hostess Brands bakery in Biddeford. FedEx opened a distribution center there last year, Schain said.

Schain said in January that his company has purchased more than 11 million square feet of space in the last five years, and almost all of it has been put back to use.

He said other paper mills have left “and just scrapped the place and left a blank space in the middle of town.”

“That’s certainly not our intent,” he said. “If that was going to be our business plan, I wouldn’t have bothered doing this deal in the first place. It’s certainly in everyone’s best interest to bring in the best use we can for the site.”

Epstein said he, too, is optimistic.

“It’s a possible market – it’s a probable market,” he said of the prospect of selling the Madison paper machine. “There’s more of a market for that machine now outside of the U.S. than there is here because there’s not that much going on here as far as paper goes. The internet has taken care of that.”

If the machine cannot be sold whole, then sections of it will be sold, Epstein said. The worst case would be selling it for scrap. He said the company will spend at least a year, maybe two years, trying to find a buyer for the machine before they decide to scrap it.

“We want to try to do the best we can for ourselves … for the people here,” Epstein said. “The best outcome for us would be to have somebody come in here and start operating – that’s what we want to do.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

]]> 0 former Madison Paper Industries mill's assets and equipment, now owned by Somerset Acquisition LLC, are for sale.Sat, 22 Apr 2017 20:01:08 +0000
New look for Portland’s landmark convenience store Sat, 22 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 After being closed for more than a year, Portland landmark Joe’s Super Variety reopened Thursday at the same Congress Street location it has occupied for more than 70 years.

But the address is the only thing old about Joe’s – the low-slung brick store with tiny windows and low ceilings has been replaced with a sharply lit, modern space.

Even owner David Discatio took a while to get used to the new ambiance.

“I can’t handle the brightness,” he joked.

The fresh atmosphere is the first thing returning regulars comment on, and Discatio is happy with the changes.

“It was so dingy and dark,” he said. “This is so much better.”

The old store, originally Joe’s Smoke Shop, was opened in 1945 by Joe Discatio and has been in the family ever since. David Discatio, 52, and his brother Michael are the third generation to run the business. They dropped the “smoke shop” out of the name in 2014 in favor of Joe’s Super Variety.

In December 2015, the brothers closed the store and the building was demolished to make way for an eight-story apartment building with more than 130 units called The Hiawatha, which is now leasing units for June.

Discatio said he enjoyed the time off and took a couple trips to the Dominican Republic and North Carolina, but he has been itching to reopen.

So were his regulars.

Over the past year, long-time customers would pass him on the street and make a point to ask when the store would be up and running, Discatio said.

“We wanted to get back sooner than we did – we didn’t want to be closed for 16 months,” he said. “People were really anxious for us to open.”

The new look isn’t the only thing that’s changed. The walk-in cigar humidifier is gone, to make space for a wider selection of drinks and a “beer cave” with an expanded offering of craft beers.

Giving up the humidifier was a tough decision but, in the end, they needed the space, Discatio said. Instead, they saved the cedar lining from the humidifier to install temperature-controlled glass cigar cases in one corner of the new store.

There are other subtle changes, such as fewer tobacco products and more healthy snack choices, a fountain drink machine and a revamped kitchen.

Nicole Barna looks over the menu at Joe’s Super Variety, formerly Joe’s Smoke Shop. The Congress Street store reopened Thursday. One feature that didn’t make the cut this time around: the store’s walk-in cigar humidifier. Staff photo by Derek Davis

The store reopened Thursday, with limited hours. It will be closed over the weekend and open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday while they work out some kinks and train workers,. By Tuesday, it will be open normal hours, 6 a.m to 11 p.m., Discatio said.

On Friday night, a few shoppers popped in to pick up drinks and snacks and take a look around the place. One man complimented Discatio on the new store and asked when he’d be getting in his favorite kind of beer.

“It’s been a lot of new faces, and a lot of familiar faces – people I haven’t seen in a year,” Discatio said.

He expects to get a lot of new customers when people start moving into apartments upstairs. The store has a separate entrance in the lobby of the apartment building that can only be accessed by residents with a key card.

“On a bad winter day, they don’t even have to leave the building to get in,” Discatio said.

It has taken a little while for word to get out that Joe’s is again open, but Discatio expects that people will soon get the word.

Bill Dawson was walking up Congress Street on Friday on his way back home in the West End when he chanced upon the reopened store. Dawson, who has been going to Joe’s for decades, was overjoyed to see the new digs, especially its beer selection. After more than a year, he’s glad to have a locally owned store back in his neighborhood.

“Do you really want to go to 7-Eleven or CVS? It’s just not the same,” he said. “The people in there were bright and shiny, helpful, just the way they’ve always been.”

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Barna looks over the menu at Joe's Super Variety, formerly Joe's Smoke Shop. The Congress Street store reopened Thursday. One feature that didn't make the cut this time around: the store's walk-in cigar humidifier.Sat, 22 Apr 2017 00:06:31 +0000
When the going gets tough, some get golden parachutes Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:23:21 +0000 NEW YORK — Don’t let the vault door hit you on the way out.

Getting forced out of a job is painful, but a couple (dozen) million dollars help salve the wound. The latest big name to get a big payment with a bye-bye from the boss is Bill O’Reilly. The longtime Fox News host is in line to get up to $25 million, according to media reports, after a string of sexual-harassment allegations led to his ouster.

He joins the long list of executives and bold-faced names who have grabbed handsome payouts that have become standard operating procedure for companies to hand out. The reasons for departure can range from the mundane, such as a CEO simply being ineffective in boosting the stock price, to the salacious, with accusations of improper behavior.

Here’s a look at some other recent departures of big names and what they received as they exited, according to regulatory filings and media reports:

n Roger Ailes, Fox News, $40 million.

It was only last summer that the other man who helped build Fox News into a ratings behemoth had his own departure from the company following allegations of sexual harassment. Ailes was chairman and CEO of Fox News and, with O’Reilly as a high-profile host, pushed it to become the most-watched U.S. cable-news channel.

n Jeff Smisek, United Continental, $36.8 million.

The CEO atop United Airlines stepped down in 2015 amid an investigation into whether it flew a route between Newark, New Jersey, and Columbia, South Carolina, to curry favor with the chairman of the agency that operates New York-area airports. He received $4.9 million in cash severance, along with millions more in stock grants. He also received lifetime flight benefits.

n Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, $23 million.

The woman brought in to save the struggling internet giant may soon be on the way out after brokering a deal to break it up. Verizon is buying Yahoo’s email service and other websites, and the deal is expected to close by the end of June. The remaining part of Yahoo, which is also the far more valuable one, will be turned over to a new company called Altbaba. If Mayer doesn’t have a job afterward, she’ll be in line to get a severance package, which was most recently valued at $23 million.

n Philippe Dauman, Viacom, $58 million.

The former CEO of the entertainment giant was pushed out last summer following a bitter battle for control of the company’s board. The $58 million severance payment doesn’t include millions more paid to Dauman in pro-rated bonus money, vested stock options and other awards.

n John Stumpf, Wells Fargo, zero.

When the CEO stepped down from the company last year as the uproar about its aggressive sales tactics echoed in Capitol Hill, the bank said he would receive no severance pay. The board also reclaimed millions of dollars in pay made to him.

]]> 0 O'ReillyFri, 21 Apr 2017 21:23:21 +0000
For $3.5 million, you could own an entire tiny town in Oregon Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:22:36 +0000 TILLER, Ore. — In the tiny, dying timber town of Tiller, the old cliche is true. If you blink, you might actually miss it.

But these days, this dot on a map in southwestern Oregon is generating big-city buzz for an unlikely reason: Almost the entire town is for sale.

The asking price of $3.5 million brings with it six houses, the shuttered general store and gas station, the land under the post office, undeveloped parcels, water rights and infrastructure that includes sidewalks, fire hydrants and a working power station. Tiller Elementary School, a six-classroom building that closed in 2014, is for sale separately for $350,000.

Potential buyers have come forward but are remaining anonymous, and backup offers are still being accepted.

The listing represents a melancholy crossroads for Tiller, a once-bustling logging outpost that sprang up after the turn of the last century deep in what is now the Umpqua National Forest, about 230 miles south of Portland. The post office opened in 1902, and miners, loggers, ranchers and farmers flocked to the community along a pristine river.

By the 1940s and 1950s, there were three timber mills running, and the town expanded the elementary school and built a new general store.

Then, nearly three decades ago, logging on the federal forest lands that encircle Tiller came to a near standstill because of environmental regulations. The mills closed, and families moved away. One longtime resident began buying up properties. When he died three years ago, the family owned much of the town.

Then the Tiller Elementary School closed and was up for sale, as well as a small market, and the man’s estate bought those too – and the potential became clear. The listing includes more than 256 acres (1 square kilometer) in 29 distinct parcels, water and timber rights, and a variety of zonings, from residential to industrial.

About 235 people still live in the unincorporated area around Tiller, and have long relied on the buildings now for sale along historic Highway 227 as a gathering spot and one of the only places to shop for groceries in miles.

“Between the dying economy and the dying owners, Tiller became a new opportunity that had never been available before,” said Richard Caswell, executor of the estate. “I started getting inquiries from all over the world, essentially, ‘What was it? And what could you do with it?’ It’s the buyer and their imagination that’s going to determine what Tiller can become.”

The potential buyers have said through the seller’s broker that they intend to turn the school into some type of campus and create a “permaculture” development that respects the town’s remaining residents and its picturesque setting in a bend in the emerald-tinted South Umpqua River. They want to make reopening the market a priority.

“The buyers understand that they only have one shot at a first impression,” said Garrett Zoller, principal broker for, the seller’s agent. “They want to address this project with the community in mind.”

Beyond that, Tiller’s future remains shrouded in mystery.

Residents gather at the church for coffee and cinnamon rolls on Fridays and collect their mail at the one-room post office – when it’s open. Some have a sense of humor: A small, weathered sign affixed to the defunct market reads, “Last one out of Tiller turn out the light.”

Sarah Crume and a few other mothers cling to a sense of community by meeting with their young children for playtime at the church, one of the few places not for sale. She’s raising five daughters here and had to send her younger children to school in the next closest town when Tiller Elementary shut down.

“It is a little scary, especially raising our kids in this place that we love,” Crume said. “I’m just wondering what kind of impact it’s going to have on the people.”

For Rosemary Klep, news of the sale brought on strong emotions. Her parents built the market that’s now for sale in 1947, and she grew up camping and roaming the forests near town.

“This town has been in dire straits for many, many years,” said Klep, 72, who now lives near Olympia, Washington. “But we loved growing up there. To us, it was a paradise.”

]]> 0 a vibrant logging outpost, the town of Tiller in southwestern Oregon lost its economic life about 30 years ago. Now, much of its downtown looks more like a ghost town, though an anonymous potential buyer has emerged.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 21:47:50 +0000
Report: Maine propping up unsustainable biomass power industry Fri, 21 Apr 2017 21:37:30 +0000 Taxpayers and ratepayers have doled out more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the past decade to prop up Maine’s biomass power industry, which cannot compete economically without subsidies and is among the state’s top polluters, according to a new report by an anti-biomass advocacy group.

The report, by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity, argues that while Maine’s biomass industry has received over $250 million in subsidies and grants since 2008, the payments have done little to stop the bleeding of jobs and tax revenue from an industry that generates electricity too dirty to be eligible for clean energy subsidies in some neighboring states, and too expensive to compete with alternatives in the free market.

It says Maine’s biomass facilities, including some receiving renewable energy subsidies worth millions of dollars a year, represent the largest polluters in the state, emitting smog-forming chemicals, particulate matter and greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, asthma in Maine exceeds the national average, incurring costs of over $173 million each year, according to the report.

“Maine policymakers keep asking biomass industry insiders, some of whom are among the greatest beneficiaries of public subsidies, how to keep the biomass industry going,” it says. “Not surprisingly, they keep getting the same answers, usually involving asking for more financial support.”

Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Portland-based Biomass Power Association, took issue with the report, saying it is filled with “half-truths and misinformation.” Cleaves said the industry is vital to Maine’s economy because it provides jobs in economically devastated rural areas.

“The Maine Legislature and LePage administration strongly support biomass power because it provides well-paying rural employment in a state where it is urgently needed,” he said. “Biomass power was facing uncertain times following a steep decline in the value of our power, and our state legislators took action, for which we are extremely grateful. Maine’s loggers, foresters, landowners and biomass power employees are hard at work today because of this.”

The report acknowledges that bioenergy should have a role in Maine, where facilities burn forest product manufacturing wastes on site for heat and power, thus also avoiding disposal costs. However, it says continued support for standalone wood-burning power plants will only prolong the industry’s financial losses and subsidy dependence by “supporting the lowest-value use of wood – burning it.”

“As atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase, and climate change effects deepen, policymakers should commission independent, science-based studies to help Maine value forests as carbon storage, rather than as fuel,” the report says.

Maine’s sawmills and paper mills have burned biomass to generate on-site heat and power and dispose of industrial wastes for more than a century.

But the report argues that in recent decades, as traditional forest-based manufacturing has declined, Maine’s biomass power sector has become increasingly dominated by wood-burning power plants built exclusively to generate electricity for the grid. Not affiliated with any manufacturing operation, those plants have relied on renewable energy subsidies and tax credits to remain viable, it says.

But subsidies for biomass power are drying up because of its relatively high pollution rate, and the industry is in trouble, according to the report. In response, Maine lawmakers are scrambling to preserve biomass jobs, most recently with a controversial $13.4 million public money bailout of four biomass plants in 2016, it says.

A legislative commission appointed to examine the benefits of the biomass industry has recommended even more subsidies for the industry, the report says.

“Yet almost none of the discussion about Maine’s biomass sector has addressed the real financial costs of biomass energy, or its impacts to forests, air quality and the climate,” it says. “As Maine policymakers weigh granting still more public funds to the bioenergy sector, they should consider these costs.”

The report includes a detailed breakdown of how taxpayer and ratepayer funds have been used to prop up Maine’s biomass power industry since 2008:

• Over 90 percent of ratepayer-funded Renewable Energy Credits in Maine have gone to aging biomass power plants, totaling more than $68 million.

• State and federal grants totaling $15 million were made to the Verso Bucksport mill for expanded bioenergy. The facility closed a year after receiving the grants.

• Other federal grants, including to a failed biofuels venture, total over $30 million. The equipment from that facility was later put up for auction.

• The federal Biomass Crop Assistance Program allocated over $35 million in matching payments for deliveries of bark and chips to biomass power plants in Maine. Some recipients were later seated on the state’s 2016 commission to study the benefits of the biomass industry, which recommended that the state grant more subsidies to the industry.

“There is almost no kind of subsidy that has not been tried,” the report says.

Still, the report fails to acknowledge the vital economic role that standalone biomass power plants play in Maine, according to Carrie Annand, executive director of the Biomass Power Association.

“The Maine biomass industry creates local, rural employment – about five jobs per megawatt, or 1,300 jobs, when plants are fully operational,” she said.

Annand noted that biomass plants are the largest taxpayers in many rural Maine towns, and that they account for roughly $10 million to $20 million in annual economic impact per facility.

They also reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, she said.

“The Maine biomass industry provides New England with more than 300 megawatts of baseload, sustainable, affordable, renewable energy,” Annand said.


]]> 0, 21 Apr 2017 20:03:44 +0000
Maine home sales remain strong in March Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:36:50 +0000 Maine home sales remained strong in March, with both sales volume and median price up from a year earlier.

Home sales were up by 9.2 percent in March compared with March 2016, according to a report issued Friday by the Maine Association of Realtors.

The median price for detached, single-family homes in Maine remain reached $191,000 in March — a 4.7 percent price increase compared with a year earlier. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

“Real estate activity remains steady across Maine with a tightened for-sale housing inventory,” said association President Greg Gosselin, owner and broker of Gosselin Realty Group in York. “In many markets across Maine, Realtors are reporting multiple offer situations on most listings.”

For the three-month period ending March 31, statewide home sales were up 1.9 percent and the median sale price was up 6.6 percent to $186,000 compared with the same period of 2016.

