The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Business Tue, 25 Oct 2016 21:01:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wind farms dealt a blow as Maine transmission projects lose out Tue, 25 Oct 2016 18:51:12 +0000 Ambitious plans to build massive, multibillion-dollar wind farms in northern Maine apparently were dealt a blow on Tuesday after a coalition of utilities and state agencies in southern New England failed to select two Maine-based transmission projects to meet the region’s clean-energy goals.

In a conference call for investors Tuesday, Jim Torgerson, the chief executive officer for Central Maine Power Co.’s parent company, Avangrid Inc., confirmed that the two projects didn’t make the cut.

One transmission line, a joint project with Emera Maine called the Maine Renewable Energy Interconnect, would have linked three wind farms in Aroostook County to the regional grid. They included a 600-megawatt wind farm called King Pine. Another involved two projects called Number Nine Wind Farm and Horse Mountain, which would add up to 650 megawatts. Together, they would have been the biggest wind farms in New England, serving hundreds of thousands of homes.

Spokespeople for Pattern Energy, which had the development rights for King Pine, and EDP Renewables, which is working on Number Nine and Horse Mountain, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. But the need for the transmission project to connect them to the regional grid was confirmed by CMP.

“Those wind projects need a solution to get out,” said John Carroll, a CMP spokesman. “This would have been it. We continue to believe those are great resources, and at some point there will be viable way of getting that line built.”

That view was echoed by Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

“It’s too early to assess what it means,” he said. “But there’s no question northern Maine continues to be an economic opportunity, and it’s just a matter of time until these resources are unlocked for Maine and the rest of New England.”

The head of a citizen group that has been fighting wind turbine expansion on Maine’s forested ridgelines expressed satisfaction, however.

“There has to be a better solution to meeting southern New England’s renewable needs than turning Maine’s pristine landscape into wind plantations,” said Richard McDonald, president of Saving Maine.


Last November, a consortium of agencies and electric utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island issued a request for proposals for energy projects that would help them meet their clean-energy goals and fight climate change. They’re looking for roughly 600 megawatts of new, renewable capacity. That’s nearly the output of the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts, which serves 500,000 homes and is set to close in 2019.

The RFP process, called New England Clean Energy RFP, attracted two-dozen bids. Ten involved projects in Maine. Seven were wind power projects, but included in the mix were large-scale solar arrays, battery storage and transmission projects.

The process of evaluating the bids has been highly secretive.

Public versions of the bids were released in February. An evaluation team that included consultants and roughly three-dozen staffers from Eversource Energy, National Grid, Unitil and United Illuminating Co. was scheduled to make its selection by late July. That date was moved back to October.

On Monday, the Clean Energy RFP website announced that bidders had been contacted, but that winners and losers wouldn’t be identified until contracts with power companies were submitted, likely in March.

In addition to the northern Maine project, a second CMP project connecting wind farms in western Maine, called the Maine Clean Energy Connection, also was rejected, according to Torgerson. It wasn’t immediately clear if the wind projects associated with that line — Somerset Wind near Moosehead Lake and two wind farms near Eustis proposed by NextEra Energy — could access the grid without the CMP upgrade.

In the conference call, Avangrid’s chief executive for networks, Bob Kump, expressed his view that the transmission projects would have a second chance next spring. Under a landmark bill passed in Massachusetts, the state will be seeking bids for roughly 1,200 megawatts of hydropower, onshore wind and solar, as well as an unprecedented request for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind, the largest commitment by any state.

This story will be updated.

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Volkswagen emissions settlement approved with car owner buybacks Tue, 25 Oct 2016 15:33:42 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in San Francisco has approved a $15 billion court settlement of most claims against Volkswagen for its emissions-cheating scandal.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer signed the order Tuesday approving the largest auto-scandal settlement in the nation’s history.

About 475,000 owners of VWs and Audis with 2-liter four-cylinder diesel engines now will be able to seek buybacks of their vehicles starting next Tuesday.

Most of the owners are expected to sell their cars back to VW after the company acknowledged cheating on emissions testing and putting dirty cars on the road. In addition to having their cars bought back, owners can each get cash payments of $5,100 to $10,000.

“The settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate,” Breyer wrote in his order, posted Tuesday morning by the court.

VW will pay attorney fees and costs, including up to $324 million in fees and $8.5 million in out-of-pocket costs.

The settlement releases legal claims from most of the 2-liter VW owners, but it doesn’t affect larger 3-liter six-cylinder diesels, which also cheated on tests. The settlement also doesn’t end any claims against parts supplier Robert Bosch, which drew up the cheating software.

The order says that 336,612 owners of 2-liter diesels have registered for the settlement and 3,298 have opted out.

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Trump brand appears to be losing luster with affluent Tue, 25 Oct 2016 14:56:14 +0000 NEW YORK — Event planner Beth Bernstein decided she had had enough with Donald Trump after his 2005 hot-mic boasts about groping women came to light earlier this month. She removed photos of weddings she had thrown at a Trump hotel in Chicago from her website, wrote to hotel staff to remove her from the list of “preferred vendors” and posted a sort of call to arms on her blog.

“I simply cannot bring myself to walk in the door there any longer,” wrote the owner of SQN Events.

Bernstein is not alone. Rates for rooms at Trump’s new D.C. hotel are being slashed as travelers weigh their options, and smartphone data suggest fewer people are visiting his properties compared to rival venues nearby.

The Republican nominee for president is in danger of losing not just the election, but something dear to a man who claims the marketing value of his name alone is worth $3 billion: the many customers, mostly wealthy, who have stayed at his hotels, played a round at his golf courses or held galas at his oceanside resorts.

At Trump Place in Manhattan, 328 people have signed a petition to remove his name from the building, which he no longer owns. “People are embarrassed to say where they live,” one signer says. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Experts say the Trump brand is tarnished and at a tricky crossroads as his appeal shifts from the well-heeled, high-income people he has long courted to a more middle-class base, including the fervent fans he cultivated during the campaign.