Half of Maine’s 16 counties experienced a decline in sales during the three-month period, while half saw an increase compared with a year earlier. However, all but three counties experienced an increase in median price.

The biggest increase in sales volume was in Knox County, where sales were up 28.4 percent. The biggest decrease was in Washington County, where sales were down 18.1 percent.

The biggest median price increase for the three-month period was in Somerset County, where the median price reached $111,000 – a 50 percent jump. The biggest decrease was in Knox County, where the median fell by 5 percent to $190,000.

Nationally, home sales were up 6.1 percent in March compared with a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors. The national median sale price was up 6.6 percent to $237,800.

Regionally, the Northeast experienced a 4.1 percent rise in sales compared with a year earlier, while the median increased by 2.8 percent to $260,800.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 many homes have become unaffordable for would-be buyers, “for sale” signs might remain in yards for a long time.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 23:14:35 +0000
Cousins Maine Lobster is coming home Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:57:44 +0000 After Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac emerged from ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2012 with a $55,000 investment in their business, Cousins Maine Lobster, they opened 25 lobster-themed food trucks around the country. But they’ve never parked one of them in Maine.

That’s like not serving hot dogs at the ballpark.

All that is about to change. Cousins Maine Lobster will fire up its first food truck in Maine sometime in May. Tselikis said it will wander around southern Maine, probably from Kennebunkport up to the Freeport area, and be available for catering and weekend events.

Tselikis said he and Lomac, his cousin, started their business in California because it was a market that didn’t have access to affordable lobster meat, and the food truck industry there was well established and thriving, “which is how we’ve picked some of our other markets as well throughout the country.”

The timing is right to bring the idea back home.

“Now there’s a little bit more of a food truck scene in Portland and southern Maine,” he said.

They’ve also had requests from customers who like their food and are puzzled why they can’t get it in Maine when they vacation here, Tselikis said.

The cousins also own a restaurant in West Hollywood, California.

Tselikis and Lomac, who are from Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, respectively, return to Maine every other month or so to visit family or to do business. (Their lobster is sourced from the Gulf of Maine.)

Their food trucks serve two kinds of lobster rolls: warm lobster served with butter (also known as Connecticut style) and cold with mayonnaise (Maine style). They also serve 4-5-ounce lobster tails in the shell, lobster tacos, lobster quesadillas, shrimp tacos, clam chowder and lobster bisque. Tselikis said the Maine food truck will serve the company’s two newest items as well – lobster grilled cheese and “lobster tots.” Lobster tots are tater tots served with lobster meat on top, a little warm butter, pico de gallo and cilantro lime sauce.

“People call that their food crack here,” Tselikis said.

The cousins still stay in regular touch with their “Shark Tank” investor, real estate guru Barbara Corcoran, who received 15 percent of the company for her $55,000 investment. Tselikis said they talk every other week by Skype or phone, and their relationship has gone from dealing with details, like designing marketing brochures, to larger discussions about the big picture of the business – for example, what kind of infrastructure they’ll need as the business grows.

Mainers can follow the new food truck through Twitter or Instagram (@cmlobster), Facebook, the website, or the Cousins Maine Lobster app.

Tselikis said while they don’t envision having a dozen food trucks in Maine, they have high hopes for this first venture.

“I don’t know what it will turn into,” he said, “but we hope this unit, at least, will be very successful.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0, 21 Apr 2017 21:16:23 +0000
Gigantic offshore wind turbines planned are taller than the Eiffel Tower Fri, 21 Apr 2017 15:28:20 +0000 Offshore wind turbines are about to become higher than the Eiffel Tower, allowing the industry to supply subsidy-free clean power to the grid on a massive scale for the first time.

Manufacturers led by Siemens are working to almost double the capacity of the current range of turbines, which already have wing spans that surpass those of the largest jumbo jets. The expectation those machines will be on the market by 2025 was at the heart of contracts won by German and Danish developers last week to supply electricity from offshore wind farms at market prices by 2025.

Just three years ago, offshore wind was a fringe technology more expensive than nuclear reactors and sometimes twice the cost of turbines planted on land. The fact that developers such as Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG and Dong Energy A/S are offering to plant giant turbines in stormy seas without government support show the economics of the energy business are shifting quicker than anyone thought possible — and adding competitive pressure on the dominant power generation fuels coal and natural gas.

“Dong and EnBW are banking on turbines that are three to four times bigger than those today,” said Keegan Kruger, analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “They will be crucial to bringing down the cost of energy.”

About 50 miles off the coastline in the German North Sea, where the local fish and seagulls don’t complain about the view of turbines in their back yards, offshore wind technology is limited only to how big the turbines can grow. Dong has said it expects machines able to produce 13 to 15 megawatts each for its projects when they’re due to be completed in the middle of the next decade — much bigger than the 8-megawatt machines on the market now.

Just one giant 15-megawatt turbine would produce power more cheaply than five 3-megawatt machines, or even two with an 8-megawatt capacity. That’s because bigger turbines can produce the same power from a fewer number of foundations and less complex grid connections. The wind farm’s layout can be made more efficient, and fewer machines means less maintenance.

“Right now, we are developing a bigger turbine,” said Bent Christensen, head of cost of energy at Siemens Wind Power A/S, in a phone interview. “But how big it will be we don’t know yet.”

Larger turbines are heavier, placing a natural limit on size, said Christensen. Lightweight materials such as carbon fiber may be required to reduce the heaviness of the rotor and the blades as the turbines grow.

“If we just go 10 years back, nobody could imagine what we’re doing today,” he said. “When you try to predict the future you have to be quite careful.”

The scale of the turbines may not even stop at 15 megawatts. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a unit of Lockheed Martin is working on components for a possible 50-megawatt turbine that would have blades about 328 feet long.

These gigantic blades would be able to fold away to reduce the risk of damage at dangerous wind speeds. Siemens, along with Vestas Wind Systems and General Electric, are advising on the research program that’s funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the nearer term, Denmark, the home of wind energy, last month said it would expand the country’s main offshore wind test site to demonstrate turbines that will soar as high as 330 meters, taller than the Eiffel Tower. That could take the generation capacity past 10 megawatts, enabling turbine makers like Vestas and Siemens to challenge the boundaries of current capacity.

“The question of turbine capacity and wing span has never really been an issue from a technological perspective,” Jens Tommerup, chief executive of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind A/S, a partnership Vestas has with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said in an email. “We have already taken the capacity of our 8-megawatt platform to 9-megawatt. The real question is what can the market support.”

Turbines will get bigger if developers and governments allow.

“The answer lies more in stable, visible volume targets rather than the technology itself,” Tommerup said.

The auction in Germany was a jaw-dropping moment for industry analysts, many of whom expected a steady decline in prices but not another record. Deep-sea projects in Germany and the cable arrays needed to reach substations off the coast make these developments more complex than in neighboring states. The idea that Dong and EnWB bid for zero subsidy was a shock — and a first for projects of this scale.

“This is a wake up call that the fossil-fuel power industry in Europe is on its way out,” Urs Wahl, manager of public affairs at Germany’s Offshore Wind Industry Allianz, said in a phone interview.

The previous record low price was 49.90 euros a megawatt hour, won by Vattenfall AB in September. Bloomberg New Energy Finance had anticipated bids near 55 euros. The average price in the end was just 4.40 euros per megawatt-hour because one Dong Energy project secured a subsidy of 60 euros per megawatt-hour. The others bid zero, meaning they’ll get paid at market electricity prices.

“This option is opening up now as a subsidy-free production of electricity,” said Magnus Hall, chief executive officer of Vattenfall, in an interview in Brussels on Wednesday. “That really moves offshore into a perspective of continued growth.”

Competition in the German round may have been even tougher than other recent contests because it was the last chance for developers to win contracts for projects they’ve worked on for years, according to Deepa Venkateswaran, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

The “surprise” result highlights that “developers appear to be increasingly banking on scale” including cost cuts expected in the future and perhaps higher wholesale power prices, said analysts at Jefferies Group.

The industry’s relentless focus on efficiency and cost cuts have come at a big price for turbine makers. Vestas, which has installed more turbines than any other company, closed a third of its factories and cut more than 3,000 jobs to deal with three years of losses stemming from declining turbine prices.

South Korea’s CS Wind Corp., a turbine-tower maker, cut 54 jobs at a factory in Scotland on April 18, saying that “extremely low prices requested by developers of projects” created gaps in its order book.

“Clearly, this puts us all under pressure,” Ralf Peters, a spokesman for turbine maker Nordex SE, said in a phone interview from Hamburg.

His company, which builds only onshore machines, has already seen how ultra-low bids in the onshore wind market in Chile are squeezing the supply chain.

]]> 0 GE-Alstom Block Island Wind Farm stands in this aerial photograph taken above the water off Block Island, Rhode Island, on Sept. 14, 2016. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Eric ThayerFri, 21 Apr 2017 11:38:08 +0000
Maine’s unemployment falls to lowest rate in 40 years Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:42:32 +0000 Maine’s preliminary unemployment rate hit a 40-year low of 3.0 percent in March, driven in part by high job gains in construction, transportation, education and healthcare – and an aging population.

“The economic recovery is finally washing across Maine’s shores,” said Michael Donihue, an economics professor at Colby College. “Labor markets are really tight. The thing to watch for next is what happens to wages.”

March’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was down from 3.2 percent in February and 3.7 percent a year ago. The March rate in Maine compares to a national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent last month.

Arkansas, Colorado and Oregon also reported their lowest unemployment rates since the current methodology was implemented in 1976. Colorado’s rate, at 2.6 percent, was the nation’s lowest.

Gov. Paul LePage, in a statement, lauded the new figures.

“This shows that our efforts to lower taxes, reform welfare and bring fiscal responsibility to government are working,” he said in the statement. “Liberals are trying to reverse all the progress we have made by raising taxes and expanding welfare. We must work even harder now to continue our progress and stop the liberals from harming the economy with their tax-and-spend policies.”

But the unemployment rate doesn’t paint a complete picture of the labor market.

The labor force, whose activity is measured by the unemployment rate, is made up of people who have jobs and people who are unemployed but actively looking for work. It does not capture people who aren’t looking for work – students, retirees, homemakers – or people who have stopped looking for work even though they might want a job.

In Maine, it’s the older workers who have retired, or moved here as retirees, that move the needle on the unemployment rate, said economist Charles Lawton.

“Demographics – the aging population – is the single most significant factor in the low unemployment rate,” said Lawton, because a shrinking labor force drives down the unemployment rate.

That means there’s a “critical need” to attract more workers to Maine, he said.

“If employers can’t attract the workers they need, their businesses will be undermined and could close,” Lawton said. “This would further increase the fiscal pressure on the state.”

Economists in Maine have been warning for years that the state is headed for a significant labor shortage.

John Ryan, president of the Wright-Ryan construction company, said they have a hard time finding workers, both skilled and unskilled.

“We’ve been coming out of the recession steadily for the last several years,” Ryan said.

“The low unemployment figure is a wonderful thing on the one hand,” he said. “But our company is experiencing difficulty hiring people at all levels.”

Their subcontractors – plumbing, drywall, painting companies – are also short on labor.

“Subcontractors just don’t have enough people. You beg. You cajole. They want to help, but they can’t. So you have two people when you need six,” he said.

“That’s a terrible situation. We’re looking to perform at a high level on projects with very demanding schedules with inadequate resources.”

That in turn affects wages. Ryan wouldn’t say if he’s had to pay workers more, but he said “it’s safe to say there is increased pressure on wages.”

To meet the need for more workers, Ryan said, the company is beefing up its in-house training program and forming new internships and partnerships with vocational schools, community colleges and the university system.

Maine’s unemployment rate was lower than the average rate among New England states, which was 3.8 percent in March.

Maine and Vermont had the second-lowest unemployment rates of the New England states at 3.0 percent, compared to 2.8 percent in New Hampshire, 3.6 percent in Massachusetts, 4.3 percent in Rhode Island, and 4.8 percent in Connecticut.

The Maine Republican Party also touted the figures, crediting LePage’s policies.

“The pro-growth policies of the LePage administration and pro-growth Republican legislators are doing exactly what they promised,” Demi Kouzounas, chair of the Maine Republican Party, said in a release. “Not only has unemployment decreased, but private sector employment has skyrocketed to an all-time high for our great state. Additionally, employment in government jobs is at its lowest percentage in history.”

Maine House Republicans said the falling unemployment rate was proof that conservative policies have worked in the state.

“Now more than ever we need to stay the course and that means passing policies that continue to move Maine in the right direction,” said Assistant House Republican Leader Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester.

“Our focus is on implementing a 2-year budget that reduces the overall tax burden on all Mainers and continues to promote this type of job growth.”

The number of nonfarm payroll jobs for March was up 5,300 from a year ago to 623,000, an all-time high.

The sectors that saw the largest job gains were in construction, trade, transportation, utilities, education and health care.

Government jobs comprised 16.0 percent of nonfarm jobs, the lowest share on record.

Unemployment rates declined over the year in all Maine counties, with the lowest rate, 2.5 percent, in Cumberland County and the highest, 6.9 percent, in Washington County.

The unemployment rate was lower than the statewide average in the Portland-South Portland metro area, at 2.6 percent.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Arsenault, left, and Alan Nielsen of B.H. Milliken work on a construction site at the Hiawatha building in Portland on Friday. Construction was one of the sectors that showed strong employment gains in Maine during March.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 23:37:19 +0000
Wall Street statue standoff unchanged Fri, 21 Apr 2017 00:08:16 +0000 NEW YORK — After the 1987 stock market crash, sculptor Arturo Di Modica spent two years and $300,000 secretly working on a gift he hoped would lift the spirits of a demoralized city. He deposited the 11-foot, 3-ton “Charging Bull” statue in front of the New York Stock Exchange in the middle of a wintry night.

Today, that icon of Wall Street prosperity is staring down another statue that has become a potent symbol in its own right – a petite girl in high-top sneakers. The “Fearless Girl,” fists curled at her sides and face held high in seeming defiance of the giant bull galloping before her, has drawn international attention since it was unveiled last month and tapped into growing frustration around the struggle female executives face rising into leadership positions, particularly on Wall Street.

Di Modica sees something else: Fearless Girl, he argues, has turned his bull into a symbol of male chauvinism. His attorneys said he may sue if the statue isn’t removed.

But the city isn’t budging, and the standoff has turned into a high-profile debate over the role of public art, intertwined with visceral feelings about Wall Street and the role of women.

The origins of the two works of art could not be more different. Fearless Girl belongs to one of the largest banks in the world, Boston-based State Street, which commissioned the work last year as part of an advertising campaign. The statue, the bank says, is part of an effort to use its financial might to encourage companies to put women in more prominent leadership positions. (It initially included a plaque that mentioned one of the bank’s funds.)

Di Modica says his statue was a work of conviction.

The 76-year-old gray-bearded sculptor has generated some sympathy, particularly from other artists. Gabriel Koren, whose bronze sculpture of Frederick Douglass looks into Harlem from Central Park, says she would be offended by another artist placing a competing piece of art near her creation without permission.

“Every sculpture needs space. That is the nature of sculpture,” she said. “If you put something else there, it changes it.” The Fearless Girl, she said, is “cute,” but “you don’t stand up for women’s rights at the expense of the artist’s rights. Each right is equally important. I am saying this as a woman.”

Yet others say the meaning of Di Modica’s bull began to change long before Fearless Girl arrived. During the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, New York City police put barricades around the statue to protect it from demonstrators.

“Let’s be blunt, the Charging Bull is a celebration of unfettered capitalism,” New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said recently on the Brian Lehrer Show. “You could say it is about the spirit of optimism, sure – that’s what the artist was thinking, that’s great. But it is a symbol of Wall Street. And Wall Street, to say the least, is a double-edge sword.”

This comes as the financial industry struggles to shed its reputation as a boys club where women struggle to succeed. None of the country’s mega-banks, such as JPMorgan, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, are led by women. Even State Street has been forced to acknowledge its own shortfalls – the bank has only three women on its 11-member board of directors and five women on its 28-member leadership team.

“We ourselves are being challenged on how do we help address” the lack of women in leadership positions, said Stephen Tisdalle, chief of marketing at State Street Global Advisors, a subsidiary of the bank. “We’re taking a very humble approach to this.”