There is speculation that he could start a Trump media network as a right-wing alternative to major news outlets, drawing money from advertisers to make up for any weakness in his empire elsewhere. But he may have to pivot fast.

“The current trajectory is very harmful to his businesses,” said Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University. “Right now his brands cater to the affluent, who are disproportionately turned off by his activities.”

Ever confident, the business mogul has denied his campaign has dimmed the gilded allure of his five-lettered name and has said, if anything, it has burnished the brand and boosted his business. In a statement, Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing at the Trump Organization, said: “The Trump brand remains incredibly strong and we are seeing tremendous success across business units.”

That’s not clear, though, at Trump’s new hotel in Washington, which Trump has declared the “best” in the city. It appears to have gotten off to a slow start.

A room at the Trump International Hotel with a king size bed and a city view could have been yours any night of the week starting Nov. 14 for about $505 or $555, according to a check of the hotel’s website last week. By contrast, five major luxury competitors in the city generally charged more — sometimes hundreds of dollars more — or were sold out. For instance, the St. Regis only had rooms starting at $975 on Monday and Tuesday. The Four Seasons in Georgetown had no rooms available at any price for those days, and the Jefferson Hotel for those two days plus Wednesday.

Rates at the Trump hotel have continued to sink, too: By the end of last week, the price of many Trump rooms had been cut by 10 percent or more.

The managing director of Trump’s new hotel, which the candidate will formally open with a ribbon-cutting on Wednesday, disputes that it is struggling.

“With 10 years of experience with Trump Hotels, I can easily say the opening of Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C., has been the most successful in terms of opening bookings, interest from groups and large events,” said Mickael Damelincourt in a statement. “The building itself is an American icon, and we’ve created a world-class hotel with the largest luxury ballroom in Washington, D.C.”

Some customers are clearly turned off by Trump’s derogatory remarks about women and immigrants, though, and the fallout is spreading beyond the hotels.

A woman angry about Trump’s groping comments, and that his daughter still supports him, has created the hashtag “GrabYourWallet” on Twitter to boycott the Ivanka Trump Collection, which includes handbags, shoes, jewelry and clothes. On Monday alone it was viewed more than half a million times.

Some charities, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation are considering moving events from Trump’s properties, including the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. The U.S. Golf Association faces pressure from protests to move the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open from a course owned by Trump, although no decisions have been made. video of Trump children talking about the Trump brand

It’s difficult to know how any future loss of hotel bookings and weddings, charity galas and tournaments could hurt Trump, because his businesses are privately held. But he is vulnerable because so much rides on his name. Unlike his golf courses, in which he has heavily invested, many Trump hotels and residential towers are owned by others who pay him to place his name over the entrance and for marketing and management services — and could possibly cut him out someday.

That’s already being threatened at Trump Place in Manhattan. A petition to remove his name from the building, which he does not own, has gotten 328 names in a few days. One of the signers, Marjorie Jacobs, said the pressure has already led to new uniforms for doormen and other staff, ones that will no longer bear the Trump name.

“He’s disgusting, and people are embarrassed to say where they live,” she said.

Brand Keys, a research firm that polled 1,536 registered voters nationwide, said Trump’s comments about groping women has sent the premium you can charge for something bearing the Trump name down sharply.

“How consumers feel about the brand and whether or not they’re more or less likely to engage with it has been affected,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys. “People see a brand that had an image based on a glamorous lifestyle and a lot of money, and that is being been reevaluated by people.”

Foursquare, which tracks people’s locations via their smartphones, said share of foot traffic at Trump branded businesses is down since Trump started his run in June 2015. Prior to Trump’s presidential bid, foot traffic to his golf properties, hotels, resorts and other properties, both those owned by him and those just bearing his name, was steady year-over-year. According to its most recent data, share of foot traffic was down 19 percent in September, compared with 2014, before Trump announced his candidacy.

In a statement, Eric Danziger, CEO of Trump Hotels, a collection of more than dozen hotels, called the Foursquare data “manipulated” and “inconsequential,” and said it does not “provide an accurate representation of our performance.”

Not all the data point to a slowdown. After several big-name brands including NBC, Macy’s and others severed ties in July 2015 following Trump’s derogatory remarks about Mexican immigrants, but there has been no similar high-profile exodus since.

And the home listing site Streeteasy compared prices for Trump-branded condos in 16 buildings in Manhattan to similar ones nearby and has found no evidence the brand has been damaged. In fact, Trump condos sold for 5.6 percent more in August than they did a year earlier, versus a drop for rivals.

Still, there’s evidence of a shift of Trump’s demographic base, from the affluent to the more aspirational middle class.

Will Johnson, an analyst at research firm BAV Consulting, which monitors brand perception for 3,500 brands, said that the Trump brand was “collapsing” among people with a household income of over $100,000 a year.

“He really has alienated the upper socioeconomic group and the data has consistently shown that he is down on pretty much all the metrics we measure,” Johnson said. “He’s low on trust and high on arrogance.”

On the other hand, his brand is resonating more among those who make less than $100,000 a year. During the first nine months of the year, among that group, there was a 21 percent rise in people who think Donald Trump “cares about customers” and a 14 percent increase in those who think he is a “visionary,” according to BAV.

Some say Trump could capitalize on that shift.

“In the short run, business gets damaged, but in the long run there’s a lot of opportunity with less aspirational brands that target the middle- and lower-class,” NYU’s Galloway said. “I think the Trump brand effectively dies in a Manhattan, but it thrives in some of the lower income, very red regions.”

One way to do that: start a conservative media network, as some analysts have floated.

“He could start the ultimate ‘bro’ news network that caters to his core constituency,” Galloway said. “He could out-offend Fox.”

One hurdle: He would have to get a major cable or satellite company to give him bandwidth, and there isn’t much to go around. He could launch on a smaller scale on social media using Facebook or YouTube.

The biggest test of the brand, of course, will come Nov. 8. National polls show Hillary Clinton with a clear advantage over Trump, and possibly winning even traditional Republican states such as Arizona.

“I think at some point, probably after he loses the election, that we’ll do a reevaluation of what the brand means and what the brand stands for,” Brand Key’s Passikoff said. “You can’t continue the kind of activities and have these revelations without significantly affecting how the people see the brand. The man and the brand are inseparable.”

AP writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.

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U.S. home prices rose in August, lifted by dwindling supply Tue, 25 Oct 2016 14:32:51 +0000 WASHINGTON – U.S. home prices climbed at a solid pace in August as more home buyers competed for fewer available properties.

The Standard & Poor’s CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5.1 percent in August, after a 5 percent gain in July. Portland, Seattle and Denver reported the strongest year-over-year increases for the seventh month in a row, with gains of 11.7 percent, 11.4 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.

Steady hiring, low mortgage rates and some early signs of rising pay have encouraged more Americans to buy homes. Sales of existing properties increased 3.2 percent in September from August, the National Association of Realtors said last week.

Yet the number of homes for sale has fallen nearly 7 percent from a year ago, the NAR said. Just 2.04 million homes were for sale in September.

“Demand is high and enthusiasm for homeownership remains strong, especially among all-important young, minority and would-be first-time buyers,” Svenja Gudell, chief economist at real estate data provider Zillow, said. “Still, the market can’t stay on this course forever, and continued inventory shortages are leading to intense competition, escalating prices and mounting buyer frustration, with the average home search over the past year taking more than four months.”

The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The August figures are the latest available.

Developers are building more new homes, but not quickly enough to restrain price increases. Builders broke ground on 783,000 single-family homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in September, up 5.4 percent from a year earlier. Apartment construction fell sharply.

Many institutional investors bought homes after prices fell sharply in the housing bust and are continuing to rent them out, rather than sell them.

Home prices rose 8.1 percent in Dallas from a year ago, 7.1 percent in Miami, and 6.7 percent in San Francisco. All 20 cities recorded price increased from a year earlier.

Home prices plunged 35 percent from their peak in July 2006 until they bottomed out in March 2012. They have since risen to just 7.2 percent below the peak.

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On the job: Metro bus driver brightens the day Tue, 25 Oct 2016 08:00:20 +0000 Even before Mark Shapp was hired as a Metro bus driver three years ago, he knew all of the Metro routes by heart.

Shapp grew up on Forest Avenue in Portland and started riding Metro buses when he was 5 years old. Over time, he became friends with many of the drivers.

“A lot of the older drivers remember me as a kid,” he said.

Metro bus driver Mark Shapp fastens a strap to secure Joe Kilbride's wheelchair while driving route 9B in Portland.

Metro bus driver Mark Shapp fastens a strap to secure Joe Kilbride’s wheelchair while driving route 9B in Portland.

His favorite part of the job is connecting with the passengers.

“I like to interact with the people and make their day a little brighter,” he said. “I throw in a little humor.”

For instance, when Shapp approaches a stop near a veterinary clinic, he meows. When he announces that the bus is passing by the B&M Baked Beans plant, he adds a long “Yummm.”

He said that driving in the city can be stressful sometimes when traffic is heavy or in icy winter conditions. Mostly though, Shapp said he feels lucky to get paid to drive the buses that he rode as a kid.

“It’s a critical service. I’m proud to be able to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s a fun job.”

Metro bus driver Mark Shapp is reflected in a mirror of a bus while driving Route 9B in Portland.

Metro bus driver Mark Shapp is reflected in a mirror of a bus while driving Route 9B in Portland.

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Some West Enders fighting plan to raise height limit for new waterfront warehouse Tue, 25 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Officials seek a zoning change to allow a cold storage facility on the western waterfront; critics say it will ruin views.

City officials want to raise the cap on building heights along Portland’s western waterfront to make room for a new high-tech cold-storage warehouse at the International Marine Terminal that port officials say is needed to support the growth of the food and beverage, biomedical and pharmaceutical industries.

But some West End residents are fighting the proposed height increase to 70 feet, saying plans for the Americold facility, which they describe as a 3-acre white box, will ruin the view. Most new cold-storage facilities are 36 to 40 feet tall, and buildable under the waterfront’s current maximum height allowance of 45 feet, they say.

Mark McCain of Summer Street, who lives two blocks from the warehouse site, said the hulking “white blight” would destroy a dynamic river view.

“Americold has unveiled plans for the largest eyesore to ever call the Portland peninsula home: a white box, 70 feet tall, spanning almost 3 acres,” he wrote in an Oct. 21 letter to opinion page at the Portland Press Herald. “At the gateway to Portland’s waterfront, this looming hulk would offend residents and visitors alike.”

The height-increase proposal, which would raise the cap to just shy of the Casco Bay Bridge’s deck, will be introduced at a Planning Board workshop Tuesday at about 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at 389 Congress St. Americold already has unveiled its conceptual plans – and its argument for why a building that tall will help it maximize efficiency – to neighbors during a community group meeting this month. The city also plans a neighborhood meeting on Nov. 3.

Eli Dale works in her yard on Summer Street. She says she got permission to remove trees across the street, but hasn't bothered because the planned Americold facility would block views of the water.

Eli Dale works in her yard on Summer Street. She says she got permission to remove trees across the street, but hasn’t bothered because the planned Americold facility would block views of the water.

The height amendment is just one of several regulatory hurdles that Americold, the world’s largest cold-storage company, must overcome to break ground on the 120,000-square-foot warehouse it wants to build on 6.3 acres of state-owned land at the International Marine Terminal on West Commercial Street. Americold had hoped to start construction this year, but it is now aiming for a June groundbreaking.

Both the city and the state have been promoting industrial and port activity along Portland’s western waterfront for decades, and have funded purchases and improvements there to increase railroad, highway and marine transportation connections that will lead to increased cargo traffic, economic growth and jobs, according to John Henshaw, the director of Maine Port Authority, and Bill Needelman, the city’s waterfront coordinator.