“Fearless Girl,” the bank says, was not meant to change the meaning of the bull statue but to create a potent symbol to show that women can – and should – be an important part of the financial sector.

The city has refused to remove the statue, which has a permit to stay put for another year.

]]> 0 DI MODICAThu, 20 Apr 2017 20:08:16 +0000
Strong corporate earnings reports give U.S. stocks a lift Thu, 20 Apr 2017 23:05:54 +0000 NEW YORK — U.S. stocks climbed Thursday as industrial companies, banks, technology and materials firms, and energy companies all rallied. A strong day of corporate results left investors feeling better about the economy.

For more than a week, investors have been poring through company earnings for signs the economy is growing at a faster pace, and on Thursday they felt they found it. Railroad operator CSX gave transportation companies such as railroads and airlines a big boost, while Sherwin-Williams raised its annual projections and helped basic materials makers go higher.

It’s still early in this round of earnings reports, and a few high-profile companies have disappointed Wall Street this week, so stocks have wobbled recently. But for the most part, experts and investors are encouraged by what they’re hearing. They say companies feel good about the economy and expect stronger growth and bigger profits.

“The major takeaway so far to earnings season is the CEOs are still saying we’re poised for growth,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Last quarter was sort of the first time we heard this theme.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index advanced 17.67 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,355.84. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 174.22 points, or 0.9 percent, to 20,578.81.

The Nasdaq composite gained 53.74 points, or 0.9 percent, to an all-time high of 5,916.78. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 17.02 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,384.15.

American Express had a solid first quarter as its credit card members spent more and kept bigger balances on their cards. The stock gained $4.47, or 5.9 percent, to $80.02. SLM, the parent of the student lender Sallie Mae, reported much stronger revenue than expected and its stock climbed $1.17, or 10.1 percent, to $12.70. Citizens Financial rose $1.05, or 3.1 percent, to $35.27 after its report.

“The banks are the shining star” so far, Kinahan said, although he speculated that Goldman Sachs had a down quarter because it lost several top executives to the Trump administration.

Bond prices fell further. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.23 percent from 2.22 percent.

Energy prices wobbled and finished lower. Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 17 cents to $50.27 a barrel in New York while Brent crude, the international standard, rose 6 cents to $52.99 a barrel.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.67 a gallon. Heating oil was flat at $1.58 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.16 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Railroad company CSX announced a bigger profit and more revenue than Wall Street expected in the first quarter. CSX also said restructuring and spending cuts will increase its profit by about 25 percent this year. The company is cutting jobs and reorganizing after it hired Hunter Harrison, former head of Canadian Pacific, as its new CEO last month. The company also said it will buy back more stock and raise its dividend. CSX stock jumped $2.65, or 5.6 percent, to $49.58.

Railroads and transportation companies like trucking companies and airlines rose. Industrial companies were among the top performers Thursday.

Sherwin-Williams raised its profit guidance for the year as paint sales jumped and prices increased. The stock added $12.48, or 4 percent, to $324.02. That helped basic materials companies. So did steelmaker Nucor, which rose $2.73, or 4.7 percent, to $60.35 after its first-quarter results were stronger than expected.

Verizon dipped 53 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $48.41 as it lost wireless cellphone subscribers and its profit dropped 20 percent. That helped push other telecom companies lower.

Other stocks that pay big dividends also fell. Utilities, companies that make and sell household goods, and real estate investment trusts also declined as bond yields rose. That made the stocks less appealing to investors seeking income.

Equipment rental company United Rentals flopped after its sales fell far short of expectations. The company said rental rates are still somewhat weak, and its stock lost $6.21, or 5.2 percent, to $113.24.

State and federal authorities sued Ocwen Financial and said the mortgage lender botched the handling of millions of accounts. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Ocwen generated errors in borrowers’ accounts, failed to credit payments, illegally foreclosed on homeowners, and charged borrowers for products without their consent.

Ocwen is one of the nation’s largest non-bank mortgage lenders, focusing mostly on subprime and delinquent mortgages. Its stock plunged $2.91, or 53.9 percent, to $2.49 in heavy trading.

Gold rose 40 cents to $1,283.80 an ounce. Silver lost 14 cents to $18.02 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to $2.54 a pound.

The dollar rose to 109.31 yen from 108.70 yen. The euro inched up to $1.0722 from $1.0721.

Paris’ CAC 40 jumped 1.5 percent as traders bet on a growing likelihood of a victory for centrist Emmanuel Macron in the upcoming presidential election. Polls have long showed a tight race between four candidates ahead of the first round of voting Sunday.

The DAX in Germany and the FTSE 100 of Britain both added 0.1 percent. The benchmark Nikkei 225 in Japan finished little changed and the Kospi in South Korea rose 0.5 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index climbed 0.9 percent.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:05:54 +0000
Efforts to battle dumping of steel in U.S. intensify on two fronts Thu, 20 Apr 2017 22:43:20 +0000 The Trump administration began an investigation of steel imports into the U.S. on Thursday as U.S. Steel Corp. asked a trade agency to investigate its claims that rival Chinese manufacturers colluded to fix prices and undercut competitors in the American market.

President Trump signed a memorandum encouraging the Commerce Department probe, which had already started and will explore whether steel imports hinder national security under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

In an Oval Office ceremony, Trump declared the opening of the Commerce Department investigation “a historic day for American steel, and most importantly, for American steel workers.”

Imports have risen “despite repeated Chinese claims that they were going to reduce their steel capacity,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a briefing for reporters at the White House. “It’s a very serious impact upon the domestic industry.”

Still, when a reporter asked Trump whether the investigation would raise tensions with China as he seeks that country’s help in slowing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Trump said the trade investigation “has nothing to do with China” and addresses “a worldwide problem.”

Meanwhile Thursday, the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington heard U.S. Steel’s argument that a separate antitrust complaint it had filed against Chinese manufacturers should be revived. A trade judge in November had thrown out the claim, saying the agency didn’t have the legal authority to hear the allegations.

From the beginning, the antitrust complaint has caught the attention of U.S. politicians, with members of Congress from both parties writing to the commission to ask it to hear the case in full. Questions about the future of the American steel industry have became a hot political topic, with Trump signing a “Buy America” order to buoy American steel producers by forcing projects such as U.S. pipelines to use steel made in the country.

Steelmakers in the Americas just capped their best collective stock performance since 2003 after a raft of successful trade cases levying tariffs against foreign metal.

The key question before the commission is whether it has jurisdiction over the antitrust complaint. U.S. Steel and other American steel producers have traditionally filed cases with the commission under anti-dumping laws that bar sale of goods priced at less than fair value or that are subsidized by foreign governments. The remedy usually involves imposition of tariffs that raise the prices on foreign products.

The Commerce Department investigation is moving on a separate track. If the department finds evidence of a national security threat from steel imports, the president is authorized to unilaterally “adjust imports.” Only two presidents – Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford – have ever granted relief under Section 232, citing national security concerns stemming from the global oil crisis of the 1970s.

Since then the U.S. has launched only two such investigations, and in each the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security declined to recommend action. Should Ross recommend action after the steel investigation, targeted countries would likely file a dispute with the World Trade Organization.

In an unusual move, U.S. Steel filed its complaint under a statute covering unfair trade practices, which most often is used to protect domestic companies from patent infringement and theft of intellectual property. Under this provision, the commission could block carbon and alloy steel produced in China from entering the U.S.

The case, however, has been an uphill slog for U.S. Steel.

The complaint filed in April 2016 made three allegations. One was theft of trade secrets in connection with Justice Department allegations that Chinese officials hacked the Pittsburgh-based steel company. A second involved claims the Chinese companies were rerouting their products through other countries to hide the country of origin. The third – which is the one U.S. Steel was seeking to revive Thursday – involves antitrust violations that the companies improperly conspired to fix prices and control export volume.

In February, U.S. Steel dropped the trade secrets claim related to hacking, citing “the inequities of the statutes that were enacted before the dawn of the internet age and the substantial threats posed by cyber espionage.”

Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., China’s second-largest steelmaker, accused its American competitor of seeking an unprecedented “total blockade of steel trade from an entire country.” The company, along with other Chinese steelmakers, argue that the case should go through normal trade complaint channels, which American steel companies have used extensively.

“Imports from China have dropped to a trickle” because of U.S. Steel’s aggressive use of anti-dumping regulations,” Sturgis Sobin of the Covington firm, representing the Chinese manufacturers, told the commission Thursday. He said U.S. Steel is instead asking the commission to “make up your own set of antitrust laws” to block all imports.

U.S. Steel has the backing of the nation’s largest steel union and AK Steel Holding Corp.

Members of Congress have also sided with U.S. Steel. The 30-member Congressional Steel Caucus sent a letter saying “we assure you we will be carefully watching the progress of this case,” while a bipartisan letter from 47 members of Congress said they “strongly urge” the commission “to ensure that U.S. Steel is permitted to present its case in full.”

The Commerce Department investigation comes less than two weeks after U.S.-Sino trade tensions boiled over at an April 6 meeting of the World Trade Organization goods council in Geneva.

At the meeting, the U.S. delegation said its fight over China’s industrial overcapacity problems had “culminated to a critical point” and that WTO members have “no choice” but to bolster their trade defenses against China.

The U.S. and other WTO members – including the EU, Canada and Japan – have long criticized Beijing’s domestic steel subsidies, which they said have led to massive overcapacity in global markets.

Despite China’s pledge to reduce the country’s annual steel capacity by as much as 150 million tons before 2020, the country remains the world’s largest steel producer and accounts for almost half of the globe’s total steel production.

Beijing counters that its subsidies adhere to WTO rules and that the growing overcapacity in steel markets is a global problem that must be solved in a collaborative effort in forums such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Group of 20 major economies.

]]> 0 signing an executive memorandum encouraging a Commerce Department investigation of steel imports that began Thursday, President Trump said it was "a historic day for American steel, and most importantly, for American steel workers."Thu, 20 Apr 2017 21:39:18 +0000
Rural electric drivers face ‘range anxiety’ Thu, 20 Apr 2017 22:23:31 +0000 SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. — Sunita Halasz has tips for “driving electric” along lonely roads in New York’s Adirondack Mountains: Know the locations of charging stations, bring activities for the kids during three-hour recharges, turn on the energy-hogging window defroster in just 10-second bursts.

And have a backup plan.

“When we really go anywhere, I have a whole list of phone numbers of friends who live all over the Adirondacks,” Halasz said during a charging stop. “So that at a moment’s notice I can call somebody and be like, ‘Hi, I’m going to pull into your driveway. And do you have an outdoor electrical outlet?”‘

There are more than 18,000 electric car charging stations in the United States, and the number of outlets at those stations has more than tripled over five years to about 48,000, according to federal data. But they’re often few and far between in rural areas. That can leave electric vehicle pioneers in the backcountry with chronic “range anxiety,” the fear that their batteries will run out and leave them stranded.

Halasz counters that with careful strategizing before she and her husband take their fully electric Ford Focus on trips over its 75-mile range. On family trips to Burlington, Vermont, which is at the edge of that range, they know where they will charge and how they will keep their two sons occupied for the extra hours. The 1,300-foot descent down the mountainsides helps them recapture kinetic energy when they brake, but the trip back up can be a battery killer, especially on cold days.

“I really think we are some of the most extreme EV drivers in the entire United States, living in the Adirondacks, because of all of our ups and or downs and our very cold temperatures,” Halasz said.

More than 600,000 electric vehicles are on the road in the U.S. and Canada, including models with gas engines, according to the ChargePoint network. Charging stations are unevenly distributed, with concentrations in California and populous portions of the East Coast. But backcountry electric vehicle drives are getting easier every year with more stations and better batteries.

Silke Sommerfeld and Rolf Oetter, a retired couple from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, demonstrated that with a just-completed 21,000-mile trip around North America in their Tesla Model X. The luxury car has a listed range of 295 miles, much farther than most electric cars on the road.

Towing a camper that reduced their range, they spent months traveling east across Canada, down to Florida, west to California and back home to the Pacific Northwest. They relied on Tesla’s infrastructure of “Supercharger” stations that can power a vehicle in less than an hour. They also used campgrounds for charging in remote stretches, like between Calgary and Toronto.

“We had a few nail-biters, mainly in Canada, not so much in the U.S.,” Sommerfeld said. “But we always made it with at least one kilometer range left.”

While the Tesla Model X can cost more than $100,000, longer ranges are also becoming available in more affordable models, such as the 200-mile Chevrolet Bolt, which runs about $30,000, after a government tax credit.

“The most important thing we can do to contribute to the EV ecosystem is to deliver on a really compelling vehicle for consumers. And we’ve done that,” said Chevy spokesman Fred Ligouri.

But for many electric vehicle drivers, the issue is not miles, but hours.

It can take three hours to fully charge a car on the common “level 2” charger, which is like a clothes dryer outlet.

For Art Weaver and his wife, that means budgeting two to three hours each way for charging his Nissan Leaf on 100-mile trips from their home in New York’s Finger Lakes region to Rochester.

“Everyone thinks it’s a big deal – that you’re inevitably going to run out of electric fuel. It’s not true,” said Weaver, who lives near Ithaca. “It’s just that it can’t be a no-brainer activity anymore like finding a fossil fuel service station.”

For electric enthusiasts, the extra effort is more than balanced by the carbon-free country drives.

Pete Nelson, of the Adirondack town of Keene, charges his car at home with the help of solar panels, a sort of carbon-free double play. He is so pleased with his electric and gas Chevy Volt that he just went all-in with an electric-only Bolt.

“I love driving down these roads,” he said. “And the quiet and the lack of emissions is Zen-like.”

]]> 0 Halasz shows how she charges her electric car at her home in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Halasz has tips for "driving electric" along lonely New York Adirondack Mountains roads.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 09:39:26 +0000
GM faces hard road on Venezuela factory Thu, 20 Apr 2017 21:54:51 +0000 DETROIT — General Motors became the latest corporation to have a factory or other asset seized by the government of Venezuela, and the Detroit automaker faces an uphill battle to recover any damages.

GM said Thursday that its only factory in Venezuela was confiscated a day earlier, as anti-government protesters clashed with authorities in a country roiled by economic troubles. GM said assets such as vehicles were taken from the plant, causing the company irreparable damage.

The seizure is the latest in a long string of government confiscations of factories and other assets that have been a staple of the so-called 21st century socialist revolution in Venezuela started by the late Hugo Chavez two decades ago. Venezuela is fighting claims of illegal asset seizures at a World Bank-sponsored arbitration panel from more than 25 companies.

GM vowed to defend itself legally but getting compensated could be difficult. Under Chavez, Venezuela seized some Exxon Mobil assets. The oil giant sought compensation of $16.6 billion. The company won a $1.4 billion judgment, but earlier this year the arbitration panel determined that Venezuela had to pay only $180 million.

GM can seek compensation and damages for its lost plant in several international venues, said Nigel Blackaby, a lawyer at the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer law firm, which has battled Venezuela in several high-profile cases in international courts. The venue depends on what treaties, if any, govern the investment, he said. While Exxon’s case was heard by the World Bank panel, Freshfields has successfully pursued claims against Venezuela’s government before a United Nations panel.

Auto production in Venezuela has nearly ground to a halt amid the country’s economic collapse. The cash-strapped government has choked off car companies’ access to dollars needed to import parts and repatriate profits. GM’s factory in the industrial city of Valencia did not produce a single vehicle last year. Nationwide, car makers assembled just 2,849 cars in 2016, from a peak of 172,218 in 2007. Still, many car makers have stayed put in case the economy experiences a turnaround.

GM has about 2,700 workers in Venezuela, where it’s been the market leader for over 35 years. It also has 79 dealers that employ 3,900 people.

In Washington, the State Department said that it was reviewing details of the factory seizure and called on Venezuelan authorities to resolve the case “rapidly and transparently.” It said a fair judicial system is critical to economic reforms that would restore growth, but made no mention of any action the U.S. government might take.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Apr 2017 17:54:51 +0000
State submits bill to allow surveillance of lobstermen Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:38:29 +0000 AUGUSTA – Maine lawmakers are pushing for a bill to allow electronic surveillance on lobster boats.