The cold-storage facility will provide the refrigeration needed for fish processors and distributors on the waterfront, Henshaw said. It also will create the conditions needed for development of a secondary food-processing industry and refrigeration-dependent industries like produce, biomedical and pharmaceuticals, Henshaw said.

“Maine needs infrastructure to increase production and jobs,” Henshaw said. “This cold-storage facility will support those objectives.”


Americold says that it needs to build up to at least 68 feet to attain the 15,800-pallet storage capacity it needs to efficiently store refrigerated cargo. The horizontal footprint of the building is constrained by a number of factors, including the size of the site, the shoreline, the location of the rail lines that make the site logistically valuable, and space for trucks to maneuver, according to the height increase application.

Essentially, Americold says it has no choice but to go up if it wants satisfy its business model: 55 feet of clear space from the finished warehouse floor, which is level with the height of truck loading docks; to the bottom of the roof, which must be sloped to satisfy architectural load requirements. All that means a building that is at least 68 feet tall, Americold tells the city.

Americold claims any reduction in building height will cause the loss of an entire layer of pallets, which would significantly reduce storage capacity.

Needelman said the city’s current 45-foot building height limitations are proving “overly restrictive” to conform with policies to increase jobs and business at the port.

“If the buildings are too small, we can’t take advantage of our investments in public transportation resources,” Needelman said. That led the city economic development office, where Needelman works, to seek the building height increase. “Providing higher buildings for all permitted uses provides clear and fair direction for both the opportunities we know, such as Americold, and those which may come forward later.”


Another tenant on the western waterfront, an 89-acre zone that runs from the Casco Bay Bridge to Veterans Bridge, has complained about the 45-foot building height limits. Portland Yacht Services, a boat repair facility, told city staff it would like to expand to service big local vessels such as the Casco Bay Lines ferries, which now travel to Boothbay, Belfast or Rhode Island for service.

Needelman acknowledges the Americold request has prompted concern from some neighbors, but city officials claim that no one would lose their entire water view if the maximum building height is increased. They also note that the site used to have a coal gasification plant, whose towers extended above the Million Dollar Bridge, the forerunner to the Casco Bay Bridge.

“Some neighbors are understandably worried about views from their homes,” Needelman said. “They are letting us know. Any development close to the water will impact views. We’ll work with our neighbors, the Planning Board and the City Council to understand the relative difference between the current allowances and proposed changes.”

The city has submitted three options for the Planning Board’s consideration. The city would like the board to raise the maximum building height to 70 feet, which is roughly seven stories, for any building allowed in the western waterfront zone. But if the board considers that too lenient, it also has suggested alternatives that would allow the increase only for a cold-storage facility such as Americold’s.

Any increase in waterfront building heights would trigger a Planning Board public hearing and, if approved, require approval from the City Council, Needelman said. If the city’s request is granted, Americold would still need zoning board approval of its site plan, but that would likely come far easier, with everything it would be seeking to do already allowed by zoning regulations.

Because it isn’t downtown, and is not deemed a historic district, the western waterfront has no design review process. That means Americold would not be subject to any requirement for beautification or landscaping efforts to make the building blend into the neighborhood. The property is at least 500 feet from the nearest residence, according to city calculations.


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Westbrook signals it might ban pot businesses if Question 1 passes Tue, 25 Oct 2016 01:51:39 +0000 Westbrook is one of the first Maine cities to signal it might ban marijuana stores and social clubs if referendum Question 1 passes on the Nov. 8 ballot.

On Monday night, the Westbrook City Council took a first vote unanimously in favor of a 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana facilities in anticipation of legalization. The city would use that time to establish regulations for those businesses if there isn’t an outright ban, and a second and final vote will take place Nov. 7, the night before the election.

Already a majority of the seven councilors have expressed interest in banning from Westbrook any facilities for selling, growing, testing or using recreational marijuana.

“So right now, obviously possessing marijuana is illegal in Westbrook because it’s illegal,” said council President Brendan Rielly, who represents Ward 1. “If the referendum passes, that becomes legal, and there’s nothing we can do about that. The only thing we can ban is the social clubs, the marijuana establishments.”

Rielly said he opposes legalization because he considers marijuana a “gateway drug” to other substances, and he predicted the costs of licensing and regulating the recreational marijuana businesses would be a burden on Westbrook taxpayers.

Supporters of legalization have argued marijuana will still be sold on the black market in towns that ban businesses licensed by the state. However, they also acknowledge local control is an important part of the proposal.

If the referendum is approved, adults would be allowed to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana and six flowering plants. Local communities would be permitted to restrict recreational marijuana businesses to certain zones or pass outright bans on those businesses, although private marijuana use and possession would still be legal.

Westbrook is one of several communities taking action in anticipation of the vote. The town council in Gray and the City Council in Brewer already have adopted moratoriums to allow the towns to establish regulations on clubs and retail establishments where marijuana could be sold or consumed. The town of Cumberland is considering doing the same.

No members of the public spoke at Monday’s meeting. Mayor Colleen Hilton asked whether the moratorium would impact any businesses operating in Westbrook related to medical marijuana, but the city’s attorney said they would not be disrupted.

Rielly also voiced his hope for a ban during an Oct. 17 committee meeting. Westbrook police Chief Janine Roberts agreed with him, as did three other councilors — Ward 2’s Victor Chau, Ward 3’s Anna Turcotte and Ward 5’s Michael Sanphy.

“I do not want to live in a city where my children can freely smoke marijuana, and I would absolutely support banning it,” Turcotte said.

At-large Councilor John O’Hara was more skeptical during that discussion, recalling the 2011 passage of a law that lifted the ban on fireworks in Maine. At the time, many communities including Westbrook scrambled to pass local ordinances to prohibit the use of fireworks.

“We can go to Scarborough and buy fireworks, and we can go to Portland and buy fireworks, and we can go to Standish and buy fireworks,” O’Hara said. “So realistically if our neighbors decide not to enact a ban on (recreational marijuana facilities), then we can travel to a nearby community to pursue this product, to bring it back here and use it.”

A Portland Press Herald poll of 505 likely voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center last month found 53 percent were in favor of Question 1 and 38 percent were opposed.

Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Maine is one of eight additional states will vote on legalization next month.

Even as Westbrook moves closer to a moratorium, Rielly said he hopes Question 1 is defeated.

“I hope we don’t have to do anything on a local level,” Rielly said. “I hope it fails on Nov. 8. If it doesn’t, I hope we will ban it.”

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Agency provides guidance to automakers for building hacking defenses into vehicles Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:45:49 +0000 Less than a week after one of the most massive cyberattacks in U.S. history, federal officials want to ensure that hackers won’t be able to invade the computers that increasingly control automobiles.

Guidelines issued for automakers and developers Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledge that protecting increasingly autonomous cars from cyberattack will be an ongoing battle.

“In the constantly changing environment of technology and cybersecurity, no single or static approach is sufficient,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement released with the new guidance. “Everyone involved must keep moving, adapting and improving to stay ahead of the bad guys.”

The NHTSA guidance suggests a layered series of protections that will prevent a vehicle from misbehaving, even when its cyber defenses are penetrated. The goal of the guidance is to make sure cybersecurity is a key part of designing cars in a world where hackers and foreign powers are all hungry to reach into whatever electronic realm they can, for fun, profit or strategic advantage.

The motives of hackers are as varied as their goals. For some, it’s simply to overcome cyber barriers that are established to thwart them. For others, it could be to disrupt the U.S. transportation system.

“It’s like building a 10-foot wall, and somebody builds an 11-foot ladder,” said Paul Brubaker, chairman of the recently formed Alliance for Transportation Innovation.

That said, there are myriad ways to keep hackers from taking control of cars, according to Brubaker. Some of it should be adapted from the military and intelligence communities, areas with which he became familiar when serving as a deputy assistant secretary of defense.

“The knowledge exists to provide state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection to the fleet,” Brubaker said. “The question is, will the industry lean into their discomfort and embrace it.”

One challenge is simply defining “the industry.”

The players who are developing semi-autonomous and truly driverless vehicles range from Google, which has vast experience in defending against hackers, to traditional automakers, whose focus has been more on selling cars than fending off cyberattacks.

“I think the department has given industry an excellent opportunity to step up to the plate,” Brubaker said. “I’d like to see some input from folks who are working in the software-defined network world as well as the software-defined radio world to help the department develop some more refined guidance.”

The cyber world had a sobering moment last year when two researchers successfully hacked into a Jeep Cherokee, disabling the brakes and transmission to demonstrate the vehicle’s vulnerability. They entered the car electronically through its self-parallel parking feature. Chrysler later issued a software patch to fix the flaw.

Just as federal officials put up out-sized planters around government buildings to prevent attacks, and Internet companies have invested in ways to counter hackers, the goal of the guidance is to “harden the vehicle’s electronic architecture” against potential attacks.

To do that, there’s a lot of talk about being “risk based,” which basically just means companies should be deliberate about figuring out where things might go particularly bad and focus on those first. The non-binding federal guidance recommends that cyber protections start with “safety-critical vehicle control systems” – things like brakes, acceleration and steering – along with “personally identifiable information.”

One key step is “creating an inventory” of “all vehicles and vehicle equipment that have some form of connectivity to each other or to other services,” the guidelines say. Once risks are identified, companies should also put in place “rapid detection and remediation capabilities,” according to the voluntary “best practices.”

“If a cyber attack is detected, the safety risk to vehicle occupants and surrounding road users should be mitigated and the vehicle should be transitioned to a reasonable risk state,” the guidance says.

Which translates to: Figure out what’s happening and find a way to cut the danger fast. Of course, that’s easier said than done, which makes this such a fraught area.

Documenting threats and attacks, and sharing information with others in industry as well as outside researchers and the public, is key, the document says. Companies should use “penetration tests” to probe their own soft spots.

Based on its own research, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offered a list of specific dangers to avoid.

For example, software developers often have doorways into a car’s basic electronic systems, which are useful for fixing bugs. But those doorways should be locked down or sealed once the cars hit the road, the guidance says.

Also, the encryption keys or passwords that give access to car computers “should not provide access to multiple vehicles,” according to the federal advice.

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Oct 2016 20:45:49 +0000
Subway pitchman’s ex-wife sues restaurant chain Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:40:00 +0000 NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — The ex-wife of former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle is suing the restaurant chain for damages, saying the company received at least three reports indicating his sexual interest in children but failed to take proper action and continued promoting him as its spokesman.

Katie McLaughlin said at a news conference Monday that she filed the lawsuit in Hamilton County Superior Court because she has questions about Subway’s actions and inactions and wants to someday have answers for her two children, who are now 3 and 5 years old.

“Questions like: What did Subway know? When did they know it? What investigations did they conduct? Did they ever notify the authorities?” said McLaughlin, who was “shocked” to learn the accusations against her husband.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges Subway allowed Fogle to spend significant time in elementary schools promoting the chain after learning of allegations against him beginning in 2004.

“Finding out your husband and the father of your children is a child predator and knowing that his job involved visiting schools on a regular basis is devastating,” McLaughlin said.

]]> 4, 24 Oct 2016 20:40:00 +0000
AT&T-Time Warner deal: All you need to know Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:01:33 +0000 You may have heard that AT&T is buying Time Warner for a whopping $85.4 billion, in a deal that could bring sweeping changes to the information and entertainment economies. If you’re just catching up on the news, here’s a short rundown, in plain English, that’ll get you up to speed.

Q: Back up a second. Who’s buying what, now?