WGME reported that the bill submitted by the Maine Department of Marine Resources would require lobstermen to agree to the surveillance as a condition of getting their lobster licenses.

If law enforcement believes a lobsterman is violating the law, they will first send evidence to the Department of Marine Resources. Then, the department could use surveillance equipment to record the boat’s movements. Lobstermen convicted of violating the law could have their fishing licenses suspended.

Rep. Walter A. Kumiega III, who proposed the law, says it will help catch lobstermen cheating the system. However attorney Kim Irvin Tucker says the law is “shameful” and treats lobstermen as if there were a “lawless group of people.”

]]> 0, ME - FEBRUARY 21: Josh Kane and Mark Pinkham offload lobster while docked at the Cranberry Isles Fisherman's Co-Op on Islesford after fishing off Mount Desert Rock on Tuesday, February 21, 2017. Kane is a former addict who encourages other fishermen to seek recovery treatment. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)Thu, 20 Apr 2017 15:42:12 +0000
Healthcare industry hires, promotions Thu, 20 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 NEW HIRES
Rebecca Greenleaf, a family nurse practitioner, joined the Central Maine Family Medicine Residency in Lewiston.
Greenleaf has been practicing for six years. She previously worked at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and the Maine Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency in Augusta.

Promerica Health announced it has named Jennifer Rancourt as vice president of communications and compliance.
Rancourt brings a background in laboratory science, health care administration and medical device sales to Promerica Health. Most recently, she served as nursing home administrator at the Brentwood Center for Health and Rehabilitation.

Sacopee Valley Health Center hired Tiffanie Weston and Colleen Shula as family nurse practitioners.
Weston graduated from the University of Southern Maine with nursing and nurse practitioner degrees. She brings a strong background in cardiology, correctional medicine, women’s health and psychiatry. She moved back to Maine after living in Savannah, Georgia.


Shula completed her master’s degree in nursing at Seattle University in 2016. Her interests include women’s health, diabetes care, pediatrics, health promotion and preventative medicine.


Arun Thukkani, M.D., joined the staff at Central Maine Heart Associates in Lewiston.
Thukkani continued his specialized training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston with fellowships in coronary interventional and structural heart disease interventional cardiology.

Dr. Sara Sheikh and Dr. Ali Shazib became the new owners of Kennebunk Center for Dentistry.
Sheikh teaches clinical dentistry at the University of New England.




Shazib is currently completing his oral medicine residency at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital/ Dana Farber Cancer Center.


Guilherme Valverde is their in-house prosthodontist. She teaches aesthetic dentistry at Tufts University and has a Ph.D. in biomaterials.



Ascentria Care Alliance hired Patrick Williams as vice president of quality and compliance.
Most recently, Williams was the system director of Lean Transformation for Covenant Health. He will be based in the firm’s Westbrook office.


David Mejia was named director of education at Delta Ambulance.
He joined Delta in 2012 with extensive experience in emergency medical services and educating others.

]]> 0 SARA SHEIKHThu, 20 Apr 2017 10:12:03 +0000
Dow Chemical lobbies Trump administration to kill pesticide risk study Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:47:51 +0000 WASHINGTON — Dow Chemical is pushing a Trump administration open to scrapping regulations to ignore the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO is a close adviser to Trump, and two other manufacturers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three of Trump’s Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.

Dow Chemical wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities, and its chairman and CEO, Andrew Liveris, heads a White House manufacturing working group.

The industry’s request comes after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last month he was reversing an Obama-era effort to bar the use of Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide on food after recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children’s brains. In his prior job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt often aligned himself in legal disputes with the interests of executives and corporations who supported his state campaigns. He filed more than a dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn some of the same regulations he is now charged with enforcing.

Donald Trump gives the pen he used to sign an executive order to Dow Chemical President, Chairman and CEO Andrew Liverisn. The Feb. 24 order mandated the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations. Liverisn was appointed to chair one of those panels. Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Pruitt declined to answer questions from reporters Wednesday as he toured a polluted Superfund site in Indiana. A spokesman for the agency later told AP that Pruitt won’t “prejudge” any potential rule-making decisions as “we are trying to restore regulatory sanity to EPA’s work.”

The letters to Cabinet heads, dated April 13, were obtained by The Associated Press. As with the recent human studies of chlorpyrifos, Dow hired its own scientists to produce a lengthy rebuttal to the government studies.


Over the past four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages indicating the three pesticides under review – chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion – pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied. Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.

“We have had no meetings with Dow on this topic and we are reviewing petitions as they come in, giving careful consideration to sound science and good policymaking,” said J.P. Freire, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs. “The administrator is committed to listening to stakeholders affected by EPA’s regulations, while also reviewing past decisions.”

The office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Natural Marine Fisheries Service, did not respond to emailed questions. A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, referred questions back to EPA.

The EPA’s recent biological evaluation of chlorpyrifos found the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” 1,778 of the 1,835 animals and plants accessed as part of its study, including critically endangered or threatened species of frogs, fish, birds and mammals. Similar results were shown for malathion and diazinon.

In a statement, the Dow subsidiary that sells chlorpyrifos said its lawyers asked for the EPA’s biological assessment to be withdrawn because its “scientific basis was not reliable.”

“Dow AgroSciences is committed to the production and marketing of products that will help American farmers feed the world, and do so with full respect for human health and the environment, including endangered and threatened species,” the statement said. “These letters, and the detailed scientific analyses that support them, demonstrate that commitment.”


FMC Corp., which sells malathion, said the withdrawal of the EPA studies would allow the necessary time for the “best available” scientific data to be compiled.

“Malathion is a critical tool in protecting agriculture from damaging pests,” the company said.

Diazinon maker Makhteshim Agan of North America Inc., which does business under the name Adama, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Environmental advocates said Wednesday that criticism of the government’s scientists was unfounded. The methods used to conduct EPA’s biological evaluations were developed by the National Academy of Sciences.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Dow’s experts were trying to hold EPA scientists to an unrealistic standard of data collection that could only be achieved under “perfect laboratory conditions.”

“You can’t just take an endangered fish out of the wild, take it to the lab and then expose it to enough pesticides until it dies to get that sort of data,” Hartl said. “It’s wrong morally, and it’s illegal.”

Organophosphorus gas was originally developed as a chemical weapon by Nazi Germany. Dow has been selling Chlorpyrifos for spraying on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops since the 1960s. It is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with Dow selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year.

As a result, traces of the chemical are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.

In 2005, the Bush administration ordered an end to residential use of diazinon to kill yard pests such as ants and grub worms after determining that it poses a human health risk, particularly to children. However it is still approved for use by farmers, who spray it on fruits and vegetables.

Malathion is widely sprayed to control mosquitoes and fruit flies. It is also an active ingredient in some shampoos prescribed to children for treating lice.


A coalition of environmental groups has fought in court for years to spur EPA to more closely examine the risk posed to humans and endangered species by pesticides, especially organophosphates.

“Endangered species are the canary in the coal mine,” Hartl said. Since many of the threatened species are aquatic, he said they are often the first to show the effects of long-term chemical contamination in rivers and lakes used as sources of drinking water by humans.

Dow, which spent more than $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016, has long wielded substantial political power in the nation’s capital. There is no indication the chemical giant’s influence has waned.

When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.

“Andrew, I would like to thank you for initially getting the group together and for the fantastic job you’ve done,” Trump said as he signed the order during an Oval Office ceremony. The president then handed his pen to Liveris to keep as a souvenir.

Rachelle Schikorra, the director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, said any suggestion that the company’s $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural committee was intended to help influence regulatory decisions is “completely off the mark.”

“Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity,” Schikorra said.

The AP’s Jack Gillum and Sophia Tareen contributed to this story.

]]> 0, 20 Apr 2017 11:02:33 +0000
GM halts operations in Venezuela after government seizes factory Thu, 20 Apr 2017 13:20:44 +0000 DETROIT — General Motors has stopped doing business in Venezuela after authorities took control of its only factory there in what GM called an illegal judicial seizure of its assets.

The plant was confiscated on Wednesday as anti-government protesters clashed with authorities in a country that is roiling in economic troubles such as food shortages and triple-digit inflation.

The Detroit automaker said in a statement Thursday that other assets such as vehicles were taken from the plant, causing irreparable damage to the company.

GM says the plant was taken in disregard of its right to due process. The company says it will defend itself legally and that it’s confident that justice eventually will prevail.

GM has about 2,700 workers in the troubled country, where it’s been the market leader for over 35 years. It also has 79 dealers that employ 3,900 people, and its parts suppliers make up more than half of Venezuela’s auto parts market, the company said.

If the government permits it, workers will get separation benefits “arising from the termination of employment relationships due to causes beyond the parties’ control,” the GM statement said.

Dealers will continue to service vehicles and provide parts, the company said.

GM’s Venezuelan operations have been a drag on earnings for several years. In the second quarter of 2015, the company took a $720 million charge for currency devaluation and asset valuation write-downs as the economy faltered.

South American operations, which include Venezuela, account for a relatively small portion of GM’s earnings and sales. Last year the company lost $400 million before taxes in South America, but as a whole the company made a pretax profit of $12.5 billion. GM sold just over 583,000 vehicles in the region last year, but that was only about 6 percent of its total sales.

In its 2016 fourth-quarter earnings release, the company said that its South America region “remains challenged from macro-economic and political standpoints.”

Companies have been cutting operations in Venezuela as a result of runaway inflation and strict currency controls. Last May, tire maker Bridgestone sold its business there after six decades of operating in the country.

Bridgestone joined other foreign multinationals including Halliburton, Ford Motor and Procter & Gamble who have either slowed or abandoned their investments in Venezuela.

Shares of General Motors Co. rose slightly in premarket trading.

]]> 0, 20 Apr 2017 09:25:25 +0000
Jobs in arts, culture employ 16,000 in Maine Thu, 20 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The business of arts and culture contributed more than 16,000 jobs and $764.9 million in worker income to the Maine economy in 2014, according to statistics released Wednesday by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The report is the first from the bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, to offer state-level data on jobs and compensation in the arts and culture sector. The bureau has been tracking national data in that sector for the past three years, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, said Thomas Dail, a public affairs specialist with the bureau.

“That number, nearly $800 million for employment, really jumped out at me,” said Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission. “I think it’s something we should be proud of.”

The overall number of arts and culture-related jobs in Maine – at nonprofit and for-profit organizations – decreased by 2.3 percent between 2013 and 2014, the report said. But that dip is part of a “roller coaster” trend in Maine, where arts and culture compensation goes up and down often, mirroring employment trends in other state business sectors, Richard said.

The number of people working in what the bureau defined as “core” arts and culture businesses, such as museums or performing arts companies, increased 1.2 percent and the total pay for those jobs went up by 4.9 percent. Jobs in “supporting arts and cultural production industries,” such as construction, publishing or rental companies, decreased about 3.4 percent and the compensation fell slightly, by less than 1 percent.

A fuller picture of the economic impact of Maine’s arts and culture businesses and organizations may be revealed in June, when two more studies are due out. A study from the New England Foundation for the Arts will include employment data, while one being done by Americans for the Arts will focus solely on nonprofit arts providers.

Nationally, the business of arts and culture grew for the third straight year in 2014, the most recent year for which data was available. Arts and culture-related economic activity increased 1.9 percent, when adjusted for inflation. It accounted for 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product that year, or $729.6 billion.

Arts and culture jobs increased nationally by 1.3 percent in 2014, about the same rate as in 2013. The total number of arts and culture-related jobs nationwide in 2014 was 4.8 million, or 3.3 percent of all jobs. The number of people working in industries that supported arts and cultural groups or events was about 3.58 million.

Wednesday’s report found that Maine had 16,112 full- and part-time arts and culture-related jobs, including 3,195 in core businesses and organizations. There was not a break down of how many were full time or part time, Dail said. The total compensation for Maine workers in arts and culture was listed at $764.9 million. Of that, about $157 million was compensation for people working in the core businesses, including jobs such as museum staff, actors, dancers, performing arts company staffers, agents, managers, marketers and designers. About $562 million was for people in industries supporting arts and culture business.

The report Wednesday did not rank the arts and cultural employment of each state. But it did list Washington, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Florida, in that order, as the states with the most growth in arts and culture employment between 2013 and 2014. All had more than 3 percent growth, with Washington’s growth at 5.7 percent.

Few past studies have measured the economic impact of arts and culture on Maine. Americans for the Arts conducts an economic impact study every five years focusing on nonprofit organizations, called “Arts & Economic Prosperity.” Its 2012 report included data from Portland, and a new study set to be released June 17 will include, for the first time, statistics for Maine overall.

The 2012 Americans for the Arts report found that nonprofit arts and cultural groups in Portland spent $26.5 million, including on salaries, supplies and rent. It also found that audiences, or consumers, spent about $22.6 million, including on concessions, meals, lodging, transportation and child care. Admission prices weren’t counted as audience spending in the study, but as revenue for the arts and culture businesses.

The 2012 report also said that Portland’s arts and culture sector supported 1,535 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $35.4 million in total household income. The sector contributed $2.8 million to local government revenue and $2.9 million to the state. The 2012 report used data collected with help from local arts and culture organizations, including financial and attendance information.

The federal report released Wednesday was based on economic data gathered every five years by the U.S. Census, Dail said.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

Twitter: @RayRouthier

]]> 0 woman walks past the Robert Indiana sculpture “Seven” in front of the Portland Museum of Art last week. The sculpture was recently vandalized.Wed, 19 Apr 2017 23:23:21 +0000
Exxon aims to resume its Russian oil venture Thu, 20 Apr 2017 03:20:23 +0000 WASHINGTON — Exxon Mobil is seeking permission from the U.S. government for approval to resume drilling around the Black Sea with a Russian partner, state-owned Rosneft, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The oil giant’s request is being reviewed by the Trump administration and is certain to draw extra scrutiny because it involves a company formerly run by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who cultivated close ties with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

The drilling venture was blocked when the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014. Exxon applied to the Treasury Department for a waiver from the sanctions in 2015, during the Obama administration, according to the person, who spoke anonymously because the application process is confidential. Exxon has publicly disclosed licenses for other work in Russia that required waivers.

An Exxon spokesman said the company declined to comment.

The Treasury Department, which would handle Exxon’s application to drill around the Black Sea, did not respond to a request for comment.

A State Department spokesman said Tillerson has recused himself from any matters involving Exxon for two years and is not involved with any decision involving the company before any government agency. Tillerson retired as Exxon CEO at the end of last year. He has known Putin for about two decades — the Russian president awarded Tillerson a special honor in 2013.

Irving, Texas-based Exxon disclosed in regulatory filings in 2015 and 2016 that it received three licenses from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to conduct “limited administrative actions” with Rosneft. The company said it was complying with all sanctions regarding investments in Russia.

The sanctions were imposed after Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014. Among other things, U.S. companies were prohibited from transferring advanced technology used to drill offshore and in shale formations. Exxon was ordered to stop drilling in the Kara Sea off Russia’s northern coast. The head of Exxon’s Russian partner, Rosneft, was personally blacklisted.

As Exxon CEO, Tillerson opposed the sanctions, telling shareholders in 2014 that sanctions were usually ineffective and caused “very broad collateral damage.”

Tillerson and Exxon agreed to the venture with Rosneft in 2011. The Russia sanctions have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Exxon reported in 2015 that its potential losses related to the Rosneft venture could run to $1 billion.

If the sanctions are lifted Exxon could push ahead with lucrative exploration and production opportunities in the Black Sea, Siberia and the Russian Arctic.

Exxon’s ambitions could be complicated, however, by concern over what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded were Russian cyberattacks to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last year. Congress is also investigating possible ties between aides to then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian officials.

Exxon’s critics said that if the Trump administration approved Exxon’s request, which was reported first by The Wall Street Journal, then Congress should block it on environmental and national-interest grounds.

A Greenpeace official, Naomi Ages, said approving Exxon’s request to drill in the Black Sea would give momentum to drilling in the Arctic and “would also send a message to Russia that it can intervene in any country, including the United States, with no consequences.”


Koenig reported from Dallas

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Apr 2017 23:20:23 +0000
Gains fade, stocks finish mostly down Thu, 20 Apr 2017 01:32:13 +0000 NEW YORK — U.S. stocks gave up a promising start and finished mostly lower Wednesday as investors continued to worry about lagging wages and energy companies dropped with the price of oil.

Stocks climbed early as a solid quarter from Morgan Stanley revived optimism about banks, and strong results from auto and industrial parts distributor Genuine Parts sent car makers and suppliers higher.

The gains began to fade around noon as oil prices and energy companies sagged. The losses accelerated after the midafternoon release of the Federal Reserve’s “Beige Book” survey of economic conditions.

The Fed said economic growth continued from mid-March into early April and pay improved for some workers. But investors have been wondering when rising statistics like consumer confidence will start to turn into better pay and greater spending.

“Show me where those numbers are translating into something more than just feelings,” said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 finished down 4.02 points, or 0.2 percent, at 2,338.17. The Dow lost 118.79 points, or 0.6 percent, to 20,404.49. The Nasdaq rose 13.56 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,863.03.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:32:13 +0000
Emirates cuts its flights to U.S. by 20% Thu, 20 Apr 2017 01:25:31 +0000 DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Emirates, the Middle East’s largest airline, slashed its flights to the United States by 20 percent Wednesday, blaming a drop in demand on tougher U.S. security measures and Trump administration attempts to ban travelers from some Muslim-majority nations.

The Dubai government-owned carrier’s decision is the strongest sign yet that new measures imposed on U.S.-bound travelers from the Mideast could be taking a financial toll on fast-growing Gulf carriers that have expanded rapidly in the U.S.

Dubai was one of 10 cities in Muslim-majority countries affected by a ban on laptops and other personal electronics in carry-on luggage aboard U.S.-bound flights.

Emirates’ hub at Dubai International Airport, the world’s third-busiest, is also a major transit point for travelers who were affected by President Trump’s executive orders temporarily halting entry to citizens of six countries.

The latest travel ban suspended new visas for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and froze the nation’s refugee program. Like an earlier ban that also included Iraqi citizens, it has been blocked from taking effect by the courts.

Emirates said the flight reductions will affect five of its 12 U.S. destinations, with the first cutbacks starting next month.

“The recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins, have had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the U.S.,” the carrier said in a statement.

Emirates does not provide financial data for its U.S. operations or individual routes, but said it had seen “healthy growth and performance” there until the start of the year.

Since Trump has been in office, however, there has been what it called “a significant deterioration in the booking profiles on all our U.S. routes, across all travel segments.”

It said it is responding as “any profit-oriented enterprise would” and will use the capacity freed up by the culled routes elsewhere on its network.

The Americas region, which also includes routes to Canada and Latin America, accounted for 14 percent of the $22.75 billion in revenue Emirates pulled in during the fiscal year through the end of March 2016.

Emirates’ half-year profit fell 75 percent to $214 million in the last period the company has disclosed, through September. Executives cited increased investments including aircraft purchases and the repayment of bonds, and said a “bleak” economic outlook in much of the world was reducing demand.

]]> 0 Emirates jet taxis to a gate at Dubai International Airport in United Arab Emirates, the world's third-busiest airport.Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:25:31 +0000
How President Trump’s ‘Buy American’ push may help, hurt Thu, 20 Apr 2017 00:39:04 +0000 WASHINGTON — When President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, he sent a characteristically blunt message.

“The policy of our government,” Trump declared, “is to aggressively promote and use American-made goods.”

For too long, he complained, American companies that have bid on U.S. government contracts – for work ranging from building roads to supplying computer equipment to federal agencies – have unfairly lost out to foreign competitors.

“The result has been countless jobs and countless contracts that have been lost to cheap, subsidized and low-quality foreign goods,” the president argued.

“Buy American” requirements that are written into U.S. law “have been gutted” by loopholes, he said, allowing too many contracts to go to overseas bidders. Under his presidency, Trump assured the crowd, that will change.

Here’s a look at how Buy American provisions work, what the White House intends to do and what it all might mean for government contracts and the taxpayers who finance them.


The Buy American Act of 1933 requires the government’s purchases to favor U.S.-made products. Additionally, the Surface Transportation Act of 1978 requires that American-made iron, steel and other manufactured goods be used when federal dollars pay for highway, aviation, rail and other transportation projects.


Government contracting “is a highly complex area, with lots of exceptions and exceptions to exceptions,” said Stephanie Harden, a lawyer specializing in government contracts at Blank Rome LLP. Government agencies can bypass U.S. suppliers, for example, whose bids come in too high or if the required goods and services aren’t available domestically. Under several free-trade deals – including the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Government Procurement – contractors from 59 countries have the right to be treated the same as U.S. companies when it comes to many federal contracts.

But the White House says such exemptions have gone too far and that U.S. contractors are unjustly losing out. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, reported in February that under the WTO procurement agreement, foreign companies have gained far more access to U.S. government contracts than American companies have gained to overseas government contracts.

“These rules offshore our tax dollars rather than investing them to create jobs and innovation at home,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a critic of U.S. trade policy.


Not much – at least initially.

Trump is ordering government agencies to review the way they award contracts to assess how they affect U.S. jobs and manufacturers and to make sure they “maximize the use of materials produced in the United States.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative will study whether and how current trade agreements undermine Buy American provisions in U.S. law. By November, they must report their findings and recommend ways to strengthen Buy American requirements.

“The good news is, they are actually trying to get some data before they harden policy,” said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow in trade policy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which advocates for free trade.


Not clear. Harden, anticipating a possible crackdown on how contracts are awarded, is telling clients to make doubly sure that they are complying with Buy American requirements.

But some analysts note that Trump has already retreated from some earlier vows to toughen America’s trade policies and say they suspect that the Buy American order might not amount to much.

“What this executive order is saying is: ‘Hey, Wilbur Ross. Go out and find me some cosmetic changes to make,’ ” said Daniel Ikenson, director of the trade policy center at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Then again, Trump could seek to cancel or limit the waivers that give some foreign bidders equal footing with American contractors. He might renegotiate trade deals – such as the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico – to protect U.S. companies.

But Schott said other countries would likely respond to stricter Buy American policies by making it harder for U.S. companies to bid on foreign government contracts.

And Trump’s approach could prove costly to U.S. taxpayers and consumers. By making it harder for foreign companies to compete for contracts, Cato’s Ikenson said, the U.S. government would be allowing American companies “to raise their prices and reduce their quality.”

“Import competition keeps domestic producers honest,” Ikenson said. “Taxpayers will not get the bang for the buck” – especially important as the government considers a possible $1 trillion infrastructure-building program.

Schott of the Peterson Institute adds: “If U.S. firms are the best suppliers in terms of meeting the technical standards and quality requirements, then they are already supplying the contract” – without any extra government help.

Yet in a briefing paper given to reporters, the White House said such critics fail “to take into account” that helping American contractors would boost American incomes, raise tax revenue and help revive U.S. industry. And it said U.S. trading partners already have policies that favor homegrown companies, thereby limiting their ability to retaliate against a tougher Buy American policy.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:39:04 +0000
Crash exposes dangerous gap in efforts to recall Takata air bags Wed, 19 Apr 2017 23:27:35 +0000 LAS VEGAS — A Nevada crash that nearly killed a young woman has exposed a hole in the government’s efforts to get dangerous Takata air bag inflators off the road: There’s nothing that prevents the devices from being taken from wrecked cars and reused.

Karina Dorado’s trachea was punctured by shrapnel from an inflator in an otherwise minor crash in Las Vegas on March 3. She was rushed to a trauma center, where surgeons removed pieces that damaged her vocal cords. She is still being treated for neck injuries.

Dorado, 18, is among nearly 200 people injured or killed by the inflators, which can explode when the chemical propellant inside deteriorates. What’s different about her case is how the inflator wound up in her 2002 Honda Accord in the first place.

Dorado’s father, Jose, bought the car for her in March 2016 so she could commute to her job at a customer service call center, attorneys for the family said Wednesday. The family did not know the car’s history, including that it had been wrecked in Phoenix and declared a total loss by an insurance company in 2015, the attorneys said.

According to AutoCheck, a service that tracks vehicle histories, the car was given a salvage title, repaired and resold in Las Vegas last spring.

Engineers from Honda inspected Dorado’s car after the crash and traced the serial number from the blown-apart inflator to a 2001 Accord, which had been covered by a recall but never had the inflator replaced.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin said the air bag in the 2001 Accord must have been removed by a salvage yard, or perhaps stolen. Somehow it ended up at the shop that repaired the car eventually bought by the Dorados.

It’s perfectly legal under federal law for air bag assemblies or other parts subject to recall to be pulled out of wrecked cars and sold by junkyards to repair shops that may not even know the danger.

No government agency monitors the transactions. In addition, no states appear to have laws against the reuse of recalled parts.

“What there should be is a program that prevents old air bags from being recycled,” said Michael Brooks, acting director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.

Carfax, another auto history tracking service, said it is unknown just how many cars are sold each year with salvage titles, but they number in the thousands.

At least 16 people have been killed by Takata inflators worldwide and more than 180 injured. The problem touched off the biggest automotive recall in U.S. history, with 69 million inflators recalled. About 100 million have been recalled globally. Takata has been fined and faces lawsuits, and it could be driven into bankruptcy.

Kent Emison, an attorney for the Dorado family, said that given the huge size of the Takata recall, millions of inflators are probably still in use and unaccounted for by authorities.

“People are not going to know until it’s too late that they have a defective Takata air bag,” he said.

The inflator that nearly killed Dorado was among the most dangerous made by Takata. In testing, inflators taken from older Hondas had a 50 percent chance of blowing apart, prompting the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue desperate pleas for people to get them replaced.

Unlike most other air bag makers, Takata used the chemical ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate the bags in a crash. But the chemical deteriorates over time when exposed to heat and humidity, causing it to burn too fast and blow apart a metal canister.

Attorneys for the Dorado family said they are trying to find out where Jose Dorado bought the Accord.

“It’s a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened,” said Billie-Marie Morrison, another family attorney. “You would think in today’s age with communication technology, these types of things should not be allowed to happen.”

Morrison said she doesn’t know if the elder Dorado checked the Accord’s vehicle identification number in a government database of recalled vehicles to see if it had any unfixed recalls.

Had he checked, he would have been given a false sense of security: The NHTSA website says the car has zero outstanding recalls. Honda said that before the Phoenix wreck, the previous owners had the air bag inflator replaced twice under recalls.

Honda’s Martin said the automaker has a program to buy up air bags made by Takata. In the past few years it has purchased 60,000 to take them out of circulation, he said.

Karina Dorado still has a hole in her trachea that is covered by a collar and will have to be repaired later, Morrison said. She is starting to get her voice back, but it’s very raspy and she will probably need speech therapy, the lawyer said.

Brooks said people should be suspicious of cars with salvage titles because there is no way of knowing where the parts came from or the quality of the repair work. Although some are safe, stolen or counterfeit parts can be used, he said.

“There are just so many questions that are impossible to answer,” he said. “I would always recommend buying something that has no crash history if you can.”

]]> 0 this 2002 Honda Accord was involved in a crash that badly injured the driver, research showed that the Takata air bag inflator that exploded came from a 2001 Honda Accord.Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:13:34 +0000
Developer begins 28-unit downtown Portland apartment project Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:22:20 +0000 A Portland developer has begun construction on 28 apartment units inside the Clapp Memorial Building at 443 Congress St. in Portland, including four units that will meet the city’s requirement for affordable housing.

Northland is building eight two-bedroom apartments, sixteen one-bedroom apartments, and four studio units on the former office building’s upper floors. Two commercial tenants on the first floor, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Planned Parenthood, both have long-term leases and will remain.

Northland is the first developer to include affordable apartment units under Portland’s relatively new requirement, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. Developer Chip Newell’s 26-unit Luminato Condominium project on Newbury Street was the first condo project to include affordable units under the ordinance, she said.

The Portland City Council voted in October 2015 to require a portion of housing units in new developments to be affordable to middle-income earners.

The rule requires that 10 percent of the housing units in new developments of 10 units or more be affordable to those earning 100 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income. However, developers can avoid the requirement by paying the city $100,000 for each required affordable unit they don’t build.

Northland said rents for its 443 Congress units will be “moderately priced” and will include heat, air conditioning, gas cooking, granite countertops and in-unit washer/dryers. The building will undergo a National Park Service historic renovation, with new historic replica windows and a renovation of the upper four floors.

The company said it expects the apartments to be ready for occupancy in January.

]]> 0, 20 Apr 2017 08:13:11 +0000
Buyers of Harris Golf discount passes unhappy that they now exclude Sunday River Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:21:32 +0000 Some golfers are disappointed that discount passes sold by Bath-based Harris Golf Inc. can no longer be used to play the award-winning Sunday River Golf Club course in Newry.

However, the passes can be used at other Harris Golf properties, and the company has promised a refund to at least one customer who called to ask for his money back.

Harris Golf had owned and operated the Sunday River course since it opened in 2005, but recently lost those rights while a legal dispute over its ownership is pending.

Portland-based Newry Holdings LLC, the sole creditor on the property’s mortgage, took possession of the course Jan. 5, saying Harris Golf failed to make a required mortgage payment.

Newry Holdings then filed a lawsuit, alleging that SR Golf Holdings LLC and its parent company, Harris Golf, were refusing to hand over assets such as equipment and membership fees collected since the property was conveyed. Newry Holdings also is seeking $5.6 million in unpaid mortgage debt and property taxes, plus legal fees.

Harris Golf filed a counterclaim March 7 alleging that Newry Holdings and a previous creditor, Boothbay Pool I LLC, had violated a forbearance agreement that would have enabled SR Golf to use new financing to meet its financial obligations and retain ownership of the course.

Harris Golf has said it is giving refunds to couples who booked wedding parties at the Sunday River clubhouse this summer, and to golfers who had purchased memberships for the 2017 season. Harris Golf attorney Tom Hallett also said the multi-course “Preservation Pass” is still valid for use at other Harris Golf properties.

That angered longtime golfers Paul Raymond and Tom Maines, who said the only reason they purchase Preservation passes each year is to play at Sunday River.

Raymond, who lives in Topsham, said the other two Harris courses available for use with the passes don’t compare with Sunday River.

He bought four passes for $200 in December, each good for 18 holes at either Sunday River, Old Marsh Country Club in Wells or Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.

The passes were a great value with Sunday River included, but not without it, he said, noting that a full-price round of golf at the Sunday River club usually costs over $100.

Maines, who lives in Brunswick, also paid $200 for the same bundle of passes. He said he no longer wants them.

“The preservation passes were bought with the intent of playing at Sunday River – nowhere else,” he said.

Maines said he called Harris Golf seeking a refund when he first learned about the company’s ownership dispute, but he said no one returned his call.

But on Monday, Hallett told the Portland Press Herald that his client is committed to making all of its customers whole.

“If any preservation pass holders have complaints, they need only contact Harris Management’s offices,” Hallett said via email. “Any issues will be immediately addressed and resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.”

After learning from a reporter about Hallett’s promise, Maines said he called Harris Golf again Tuesday and was offered a full refund after he refused an offer of additional passes.

The person said, ” ‘Mail those to me and I’ll refund the money,’ ” Maines said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Harris Golf Inc. had owned and operated the Sunday River golf course in Newry, above, since it opened in 2005, but recently lost those rights while a legal dispute over ownership of the course is pending.Thu, 20 Apr 2017 08:13:27 +0000
Record Store Day rides growing wave of affection for vinyl Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:48:42 +0000 Record stores have not only survived the onslaught of pirated music, digital downloads and online streaming services. They’re now growing in numbers.

Several hundred indie music retailers have opened in the past five years in the U.S. thanks largely to the resurgence of vinyl records, industry officials say.

“Stores are popping up in small towns. There’s enough vinyl business to support them. You have a lot of young entrepreneurs who are seeing this opportunity,” said Wes Lowe from Alliance Entertainment Corp., the nation’s largest wholesale distributor of compact discs, DVDs and vinyl record albums.