A: AT&T, the nation’s second-largest wireless carrier, is buying Time Warner, the storied media titan that owns HBO, CNN and TBS. In an unprecedented step, the deal is going to combine a gigantic telecom operator – which also happens to be the largest pay-TV company – and a massive producer of entertainment content.

Q: What does that mean?

A: It means that for millions of Americans, AT&T will control both the pipes of distribution and much of the shows, movies and other content that travels through the pipes. It’s hard to overstate the significance of this move, both in terms of scale and in terms of the ripple effects this will have on Hollywood, the cable industry, the cellular industry and the broadband industry.

In other words, AT&T may be about to own a huge trove of some of the most recognizable names in media. This is a big moment, because anytime you watch anything owned by Time Warner, that’ll be money in AT&T’s pocket. It’ll put AT&T in direct competition with companies such as Netflix and Amazon, giving it a big incentive to use its content and distribution platform as leverage against them. And it could spur a frenzy of other acquisitions, driving even more consolidation in the industry.

Q: Does this mean there will be more options with Time Warner’s cable packages?

A: Whoops – you’re probably thinking of Time Warner Cable, which is actually an entirely different company.

Time Warner, by contrast, is almost purely a content business. You don’t buy cable service from them.

It may help to think of the two by their stock symbols: Time Warner goes by TWX, and Time Warner Cable went by TWC – until April, that is, when TWC sold itself to Charter Communications.

Q: OK, so AT&T is going to be massive. Does anyone think this is a bad idea?

A: The deal is already drawing loud protests from politicians on both ends of the ideological spectrum, at a time when national conversations about inequality have made critiquing large businesses a matter of populist appeal. U.S. lawmakers are already calling for an antitrust hearing on the issue.

The reaction from business analysts seems mixed; while many agree that buying up content is a natural move for telcos in an era of rapid convergence, some, such as Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson, say it has only a 50-50 chance of succeeding with regulators.

As for the presidential candidates – who by appointing government officials will help shape the regulatory bodies charged with overseeing the deal – both appear wary of letting AT&T get what it wants too easily. Donald Trump has said he’d try to block the deal. Hillary Clinton “certainly thinks regulators should look at it,” according to spokesman Brian Fallon. Reviewing the acquisition will likely be the Justice Department and possibly the Federal Communications Commission.

Q: What kind of content does Time Warner actually own?

A: Take HBO, for example. Underneath the HBO umbrella are shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld” and “True Detective.” Got HBO Now? The $15 a month you pay could soon belong to AT&T.

Do you watch CNN for coverage of missing planes, political debates and enormous hurricanes? All the ad revenue will go toward AT&T’s bottom line.

Ever log onto the Bleacher Report for sports news? Read anything in the DC Comics universe? Play the “The Witcher” series of video games? Watch the Harry Potter films, or the “Lord of the Rings” films, or anything else produced by Warner Bros.?

AT&T wants to own all of that stuff.

Q: Whoa. So AT&T would have a huge role in media and entertainment.

A: Precisely. From the creative process at Time Warner to the production of content to the distribution and marketing of that material to consumers, AT&T would be a major player from start to finish. It’d involve some new costs for AT&T – it’s never been involved in content production like this – but the company is betting it can recoup those costs many times over.

Q: How will it do that?

A: In two main ways. First, it wants to make AT&T’s wireless network the best place to find all of Time Warner’s content – and lure in customers that way. Americans are shifting a huge amount of their entertainment consumption to mobile screens. If AT&T can get its tablet users to stream HBO Now as opposed to content it doesn’t own, AT&T effectively gets paid twice: once for the use of cellular data, and once for the subscription revenue from HBO. Extend that across all of AT&T’s 133 million cellular connections and numerous content sources it’ll own through Time Warner, and that’s a lot of new potential revenue.

Second, it’ll earn even more money by studying its customers’ content consumption. Because AT&T collects a ton of data about how its customers use its services, that behavioral information could help AT&T sell targeted ads that are more lucrative than standard advertisements. With Time Warner’s assets, AT&T will learn even more about people’s preferences.

Q: What will this mean for competition and choices?

A: Here’s where it starts to get really interesting. AT&T could charge other companies for the rights to air, say, “Inception” on their networks, or for the use of the Superman brand. Left unchecked, AT&T could abuse this power and force other Web companies, other cable companies, other content companies or even consumers to accept terms they otherwise would never agree to.

This is why AT&T’s deal will receive close examination from federal regulators. If things go the way Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal did in 2011, AT&T’s deal could be approved if it agrees to several conditions aimed at making sure the deal doesn’t harm competition.

Q: What might those conditions look like?

A: Hard to say; they’re usually specific to the deal. But they could, for example, ban AT&T from saying to consumers, “Look, come to our wireless service and we’ll let you stream as much HBO as you want at no charge.” Or it could try to disadvantage its competitors’ own content on AT&T’s platform. Regulators may conclude that these kinds of arrangement could disproportionately hurt AT&T’s rivals.

There is a twist to this, though: Some antitrust experts say that in order to impose the most effective conditions, the FCC has to be involved in the review. It’s not entirely clear, however, whether that will be the case here.

That’s because the FCC only reviews acquisitions in which there are assets at stake that it regulates. In this case, Time Warner owns just one TV station in Atlanta that it could easily spin off, excluding it from the deal and effectively cutting off the FCC’s jurisdiction over the acquisition.

Because the FCC is better equipped to create limits and continue to monitor anticompetitive business practices from AT&T – as opposed to the Justice Department, which generally looks at the makeup or structure of a deal – losing the FCC from the process could weaken the government’s ability to ensure that adequate competition is preserved.

]]> 0, 24 Oct 2016 21:11:20 +0000
EU, Canada say trade deal still possible Mon, 24 Oct 2016 22:43:15 +0000 BRUSSELS — The European Union and Canada tried to remain upbeat Monday about the prospects for their trans-Atlantic free trade pact despite a small Belgian region persisting in its refusal to back the deal under the current conditions.