That gives music lovers something to cheer as Record Store Day celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday in stores from Maine to California.

The annual event pays homage to the neighborhood music store, the place where people have long gathered to thumb through vinyl records or cassette tapes. Back in the 1970s, every community had at least one of them, but hundreds went out of business at the onset of the digital music revolution.

The number of independent record stores leveled off at about 2,000 before growing over the past five years to a number that’s closer to 2,400, Lowe said.

The resurgence in vinyl sales is helping.

A new generation is enamored with old-school vinyl albums and turntables, joining older listeners who grew up with record albums and audio purists who prefer the full, warm sound of albums to modern compressed digital audio files.

Sales of vinyl albums have grown from fewer than 1 million records a year in 2005 to more than 13 million in 2016, according to Nielsen Music.

And money is being invested in expanded production capacity. Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and producer Jack White got into the act by launching a vinyl pressing plant earlier this year in Michigan.

Record Store Day got off to a raucous start with heavy-metal band Metallica in San Francisco in 2008, but the story begins off the beaten path with an indie record store chain operator in faraway Maine. Chris Brown from Bull Moose Music hatched the idea in 2007 for an event that started the following year with 200 stores and has grown to 1,600 participating record stores on Saturday.

New vinyl releases are a hallmark of the event. This year, tributes to two stars who died in 2016 include several 12-inch extended mix hits from Prince and a first-tune release of a demo album used to promote David Bowie before he became famous. Others include Elton John’s reissue of his favorite concert recording dubbed “17-11-70”; a live recording from The Doors; a flexi-disc from Emerson, Lake and Palmer with cuts from “Brain Salad Surgery;” and Toto’s “Africa” pressed on an album shaped like the continent.

There’s also the second annual Record Store Crawls, a 12-date tour by Warner Music that will escort participants by bus to local record stores. It kicks off Saturday in New York and will also visit Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Performers include Savoire Adore, Craig Brown Band, Angelica Garcia and others.

Brown doesn’t think it’s any coincidence that the growing popularity of vinyl records coincided with the creation of an annual event to celebrate stores with vinyl. “They call it the ‘vinyl resurgence’ but it started with Record Store Day,” Brown said.

Almighty Music Marketing, a market research firm in California, estimates that more than 500 stores have opened since 2010, and believes the trend will continue.

Its president, Vince Hans, added that part of the growth is independent stores filling gaps left by the closings of big box retailers.

The new stores aren’t always conventional. These days, there are combo stores selling comics and records. And there are even restaurants and bars selling records.

“You have to innovate to be successful now,” said Michael Kurtz, Record Store Day co-founder and president of the largest coalition of independent record stores.

]]> 0 Brown poses with an orange vinyl recording of "Stories for Ways and Means" and Slick Rick's "The Great Adventures of Slick Rick," a 7-inch single packaged in a board book, at Bull Moose Music in Portland on Friday. Brown, a Bull Moose employee, hatched the idea for Record Store Day that started with 200 stores 10 years ago. About 1,600 record stores are expected to participate on Saturday.Thu, 20 Apr 2017 10:00:10 +0000
Regulators vote to allow lobstering in Gulf of Maine coral protection zones Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:27:07 +0000 MYSTIC, Connecticut — New England regulators have voted to allow lobster fishing in proposed deep-sea coral protection zones, including two heavily fished areas in Down East Maine.

The New England Fishery Management Council voted 14-1 Tuesday to ban most fishing in the canyons and plateaus where slow-growing, cold-water coral gardens flourish in the dark waters of the Gulf of Maine. But pleas from Maine lobster fishermen who say a trap ban in fertile gulf fishing grounds would cost them millions of dollars helped sway an initially resistant council to grant a lobstering exemption.

If approved at the council’s June meeting in Portland, the exemption would allow lobstering in coral protection zones on Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge, where Maine officials believe state-based boats land about $4.2 million worth of lobster a year.

“The economics are compelling,” said Terry Stockwell, the council vice chairman and external affairs director for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Maine wants protection for coral, but not at all costs. We need balance.”

The fishery management council had initially resisted any exemption for lobster traps, saying that even stationary traps can denude the ocean bottom and the rocky ledges of fragile cold-water coral.

Stockwell had sought a lobster gear exemption twice before and failed. But this week, at its spring meeting in Mystic, the council voted to permit stationary traps in coral protection zones, in part to protect Maine’s $1.6 billion-a-year lobster industry, as well as the endangered right whale population.

If lobstermen were pushed out of these coral zones, they would move their traps into waters frequented by right whales in the spring, increasing the risk of entanglement in vertical lines linking floating buoys to traps on the sea floor.


The council has spent two years developing regulations to protect the delicate coral gardens of sea whips, fans and pens found on the steep rock walls deep underwater in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.

The proposed Outer Schoodic Ridge coral zone is a 31-square-mile area that lies about 25 nautical miles southeast of Mount Desert Island. The terrain there looks like an underwater slot canyon, with depths ranging from roughly 350 feet to more than 800 feet. In dives over the past four years, researchers found soft corals such as sea fans and red trees on the short, steep vertical rock faces there, sometimes in dense thickets known as coral gardens.

The proposed Mount Desert Rock coral zone is an 18-square-mile area southwest of Mount Desert Rock, a small island that lies about 20 nautical miles south of Mount Desert Island. Depths range from about 330 feet to more than 650 feet. Researchers have surveyed this area a half-dozen times since 2002, finding both low-density coral habitats and coral gardens on the high slopes, as well as sea pen beds.

Researchers also have found evidence that fishing has damaged these coral habitats. Scarring has been found on the ocean bottom from trawler boats that drag their nets along the basins, denuding the bottom of most plant life. And lobster pots can get in the rocky crevices where coral gardens now thrive, crushing the coral or dislodging it from the rock.

These cold-water coral habitats are largely unexplored, but are believed to be increasingly rare, suffering from centuries of damage from fishing gear. They provide shelter, food and refuge to fish such as cod, silver hake and pollock.

But these zones are also home to lobster, one of the nation’s most lucrative fisheries.

The state Department of Marine Resources believes more than 100 lobster boats launch from at least 15 ports in Down East Maine to fish in the 49 square miles of ocean that make up the Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge coral zones. The state’s overall lobster fleet includes about 6,000 commercial licenses.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher traveled to Connecticut to make the case for a lobster exemption, too, as did Patrick Shepard, a fisheries policy expert for the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.

Maine Lobstermen’s Association Director Patrice McCarron has told the fishery management council that the possibility of being shut out of these two zones has “put the fear of God” into Maine lobstermen.

Lobstermen do all they can to avoid coral areas, which tend to be rocky, because the sunken lines required in these areas to avoid right whale entanglement mean ruined and sometimes lost gear if it snags, McCarron said.


His testimony persuaded Connecticut council member Michael McKenzie. “Why would a lobsterman risk losing gear in a coral zone?” McKenzie said.

The history professor said he remains open to a lobster ban in the future, but for now, he prefers some coral protection to none. Trying to ban lobstering in coral areas could have caused the entire protection effort to fail, he said.

The proposed exemption is “far from a done deal,” said Stockwell, the marine resources external affairs director. Fishermen who would lose money if the coral zones are closed to lobstering need to speak up at two public hearings to be scheduled in Machias and Ellsworth in late May, he said.

Stockwell expects environmentalists to oppose the exemption.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at:

]]> 0 dense, multi-species deep-sea coral garden was found 200 meters below sea level in a federally funded survey of the Gulf of Maine in 2014.Thu, 20 Apr 2017 10:39:09 +0000
Maine’s tourist hot spots report no sign of a ‘Trump Slump’ Wed, 19 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Despite worries that the Trump administration’s national security and immigration policies might hurt the U.S. tourism industry, one Maine town that relies on foreign visitors is gearing up for a busy summer.

Several of President Trump’s proposals, such as a ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and intensified border security have led some tourism experts to warn of a “Trump Slump” in international visitation.

But here in Maine, where the summer economy thrives on millions of Canadian tourists every year, Trump’s policies don’t appear to have had an effect yet, and some innkeepers say the exchange rate is a more important factor.

In Old Orchard Beach, a popular destination for generations of visiting Quebecois, 2017 is shaping up to be better than last year.

Josh Ouellette, right, who takes reservations at the Sea View Inn in Old Orchard Beach, consults with a customer while Sandra Kurkjy helps at the front desk recently. “I’ve gotten zero mention of politics,” said Ouellette. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“Anytime I hear something negative about crossing the border, I am concerned,” said Michael Longtin, manager at the Sea View Inn, a 48-room hotel in downtown Old Orchard Beach.

“The president does make it seem an unwelcome country to some people. It’s unfortunate,” Longtin said. “I haven’t seen it affect our business yet, but it isn’t something I like.”

In fact, bookings are $200,000 above this time last year, said Josh Ouellette, who handles reservations at the hotel. Not all are from Canada, but it is a significant portion of the inn’s visitors. A Quebec youth basketball group has booked almost 140 rooms for May at the Sea View and nearby Waves Oceanfront Resort, both owned by Lafayette Hotels.

“I’ve gotten zero mention of politics on the phone,” Ouellette said.


An estimated 4.5 million Canadians visited Maine in 2016 – almost 13 percent of visitation to the state – and spent more than $975 million, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. Last year marked a turnaround in Canadian visitation after a two-year decline blamed on the strong U.S. dollar.

That trend appears to be holding in 2017. About 3.2 million Canadians traveled to the U.S. in January, a 7 percent increase from the month before and the highest month of visitation in more than a year, according to Statistics Canada.

Overseas visitors are a smaller, but still important, sector for Maine. In 2015, about 142,000 overseas visitors came to the state, and spent close to $97 million. Foreign visitors from Europe, Asia and elsewhere are important because they tend to stay longer and spend more, according to Discover New England, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based agency that markets the region overseas.

But national tourism associations have warned that Trump’s tough “America-first” rhetoric and policies could have a chilling effect. An estimated 74.7 million international visitors came to the U.S. in 2016, and travel exports totaled $246 billion, the U.S. Travel Association said.

Old Orchard Beach is a popular destination for generations of visiting Quebecois. Some innkeepers say the exchange rate with Canada is a more important factor than U.S. politics in determining the number of visitors. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Since taking office, Trump has issued two travel bans on people from Muslim-majority countries, increased deportations, ordered that thousands of border patrol and customs enforcement agents be hired, imposed new checks on visa applicants, and proposed enhanced vetting procedures for foreigners coming to the U.S.

Tourism Economics, a consulting company from Wayne, Pennsylvania, in February projected that the country could lose 6.3 million visitors and $10.8 billion in spending in 2018 from tourists avoiding the U.S. A February report from ForwardKeys, a flight booking analysis company, showed an immediate 6.5 percent decrease in international flights after the Trump administration announced the first travel ban. Despite a travel uptick in February, the U.S. Travel Association warned of a long-term decline of international visitors in a February report.


Trump’s “rhetoric and policies, including travel restrictions and his anti-immigrant stance, pose risks to international traveler sentiment, while the stronger dollar continues to weigh on our competitiveness as a global destination,” the association said.

This winter, Marc Bourassa, co-owner of the Kebek 3 Motel in Old Orchard Beach, began receiving calls from longtime Canadian guests who said that crossing the border had become more difficult and U.S. customs officers had treated them rudely. That followed reports in the Canadian media about citizens who were questioned and others who were turned away at the border after trying to enter the U.S.

Bourassa sent a letter in February to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to register his concern.

“I am writing to make you aware of a problem that could be devastating for Maine tourism,” Bourassa said. “Recent border strategies designed to control illegal immigration are causing our Canadian neighbors to feel insecure and afraid to travel to the United States.” He warned that negative media about the border would help a growing “boycott Trump” movement in Canada.

Since writing the letter, he has heard only positive reports from the border, and so far the impact of the Trump administration on his business has been minimal, Bourassa said in an interview. About 90 percent of his guests are Canadian, he said.

“Probably the greater impact, as far as the Canadian trade is concerned, is the exchange rate,” Bourassa said. The current exchange rate is about 75 cents to the U.S. dollar.

Elsewhere in Maine, people are taking a wait-and-see approach. In Bar Harbor, it is too early to tell if Trump’s stance will deter visits from Canadians, Europeans and Asians, a substantial proportion of the town’s tourist trade, said Martha Searchfield, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

“Everybody has seen the news, I’m not sure they know how it is going to affect their business,” she said.


Anxiety about the new presidency is par for the course, said Chip Gray, general manager of the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. Trump and U.S. politics are hot conversation with international guests, but that’s usually the case regardless of who is president. Pocketbooks, not politics, are what determine guests’ decision to book a room, he said.

“I’ve been answering these kinds of questions for 40 years,” Gray said. “When we see a significant change, it is invariably because of the exchange rate.”

John Nicolai, a lobsterman who works with the Bangor-based Maine-China Network, doesn’t anticipate an effect on Maine’s growing number of tourists from Asia, specifically China.

“As far as Asian tourism is concerned, I don’t really think it is a factor,” he said. China was the second-largest market for overseas visitors to New England in 2015, with 266,000 arrivals.

More than 1,000 Chinese students study in Maine, and Maine lobster is in huge demand in the country. Nicolai ran lobster boat tours from Bar Harbor until last year, and now gives lectures on lobstering to tour groups, including several from China booked this summer.

At the Paradise Park Resort Campground in Old Orchard Beach, Mike Halle was getting ready to open his campground in two weeks.

Halle has operated the family-owned campground for 21 years. His family is originally from Quebec and he regularly speaks with family in Canada. About half of his bookings come from Canadian families, and none of his regular guests intend to skip this year because of the Trump presidency.

“It doesn’t matter if the president is Trump, or Clinton, or Bush or Obama,” he said.

“We’re the USA, we’re going to provide good service, don’t worry about it.”

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 walk by the Old Orchard Beach Pier last summer. This popular tourist destination for generations of Canadians doesn't appear to be suffering from what industry experts predicted would be a "Trump slump."Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:03:41 +0000
Seeking new frontier, Facebook embraces augmented reality Wed, 19 Apr 2017 00:31:52 +0000 SAN JOSE, Calif. — Looking to blend digital and physical worlds, Facebook is betting big on augmented reality as it focuses on building community.

“We’re going to make the camera the first augmented reality platform,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday during the tech firm’s developer conference in San Jose.

Augmented reality allows users to overlay computer-generated images in the real world. People can add 3-D effects to their photos, leave a digital note for their spouse or create a work of art.

They can add swimming sharks to a bowl of cereal, fill an office with digital Skittles or add a coffee mug on a table so they don’t look like they’re eating breakfast alone.

“As silly as effects like this may seem, they’re actually really important and meaningful because they give us the ability to share what matters to us on a daily basis,” Zuckerberg said.

Taking on rival Snapchat and building off the popularity of augmented reality game Pokemon Go, Facebook recently launched a camera app within the social media site so users can add filters and effects to their photos and videos. Now they’re turning to developers to help them build more augmented reality features within Facebook’s camera.

“Cameras can do so much more. They can bring you the world in ways that we haven’t really tapped into yet …,” said Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

Facebook’s efforts in augmented reality are logical but also risky because the tech firm makes most of its money from business advertising, some analysts said.

“I think they see (AR) as an opportunity to make things stickier. To keep you in the experiences for longer,” said IDC analyst John Jackson.

But with 1.9 billion users, Facebook has a much larger audience than Snapchat. It owns Instagram, WhatsApp and virtual reality company Oculus. It’s also making big bets on messaging, virtual reality, chatbots and even internet-beaming drones.

When Facebook first launched in 2004, the company’s focus was connecting family and friends. Today, at a time when society is divided, the tech firm is working more on building community.

]]> 0 CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at his company's annual F8 developer conference Tuesday in San Jose, Calif. ""We're going to make the camera the first augmented reality platform," he told viewers.Tue, 18 Apr 2017 22:11:05 +0000
Federal regulators move to change scallop fishery rules Tue, 18 Apr 2017 23:23:40 +0000 Fishing regulators have started changing the way the East Coast scallop fishery is managed, with an eye toward avoiding more conflicts between small- and big-boat fishermen.

The New England Fishery Management Council decided to initiate changes Tuesday. Government fishing regulators use different rules for different classes of boats that work the same areas. Recently, a class mostly made up of smaller boats has been in conflict with bigger boats in the northern Gulf of Maine.

Some fishermen in the small-boat fishery contend the rules allow bigger boats to exploit scallops, one of the most valuable fisheries in America. Bigger boats say the two can co-exist.

The management council says there is a “critical need to initiate surveys and develop additional tools to better manage the area.” It also says the new rules could include limiting some boats from fishing in the area until the scallop population can be more accurately determined.

Crafting new rules will likely take months, and they might not be finished before next year’s scallop season begins in April.

“The process was started, but now the real work begins,” said Togue Brawn, who runs a scallop business called Downeast Dayboat and has advocated for small-boat fishermen.

The root of the conflict between boats is that the smaller boats have a possession limit of 200 pounds, while the larger boats have no limit, because they’re regulated instead by a limited number of days at sea.

The conflict is happening at a time when both the volume and value of the scallop catch have been high, and consumer demand has followed suit. The catch has been worth more than $400 million every year this decade.

Federal regulators shut down the northern Gulf of Maine last month amid the conflict. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the total allowable catch for the area had been fully harvested.

]]> 0 fisherman shucks scallops off Harpswell in 2011. Fishery managers are being urged to change rules that Maine fishermen say favor operators of bigger boats and endanger the fishery. Maine's small boat scallop fleet had a 70,000-pound quota this season.Tue, 18 Apr 2017 19:36:31 +0000
Hydropower assets sold on site where Madison Paper once employed hundreds Tue, 18 Apr 2017 23:21:39 +0000 MADISON — Hydropower assets at the former Madison Paper Industries site have been sold to a New Jersey hydroelectric power producer, marking the final step in the sale of the paper mill and opening the door for future plans at the property.

Madison Paper, a former partnership of UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Co., has signed an agreement to sell its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, which is based in Morristown, New Jersey, Madison Paper said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

The paper mill, which put about 215 people out of work when it closed in May, was sold in December to a buyer with plans to put the property back into use as an industrial site. But that has been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. The purchase of the mill site – for an undisclosed price – included the real estate of the main paper mill and all mill equipment.

Tuesday’s announced transaction on the hydropower assets – two hydroelectric dams and power plants – is still subject to third-party approvals. The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

“Eagle Creek is a well-known and experienced operator of hydroelectric power facilities in North America,” Ruud van den Berg, senior vice president for magazines, merchants and office at UPM Paper in Helsinki, Finland, said in an emailed statement. “The company focuses on CO2-friendly power production and has a long-term, focused business strategy in this sector. As an integral part of an energy company, the hydropower facilities can be operated and developed in an optimal way.”

In March, UPM also sold its hydropower facilities in Steyrermuehl, Austria, and in Schongau and Ettringen, Germany, according to emails from the company.

The overall mill property was sold to a “joint venture” of New Mill Capital Holdings, of New York; Perry Videx, of Hainesport, New Jersey; and Infinity Asset Solutions, of Toronto. Gregory Schain, principal of New Mill Capital Holdings, said Tuesday that the pending sale of the hydropower assets helps turn the page and open a new era for central Maine.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It finally closes one chapter and hopefully opens another for property in the area. Now that UPM is mostly out of the picture, hopefully the two parties – us and Eagle Creek – can work together to bring some economic life back to the site.”

Schain said there are businesses interested in the former Madison Paper site, but he would not identify them. The town has courted Poland Spring about possibly occupying the site.

Schain said discussions with future buyers or tenants have been on hold pending the sale of the hydro assets. Now, he said, those discussions can advance.

Russ Drechsel, president and CEO of Madison Paper, was philosophical Tuesday about the approaching final curtain in the long history of the paper mill.

“It’s been over a year ago, 13 months ago, that we announced the closure of the paper machines,” Drechsel said. “So it’s another chapter and it’s near the end of the book. It will be good to finish everything up”

Bud Cherry, CEO of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, said in the emailed statement Tuesday that the company looks forward to doing business in Maine.

“Eagle Creek is very pleased to broaden our footprint in central Maine,” Cherry said. “The Madison Paper Industries hydroelectric portfolio represents an excellent opportunity to build out our operations in the region through the acquisition of a well-maintained, high-quality set of hydro facilities.” The mill produced supercalendered paper used for magazine publishing and has been in Madison since 1978. It was producing about 195,000 tons of paper annually at the time the closure was announced.

]]> 0 Anson Dam, located beside the closed Madison Paper Industries mill on the Kennebec River, has been sold to a New Jersey-based hydroelectric power producer.Tue, 18 Apr 2017 19:51:25 +0000
Madison Paper sells its hydropower facility to New Jersey firm Tue, 18 Apr 2017 16:50:49 +0000 MADISON — Hydro power assets at the shuttered Madison Paper Industries have been sold to a New Jersey hydroelectric power producer, marking the final step in the sale of the paper mill and opening the door for future plans at the site.

Madison Paper Industries, a former partnership of UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Company, signed an agreement to sell its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey, the company said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

The paper mill, which closed in May and put about 215 people out of work, was sold in December to a buyer with plans to put the property back into use as an industrial site. Future uses of the mill site have been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. The acquisition of the mill site — which closed for an undisclosed price — included the real estate of the main paper mill site as well as all mill equipment.

Tuesday’s announced transaction is still subject to third party approvals. The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

“Eagle Creek is a well-known and experienced operator of hydroelectric power facilities in North America,” Ruud van den Berg, senior vice president for magazines, merchants and office at UPM Paper in Helsinki, Finland, said in an emailed statement. “The company focuses on CO2-friendly power production and has a long-term focused business strategy in this sector. As an integral part of an energy company the hydro power facilities can be operated and developed in an optimal way.”

The mill property was sold to a “joint venture” of New Mill Capital Holdings, of New York; Perry Videx, of Hainesport, New Jersey; and Infinity Asset Solutions, of Toronto. Gregory Schain, principal of New Mill Capital Holdings, has visited Madison since the sale and has high hopes for future use at the site.

“Eagle Creek is very pleased to broaden our footprint in central Maine,” Bud Cherry, CEO of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy said in the emailed statement. “The Madison Paper Industries hydroelectric portfolio represents an excellent opportunity to build out our operations in the region through the acquisition of a well-maintained, high quality set of hydro facilities.”

The mill produced supercalendered paper used for magazine publishing and has been in Madison since 1978. It was producing about 195,000 tons of paper annually at the time the closure was announced

This story will be updated

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


]]> 0 hydro dam facility known as the Anson Dam beside the closed Madison Paper Industries mill in the Kennebec River has been sold to a New Jersey company.Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:57:50 +0000
Veterans Administration, CVS test program to reduce wait times Tue, 18 Apr 2017 14:38:02 +0000 WASHINGTON — Some ailing veterans can now use their federal health care benefits at CVS “MinuteClinics” to treat minor illnesses and injuries, under a pilot program announced Tuesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The new program, currently limited to the Phoenix area, comes three years after the VA faced allegations of chronically long wait times at its centers, including its Phoenix VA medical center, which treats about 120,000 veterans.

The Phoenix pilot program is a test-run by VA Secretary David Shulkin who is working on a nationwide plan to reduce veterans’ wait times.

Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”

The pilot program allows ailing veterans who receive treatment at the Phoenix VA medical center to access one of 24 “MinuteClinics” operated by CVS for treatment of minor illnesses and injuries, such as respiratory infections or to order lab tests. Associated Press/Matt Rourke

Shulkin has made clear he’d like a broader collaboration of “integrated care” nationwide between the VA and the private sector in which veterans have wider access to private doctors. But, he wants the VA to handle all scheduling and “customer service” – something that veterans groups generally support but government auditors caution could prove unwieldy and expensive.

On Wednesday, President Trump plans to sign legislation to temporarily extend the $10 billion Choice program until its money runs out, pending the administration’s plan due out by fall. That broader plan would have to be approved by Congress.

The current Choice program was developed after the 2014 scandal in Phoenix in which some veterans died, yet the program has often encountered long waits of its own. The bill being signed by Trump seeks to alleviate some of the problems by helping speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records. Shulkin also has said he wants to eliminate Choice’s 30-day, 40-mile restrictions, allowing the VA instead to determine when outside care is “clinically needed.”

Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays. Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.

Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA’s chief of staff, welcomed the new CVS partnership but acknowledged a potential challenge in providing seamless coordination to avoid gaps in care. She said a veteran’s medical record will be shared electronically, with MinuteClinic providing visit summaries to the veteran’s VA primary care physician so that the VA can provide follow-up services if needed.

The VA previously experimented with a similar program last year in the smaller market of Palo Alto, Calif., a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics. CVS says it is pleased the VA has opted to test out a larger market and says it’s ready to roll the program out nationally if successful.

CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.

]]> 0, 18 Apr 2017 10:49:46 +0000
New hires for Gorrill Palmer, Habitat for Humanity Tue, 18 Apr 2017 13:56:20 +0000 NEW HIRES

Gorrill Palmer hired Lucas Anthony as a land development project manager.
Anthony has 20 years of engineering and project management experience. He previously worked for Bowman Consulting and Kimley-Horn and Associates.


Demont & Associates, Inc. hired John Lanham as an associate
Lanham, of Bangor, spent the past six years in Denver, where he worked for the international touring group Up with People.


Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland has hired Caroline Grimm as its director of finance.
Grimm has been the owner of Lake Region Accounting Solutions since 2001, providing consulting, accounting and training for clients. She is also the author of two cash flow and finance books.

Susan Letcher joined College of the Atlantic as a professor of plant sciences. She will begin work in September.
Letcher is a Mount Desert Island native.

Westin Portland Harborview named Mary Weisheit as director of its new Artné Spa.
Weisheit brings over 20 years of professional experience. She previously served as spa director at the Cliff House Resort in Ogunquit.

Lois’ Natural Marketplace announced that Patsy Wiggins was named the communications coordinator.
Wiggins was an anchor, reporter and producer at network affiliates WABI, WCSH, WGME and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Nicki Noble Bean joined the Kennebunkport Resort Collection as the new director of sales.
Bean, of Arundel, joined the KRC team from Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, where she was the director of marketing.

Elise Edwards joined VHB as an environmental scientist in its South Portland office.
Edwards worked on various projects and field studies across New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

Kathleen Gierok joined Wright-Pierce as a senior project manager in their Orlando, Florida, office.
Gierok brings nearly 24 years of experience in consulting engineering for water and wastewater utilities.

]]> 0, 18 Apr 2017 13:53:52 +0000
On the Job: Paul Bock finds archery coaching to be a good fit Tue, 18 Apr 2017 08:00:05 +0000 When Paul Bock’s youngest son, Liam, wanted to join Cub Scouts, it was because he’d been enticed by the archery image on the Scout’s flier.

Bock soon realized that sitting around watching his son learn archery was not as much fun as trying it himself.

He began volunteering with the Scouts and took Archery Range Officers training.

For five years, he coached archery out of a 26-foot snowmobile trailer.

Then, in 2015, he and his wife, Susan, opened Black Sheep Archery in an empty building in Sanford, strategically located halfway between their home in Old Orchard Beach and their “day jobs.”

Bock is technical adviser for a boiler manufacturer in New Hampshire.

“If I was doing this for the money, I would not be doing it,” Bock says of the archery range.

Now a Level 3 USA Archery coach, Bock says he most enjoys introducing the bow to kids and adults, and watching their interest grow.

Archery classes, instruction and certification are all offered at Black Sheep’s indoor range. A six-week beginner’s class starts at $80.

The biggest challenge, says Bock, is “keeping all the finances in order,” which he implies is definitely not as fun as picking up the bow and arrow.

]]> 0, ME - APRIL 4: Paul Bock observes Charles Smith as he works on his form during a JOAD, or Junior Olympic Archery Development, “fun shoot” at Black Sheep Archery. (Staff photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer)Mon, 17 Apr 2017 18:48:18 +0000
U.S. heads for summer meat bonanza Mon, 17 Apr 2017 23:43:16 +0000 Go ahead, throw another T-bone on the grill. Thanks to a boom in beef production, steaks and burgers will finally be cheap enough this summer to rival pork and chicken.

The surge in output means the U.S. is headed for a meat bonanza. Americans will eat 8 percent more red meat and poultry per capita this year compared with three years earlier – a record jump in government data going back to 1970.

Beef, in particular, is expected to see increased consumer demand as prices in grocery stores drop, making meat more competitive.

Retailers and restaurants are loading up on beef supplies, signaling that customers will enjoy summer promotions. Adding to the demand outlook is recent news that the U.S. may be getting closer to restarting trade with China, the world’s second-biggest beef buyer, opening a market that’s been shut since 2003. The brightening picture is drawing the attention of hedge funds, who have the most bullish holding on cattle futures since June 2014.

“If you lower prices enough, you can get products sold not just in the near term, but for the next three to five months,” said Altin Kalo, an analyst at Manchester, New Hampshire-based Steiner Consulting Group, an economic and commodity-trading adviser. “For two or three years we were in a situation where beef went up and up, and it became difficult to run full promotions. Suddenly, the market switched and allowed more operators to do that.”

Rising beef consumption is sparking a rally for cattle prices, as traders anticipate that meatpackers will need a steady stream of the animals. June futures climbed 2.6 percent to $1.147 a pound last week on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, after reaching $1.15525, the highest since the contract started trading in February 2016. They’re up 3.4 percent this month.

Money managers are gearing up for more gains. The cattle net-long position, or the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a decline, climbed 1.9 percent to 123,372 futures and options in the week ended April 11, according to U.S. Commodity Futures and Trading Commission data released three days later.

]]> 0 sirloin steaks are displayed behind the meat counter at a grocery store in Knoxville, Tenn. Prices for steaks and burgers will rival those for pork and chicken this summer.Mon, 17 Apr 2017 19:43:16 +0000
Nation’s capital a glutton for tax payouts, averaging $37,000 per person Mon, 17 Apr 2017 23:37:08 +0000 WASHINGTON — This Tax Day, you should show some love for the good people who live in the nation’s capital.

Washington, that swampy den of iniquity that politicians love to scorn, sends the most tax dollars per person to the U.S. government.

By a lot.

Last year, the District of Columbia paid Uncle Sam $37,000 per person in federal income, payroll and estate taxes. The next closest was Delaware, at $16,000 per person.

“It’s where the money is,” said Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Tax Policy Center. “The reason the (District of Columbia) pays so much in taxes is that there are a lot of high-income people there.”

Washington is an outlier because, despite years of lobbying, it is not a state. It doesn’t even have a vote in Congress. It is, however, a city with a relatively high cost of living.

West Virginia, Mississippi and New Mexico have low median household incomes, which helps explain why they their residents pay far less in federal taxes. West Virginia paid $3,600 per person last year, while Mississippi paid $3,900 per person and New Mexico residents paid a little more than $4,000. Maine ranked 46th out of 51, with $5,432 paid per person.

The Associated Press calculated each state’s per-capita tax bill using data from the IRS and population estimates from the Census Bureau.

The deadline to file federal tax returns is Tuesday. It was pushed back because the usual April 15 deadline was Saturday, and because Monday is a holiday in the District of Columbia.

The IRS says millions of taxpayers have yet to file their returns. As they do, they shouldn’t feel too badly for D.C. residents.

The nation’s capital gets a good return on its tax investment. For every dollar the district sends to the federal government, it gets back almost $4, according to a 2015 study by the New York state comptroller.

For years, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., would document that New York paid more to the federal government than it got back. In 2015, the state’s comptroller took up the cause.

Washington’s rate of return is higher than any state – most of it comes from wages for federal employees. The closest state is Mississippi, which gets back $2.57 in federal spending for every dollar it sends to Washington. New Mexico, West Virginia and Alabama are also big winners when it comes to federal taxes and spending.

These states are big takers because they have a lot of residents who get federal benefits, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, disability benefits and food stamps.

“They have lower incomes so they pay less in taxes and, because they have lower incomes, they get more federal aid,” said Morgan Scarboro, a policy analyst at the Tax Foundation.

So why do so many of these states that benefit from the federal government produce conservative politicians who complain that the government is too big?