After the setback early Monday, EU President Donald Tusk and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke by telephone and the EU leader said afterward “there’s yet time” to find a compromise solution.

A joint summit for signing the long-delayed trade deal is scheduled for Thursday, offering the two leaders and Belgian officials little time to persuade the Wallonia region to drop its opposition.

Without all Belgian regions supporting the agreement, Belgium cannot sign and the EU needs unanimity from all of its 28 member states.

“We think Thursday’s summit is still possible,” Tusk said in a Twitter message. “We encourage all parties to find a solution.”

Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland says she, too, is still hopeful that a Canada-EU trade deal can be salvaged, but “the ball is in Europe’s court.”

“Canada’s job is done,” Freeland told a hastily assembled news conference in the foyer of Canada’s House of Commons.

The expressed optimism that a deal could be secured within days came as a surprise because Wallonia had said it has too many concerns with the pact to overcome by Thursday.

The EU’s inability to sign would be a major embarrassment and undermine the belief that the world’s biggest trading bloc is a trustworthy partner as it seeks similar deals with nations like the United States and Japan.

Prospects for a signing ceremony Thursday looked as good as dead Monday afternoon when Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel admitted he could not get unanimity amid Belgium’s half dozen regions and legislatures.

“We have been asked to give a clear answer today” on whether Belgium could sign up as the last of 28 member states, Michel said after meeting with Wallonia leader Paul Magnette. “And the clear answer, at this stage, is no.”

Even though Michel is eager to sign the deal, Belgium’s byzantine constitutional setup means every single region in the country needs to back it, not only the national government. As a result, opposition from a region of 3.5 million could now nix a deal between over 500 million EU citizens and 35 million Canadians.

The EU’s Executive Commission called for patience in an attempt to save the free trade deal and had already dismissed a Monday night deadline as counterproductive.

Magnette insisted he would agree to nothing under the threat of an ultimatum but remained open to further talks.


]]> 0 Mon, 24 Oct 2016 19:47:02 +0000
Portland to host event to help immigrants find work Mon, 24 Oct 2016 21:02:07 +0000 Portland is hosting its first-ever daylong conference to help immigrants find jobs within the local economy.

The conference, “Economic Necessity: Workforce Development and Immigrant Integration,” is set for Wednesday. Its point is to help the city attract and retain a vibrant, multicultural and educated workforce.

The initiative came from one of the City Council’s goals to assist new Americans and new Mainers with job opportunities and business development.

“Our goal here in Portland is to integrate disadvantaged residents into our local economy so that they can create a path for their own success and for businesses to have the employees they need for the future,” said Councilor David Brenerman, chairman of the Economic Development Committee. “We want to remove barriers for immigrants and disadvantaged residents to enter the workforce and make sure they have the tools and training they need to find gainful employment. The more we coordinate and collaborate on this effort, the more successful employers and job seekers will be.”

Several reports compiled by the Maine Department of Labor have called for initiatives to attract more immigrants to Maine’s shrinking workforce. The state is caught in demographic cross hairs where more people are retiring than entering the workforce, and more people are dying than being born. Economists predict that by 2032, Maine will face a shortfall of 109,000 workers, a significant problem in a state where the civilian labor force totaled about 689,600 in August.

Last month, the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce collaborated on a report that said Maine’s economy will suffer if it can’t attract and retain immigrants. And Coastal Enterprises Inc. has been promoting its free StartSmart program, which helps refugees and immigrants grow or start a business.

The conference will present best practices in workforce development and immigrant integration from around the country and showcase some innovative approaches locally. Time has been designated for exchanges and discussions.

Julianne Sullivan, a senior adviser to the city manager, said the conference culminates the committee’s work to evaluate “whether the city should have an Office of New Mainers, and if not, what role should the city play.”

“I’m looking forward to hearing from other cities on how they have successfully implemented an office of immigrant services and how it has impacted their economies,” Brenerman said.

The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center. The event is free, but attendees are asked to register at Breakfast and lunch will be provided at no cost. Here is the agenda:

n 8-8:45 a.m.: Breakfast with Brenerman, Mayor Ethan Strimling and Quincy Hentzel, president of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, discussing the economic necessity of a strong workforce that is linked to high-need industries.

n 8:45-9:45 a.m.: Tom Wahlrab of Dayton, Ohio, on how a public-private partnership developed a clear, measurable plan to make Dayton an immigrant-friendly city. n 9:45-10:45 a.m.: Ricardo Gambetta, of the Aurora, Colorado, Office of International and Immigrant Affairs, will present a detailed plan for immigrant integration, with one-stop resources and natural helpers.

n 10:45-11:45 a.m.: Bryan Warren, of the Louisville, Kentucky, Office for Globalization, will talk about international councils, connections and information, with an emphasis on immigrant integration

n 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.: Lunch and “Innovating to Meet Workforce Needs,” a presentation by USM President Glenn Cummings and Cindy Caplice of SIGCO and Giovani Twigge of Idexx, two companies with successful track records employing immigrants.

n 1-2 p.m.: Xavier Botana, superintendent of Portland Public Schools, and Julie Chase and David Zahn of Southern Maine Community College will speak on “English Language Learners and Job Readiness: National and local innovations and partnerships.”

n 2-3 p.m.: Erin Oldham of USM’s Muskie School Data Innovation Project, “What have we learned today and what’s next?”

This story was changed from its original version to clarify CEI’s SmartStart program.

]]> 14 Tue, 25 Oct 2016 13:04:51 +0000
Maine ATM network slow to embrace chips Mon, 24 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The deadline has passed for ATM operators in the MasterCard network to install microchip readers in their machines or accept future liability for fraudulent activity involving chip-embedded cards.

But a Portland Press Herald analysis of MasterCard network ATMs in Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, Augusta and Bangor found that just over 11 percent of machines have been outfitted with the more secure chip readers.