“There is this perception that so much money is being spent on things that don’t benefit them,” Williams said. “They ignore the things that do benefit them.”

Williams cited foreign aid as a favorite target, even though it makes up only 1 percent of the federal budget when military assistance is included.

“People view the world as cut my taxes and cut his spending,” Williams said. “His spending is wasteful and my taxes are hurting me badly.”

Most states are winners when it comes to getting more money from the federal government than they pay in taxes. On average, Americans get $1.22 for every dollar they send to Washington, according to the New York study. That’s why the federal government has a budget deficit.

The federal spending comes from social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as grants to state and local governments and spending on infrastructure.

States such as South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia benefit from having large military bases.

The biggest losers when it comes to taxes and spending are New Jersey, Wyoming and Connecticut. New Jersey gets back just 77 cents for every dollar it pays, while Wyoming gets back 81 cents and Connecticut gets 83 cents.

New York gets 91 cents for every dollar it sends to Washington, according to the comptroller’s report.

All these states have incomes above the national average.

“It’s a good example of a progressive tax code,” Scarboro said. “That is how it is designed to work.”

]]> 0, 17 Apr 2017 19:37:08 +0000
Stocks have best day in more than a month Mon, 17 Apr 2017 23:27:20 +0000 NEW YORK — U.S. stocks bounced back from recent losses Monday after the Chinese government said that country’s economy grew at a slightly faster pace in the first quarter. Banks jumped as interest rates recovered.

After losses in three of the last four weeks, stocks had their best day in more than a month. The largest gains went to industries that would benefit the most from faster global economic growth.

Among banks, the leaders included M&T Bank, which became the latest financial company to report strong first-quarter results. Technology companies were led by chipmaker Nvidia and Google parent company Alphabet, while online retail giant Amazon and streaming video company Netflix also made large gains.

“It was good news to see a positive number coming out of the world’s second-largest economy,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. “It was the strongest GDP reading in six quarters, and much of it was based on their infrastructure spending and also the housing market.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 20.06 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,349.01. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 183.67 points, or 0.9 percent, to 20,636.92. The Nasdaq composite jumped 51.64 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,856.79. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks soared 15.94 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,361.18.

China’s recovering economy grew another 6.9 percent in the first quarter. In 2016 it grew at its slowest pace in almost 30 years, and the government spent more money on construction of infrastructure such as roads and bridges in response. Relatively cheap credit also boosted property sales.

Medical device maker Alere surged after it accepted a modified buyout offer from Abbott Laboratories. Abbott agreed to buy Alere for $56 per share, or $5.8 billion, more than a year ago. But it filed a lawsuit to end the deal after Alere recalled a key product, delayed filing a financial statement, and faced a Justice Department investigation into its business outside the U.S.

Under the new agreement Abbott will pay $51 a share, or about $5.3 billion, and Alere climbed $6.74, or 15.9 percent, to $49.05. It had traded as low as $31.47 last July, as investors worried the deal would fall apart after news of the investigation broke. Abbott rose 64 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $43.31.

]]> 0 Mon, 17 Apr 2017 19:27:20 +0000
Couple going to their own wedding kicked off United flight Mon, 17 Apr 2017 22:56:18 +0000 Still recovering from what was likely an avoidable public relations debacle, United Airlines is again making headlines after two passengers – a couple traveling to their own wedding – said they were kicked off their flight.

Michael Hohl and his fiancee, Amber Maxwell, had planned on flying Saturday from Salt Lake City to Costa Rica, with a layover at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Hohl told KHOU.

But he said they were unable to leave Texas that day because flight crews told them to deplane before takeoff.

A United spokeswoman, Maggie Schmerin, said that the passengers “repeatedly attempted” to sit in upgraded seating they didn’t pay for and did not follow instructions from crews to go back to their assigned seats. The two were then asked to leave the plane, she said.

Hohl’s account of what happened is quite different.

He told KHOU that he and Maxwell moved to two vacant seats because a sleeping passenger was sprawled across their seats a few rows away. After airline personnel told them to go back to their assigned seats, they complied, Hohl said; still, he said, law enforcement officers came in minutes later and escorted them off the plane.

“We did politely, quietly and without incident,” Hohl said. “We got to the gate and asked why, and they said because we were in the wrong seat and being disruptive.”

According to United, the seats Hohl and Maxwell had moved to were considered Economy Plus, an upgrade from the ones they had paid for. Schmerin, the United spokeswoman, said the airline asked the couple if they wanted to pay the difference in fare, but that they declined. United offered them a discounted rate at a hotel for Saturday night and rebooked them for a Sunday morning flight.

Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, said that neither federal air marshals nor TSA officers were involved in the incident.

The Washington Post was unable to reach Hohl and Maxwell on Monday. Their wedding is scheduled for Thursday, according to KHOU.

The incident came just days after a paying passenger was violently dragged off an overbooked United flight for refusing to give up his seat for an off-duty crew member.

]]> 0 Mon, 17 Apr 2017 21:10:40 +0000
Netflix nears 100 million global subscribers Mon, 17 Apr 2017 22:48:01 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Netflix is on the verge of surpassing 100 million global subscribers, a testament to how much the video streaming service has changed the entertainment landscape since its debut a decade ago.

The company will reach that milestone this weekend if its projections are correct. Netflix made the prediction Monday with the release of its first-quarter earnings.

The service added nearly 5 million subscribers during the first three months of the year, and will end March with 98.7 million customers in roughly 190 countries.


Over the past decade, “what really did it for Netflix was the explosion of phones and tablets that allowed people to watch video everywhere,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. “But Netflix clearly had a vision before those devices became so ubiquitous.”

About 51 million of Netflix’s subscribers are in the U.S. By the end of this year, Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson expects the majority of the company’s subscribers to be overseas. Netflix ended March with nearly 48 million subscribers outside the U.S.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings called the 100 million subscriber mark “a good start” in a letter reviewing the company’s first-quarter results.

The understated reaction reflects Hastings’ ambition to build the world’s largest video channel. The company’s progress toward reaching that goal has helped drive Netflix’s stock price progressively higher during the past five years, a stretch that has seen the video service add 72 million more subscribers.

Netflix currently has a market value of about $63 billion. Its stock rose $1.67 to $148.92 in Monday’s extended trading, even though subscriber growth during the first quarter came in slightly below management forecasts.


For all its success, Netflix still has a ways to go to catch up with HBO, the popular pay-TV channel that has served as its role model. HBO has 134 million subscribers worldwide, including viewers paying for an internet-only version of the channel that was inspired by Netflix’s success.

Other cable channels also are offering internet-only options as more viewers, especially younger people, eschew traditional TV packages and subscribe to streaming services instead.

The trend has confronted Netflix with more competition in the battle for household entertainment budgets. Netflix so far has answered the challenge by spending heavily on original shows such as “Stranger Things” and “House of Cards” and selling its service at a relatively low price. Netflix’s subscriptions range from $8 to $12 per month, with the most popular option at $10.

“The model works from a consumer perspective because it is such a good value,” Pachter said.


But Pachter and other analysts wonder how long Netflix will be able to hold the line on price as its programming costs rise in tandem with its appeal to a more diverse international audience. Movie and TV studios typically also demand more money as more people subscribe to channels to in an effort to make as much as possible off their content.

As it is, Netflix expects to spend about $6 billion on programming this year.

Netflix hasn’t given any inkling it will raise prices again. It lost some longtime U.S. subscribers after their rates went up by as much as $2 per month last year. Netflix had previously frozen prices for millions of subscribers at 2014 levels.

But if it wants to keep investors happy, the company eventually will have to improve its relatively low profit margin. The Los Gatos, California, company earned $178 million on revenue of $2.6 billion in the first quarter. Analysts predict Netflix will make $482 million on revenue of more than $11 billion for the entire year.

A costly international expansion has depressed Netflix’s profits. Netflix had piled up $1.5 billion in operating losses on its international operations until the first quarter, when its streaming service outside the U.S. posted an operating profit of $43 million. But the company expects to lose another $28 million internationally in the current quarter.

]]> 0 Mon, 17 Apr 2017 18:48:01 +0000
Project to transform ‘dead space’ at Portland’s Canal Plaza begins Mon, 17 Apr 2017 21:59:04 +0000 Work crews began a redevelopment of Canal Plaza in the heart of Portland’s Old Port on Monday.

The open plaza next to Middle Street is nestled between tall office buildings and has long featured concrete planters and trees and been used mostly as a cut-through to nearby office buildings and the lower Old Port.

The multimillion-dollar redesign will include the addition of a free-standing building and new landscaping that the owner hopes will make it a more vibrant space.

Owner Tim Soley, of East Brown Cow development company, plans to replace one of the planters and its six mature trees with a circular single-story building for use as a cafe or retail store. He also plans to replace the brick-and-concrete plaza with 17,000 square feet of granite and add benches and new trees.

The goal of the roughly $5 million project is to transform a “dead space” into a vibrant space ringed with retail, Soley told the Planning Board last summer. He described the plaza, which is sandwiched between Camden National Bank and Fidelity Investments, as unwelcoming to pedestrians and a place for homeless people to sleep and drink at night.

The proposal is a scaled-down version of an earlier plan that ran into resistance from the community and the Planning Board.

In 2011, Soley asked for a conditional rezoning that would allow him to build a single-story restaurant in the plaza, as well as rooftop additions to buildings at 1 and 3 Canal Plaza. Although detailed plans were not presented at the time, one drawing showed the restaurant occupying most of the open space.

The Planning Board recommended changing the zoning to allow for the rooftop additions, as long as the plaza remained open space. The board determined that fully developing the plaza would be at odds with the city’s comprehensive plan, which prioritizes the protection of open spaces in the downtown area. The proposal was never taken up by the City Council.

This time Soley proposed a smaller, 1,500-square-foot building roughly the size of the planter closest to the sidewalk, describing it as an accessory use to the plaza. As an accessory use, the building would not have to meet the minimum height requirement of 35 feet for downtown buildings.

Soley has said he hopes to encourage retail uses on the first floors of the office buildings surrounding the plaza.

The owner of Canal Plaza has described the current public space, now dominated by large trees in planters, as “pedestrian unfriendly.” Staff photo by Derek Davis

]]> 0, 18 Apr 2017 06:20:25 +0000
Augusta Civic Center expected to be profitable for 2nd year in a row Mon, 17 Apr 2017 19:57:01 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Augusta Civic Center is expected to turn a profit for the second year in a row, a milestone that officials say shows the growing strength of the local economy as more people attend events and spend money there.

The city-owned convention center and auditorium will likely finish the current fiscal year with a profit of between $40,000 and $50,000, Earl Kingsbury, director of the civic center, told city councilors during a recent budget workshop.

That won’t match the $272,000 in profits the civic center brought in the previous year, but continues the recent trend of the facility running “in the black.”

That isn’t the case every year, as sometimes it loses money, including as recently as 2015, when expenses exceeded revenues by $120,000.

Kingsbury said the civic center is getting new business, having booked about a dozen new events this year, most of which have also re-booked for the following year. But that much of the income growth is due to an increase in the number of people coming to existing conventions and conferences, adding money to catering and related revenues, he said.

“The big thing now is we’re running some of the same events, but when you have a conference that may have had 400 attendees, people are more comfortable now, with the economy, spending money, so now we have 600 attendees at that conference,” Kingsbury said. “So that’s 200 more meals we’re serving on that particular day. You have that with 20 different conferences, that’s 4,000 more meals. So the revenues are up.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said the building has run at a loss for several years, forcing the city to subsidize its operations with cash “loans” from the general fund, which, in years in which it makes a profit, is paid back to the city’s general fund. The civic center has about 100 employees, of which dozen or so are full-time.

Bridgeo said the amount the civic center “owes” to the general fund from past year’s losses is currently about $300,000.

“When the great recession hit in 2008 and 2009, the civic center, for several years, took a big hit and operated in the red and was subsidized from the general fund with IOUs,” Bridgeo told city councilors last week. “And it has been, in the last couple-three years, through the hard work of Earl Kingsbury and his dedicated staff, that they’ve climbed out of the red, gently into the black. The balance sheets are beginning to show as favorable. Not extravagantly so, but at least we’re not any longer in the situation where there is a subsidization going on anymore.

“So, on an overall basis, I think we can feel good that our city has this asset and we run it well and people love it, and it does contribute to the vitality of businesses throughout the city.”

Bridgeo said it is common for municipally owned facilities like the civic center, built in 1973, to be subsidized every year. He said the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, an 8,000-seat venue opened in 2013, is subsidized by the city of Bangor by thousands of dollars a year.

Bridgeo said municipalities often subsidize such buildings for the potential benefits they can bring, especially the positive financial impact on local businesses, as attendees at events spend money in the surrounding area.

“The whole idea of why the city owns and operates a civic center is to encourage private businesses in that area,” he said. “That’s why a government got into the business of a convention center instead of letting the private sector do it, 40 years ago. And that was so we could end up with something like the Marketplace at Augusta, which didn’t exist when the civic center was built. And the hotels and restaurants that feed the local economy.”

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said about half the civic center’s revenues are from rentals of the building itself, and half are from catering and concessions.

In recent years the civic center has relied more heavily on conventions and conferences for income as it has lost concert business to newer, larger facilities, including the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. However the Augusta facility does still host concerts, with shows coming up including country star Travis Tritt May 21 and classic rockers Marshall Tucker Band coming Sept. 23.

In next year’s proposed city budget, civic center revenues are projected to increase by about $49,000, a 1.81 percent increase, to $2.7 million. However, expenses are projected to increase by almost the same amount.

Within the city’s budget the civic center is considered, like Augusta State Airport and Hatch Hill Regional Landfill, an enterprise fund, intended to be self-supporting through user fees and charges.

Mayor David Rollins praised civic center staff for turning a profit at the building which includes more than 48,000 square feet of meeting space with 23 meeting rooms and a 24,576 square-foot main auditorium. He said it is a unique asset for Augusta.

“How many cities in New England of less than 20,000 people have a civic arena like this? I don’t think there are any,” Rollins said. “We’re working to be the best little city in New England. When you line up our assets, for a town this size, it’s quite remarkable. We’ve got our own airport, our own civic center … it’s amazing. Not just that we have it, but that it’s municipally-run. That’s something the community should be very proud of.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

Twitter: @kedwardskj

]]> 0 fill the main auditorium of the Augusta Civic Center on Jan. 27 for the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce awards. The city-owned convention center and auditorium will likely finish the current fiscal year with a profit of between $40,000 and $50,000, officials say.Tue, 18 Apr 2017 05:40:49 +0000
Maine construction firm Reed & Reed buys New Hampshire subcontractor Mon, 17 Apr 2017 18:21:13 +0000 Reed & Reed Inc. of Woolwich has purchased Farmington, New Hampshire-based PLC Construction for an undisclosed sum, the company said Monday.

Reed & Reed is a civil construction firm that has built bridges, marine facilities and energy infrastructure in Maine. Founded in 1928, the company has about 250 employees and generated revenue of about $125 million in 2016, according to its president and CEO, Jackson Parker.

PLC is a former subcontractor of Reed & Reed that builds electrical transmission infrastructure. Its workforce changes seasonally, with an average of about 40 workers, Parker said.

Under terms of the acquisition, all of PLC’s employees have joined Reed & Reed, including PLC’s former owner, Carl Haines, he said.

“Reed & Reed is extremely pleased to welcome Carl Haines and his exceptional crew to our company,” Parker said. “They have regularly performed subcontract work for us, and we’ve been impressed with the quality of their work, their on-time performance and their excellent safety record.”

PLC will continue to operate from its headquarters in Farmington, but as a division of Reed & Reed, he said.

Parker said the acquisition made sense because Reed & Reed has been getting contracts for wind energy projects, and electrical transmission is a major component of any wind project.

“As New England demands more clean energy generation and electric transmission to deliver new sources of clean energy to the markets, this acquisition made sense for a number of reasons,” he said. “Reed & Reed has expanded our portfolio over the past decade, building electric transmission and most of New England’s wind power generation facilities. Therefore, PLC was an obvious fit with our business.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Mon, 17 Apr 2017 21:11:01 +0000