That low percentage leaves too many Mainers vulnerable to ATM card “skimmers” and other methods of ATM fraud, a consumer watchdog group said.

“The 12 percent of Portland ATMs that are now chip-enabled is right in line with other cities around the country – but that is an unacceptably low number,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of Massachusetts-based consumer watchdog service Consumer World. “Bank customers deserve to have this highest level of security at every ATM they use.”

The slow changeover to chip-enabled ATMs reflects a backlog of orders for the hardware to convert ATMs and the accompanying software upgrades, according to a representative of Maine’s banking industry. Until they are converted, if a bank, retailer or other ATM operator within the MasterCard network fails to install a chip reader, and a fraudulent withdrawal is made using a chip-embedded card, it’s the ATM operator that suffers the loss.


There are two major card processors for ATM transactions in the U.S.: Visa and MasterCard. Visa network ATMs are labeled with the Visa and Plus brands, and MasterCard network ATMs are labeled with the MasterCard, Maestro and Cirrus brands.

MasterCard set an Oct. 1 deadline for ATM operators in its network to upgrade their machines with chip readers or accept liability for future fraudulent transactions involving chip-embedded cards. Visa set its deadline for a year later, in October 2017. The card processors set a similar deadline for retailers to upgrade their point-of-sale systems to chip readers in October 2015.

Historically, Visa and MasterCard have accepted financial responsibility for ATM fraud in their respective networks, but they have argued that it is unfair in situations involving lax security on an ATM owner’s part.

A Press Herald analysis found that:

Among the 815 Portland-area ATMs in the MasterCard network, only 96 are equipped with chip readers. That works out to 11.8 percent.

 The Lewiston-Auburn area was slightly better than Portland, with 13.9 percent of MasterCard-network ATMs containing chip readers.

 Only 8.8 percent have chip readers in the Augusta area, and 7.8 percent have them in the Bangor area.

Percentages for the Visa network are harder to gauge, although the Press Herald did determine that there are 70 Visa ATMs in the Portland area with chip readers, 39 in Lewison-Auburn, six in Bangor and none in Augusta.

The most prevalent form of ATM fraud involves devices called “skimmers.” According to cybersecurity expert and blogger Brian Krebs of, a skimmer is a device that is affixed to the card slot of an ATM that surreptitiously reads and records sensitive data from the magnetic stripe of any card inserted into the slot.

A skimmer generally is used in combination with a tiny camera placed somewhere on the ATM that is pointed at the machine’s personal identification number pad. With the card data and the PIN acquired, the thief has everything he needs to make a dummy card and use it to withdraw the victim’s cash.

In June, three men were arrested by investigators from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly skimming and cloning credit card information around southern and midcoast Maine.

It can take weeks or months for victims of ATM fraud to recover their stolen cash, because card processors generally do not reimburse a victim until after the theft has been fully investigated by law enforcement. That’s a stark contrast from credit card fraud victims, who usually are reimbursed quickly.

However, skimmers don’t work if the card has an embedded chip and the ATM has a chip reader, Dworsky said. Consumers can’t necessarily tell if an ATM has a chip reader just by looking at it, but there are locators on both the Visa and MasterCard websites for finding chip-reading ATMs in any city or town.

“With so many reports of criminals using skimmers to steal ATM card numbers, it is surprising that banks have been so slow in completing upgrades to their systems, whether or not required by the card networks,” he said.

Financial institutions in Maine are working as fast as they can to install chip readers in all of their ATMs, but the process takes time, said Chris Pinkham, president of the Maine Bankers Association.

Chip readers at retailer checkout aisles are relatively simple and inexpensive to install compared with those inside ATMs, Pinkham said. The machines must be opened up and special hardware and software installed by a qualified technician. All of that must occur while security personnel are on hand to ensure no one uses the opportunity to steal money from the disassembled ATM, he said.

Right now, there is a long waiting list for ATM operators in Maine to have their systems upgraded, Pinkham said.

“They’ve ordered them, and they’re in the queue, because of the giant volume of replacement,” he said. “You’ve got a software component and a hardware component, and the back-order is real.”

While the upgrade process continues, consumers in Maine still will be able to use any ATM regardless of whether it has a chip reader installed, Pinkham said.

“That’s a liability standard and not an accessibility issue,” he said.

John Murphy, president and CEO of the Maine Credit Union League, said credit unions in Maine are making significant progress toward upgrading their ATMs with chip readers. In addition, they have been installing anti-skimming devices to thwart fraudsters, he said.

“Over half of our 255 ATMs have already been upgraded and I anticipate that all planned upgrades will take place prior to the October 2017 (Visa) compliance date,” Murphy said.


]]> 12, 24 Oct 2016 08:07:44 +0000
Week in review: A boost for downtown Waterville, and former Gorham racetrack sold Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Downtown Waterville slated for $20 million boost

Downtown revitalization efforts in Waterville got a boost Tuesday night as the Harold Alfond Foundation and Colby College officials announced that they will infuse $20 million into projects to launch what will become a further investment of “tens of millions of dollars more” in the city’s center. The Alfond Foundation is pledging a $10 million grant toward the effort, matching Colby’s $10 million investment toward revitalization. City officials, downtown organizations, businesspeople, arts advocates and others have been meeting to discuss ways to help revitalize downtown, expand art offerings, draw businesses, bring more people to live and work downtown and to help boost economic development. Read the story.

Moody’s buys former racetrack in Gorham

Moody’s Collision Centers, the auto collision repair chain, has increased its footprint in Gorham by buying a 62-acre former racetrack from Hannaford supermarkets. Shawn Moody, founder of Moody’s Collision Centers and a Gorham native, said he intends to unveil plans for the site in the next few weeks, after the company undertakes a cleanup of the property. Moody said the purchase is part of a broader effort to expand and diversify the company’s holdings as it approaches its 40th year in business. The company paid $1.2 million for the former racetrack. It owns a Moody’s Collision and Auto Body Repair Center just up the road from the new site. Gorham town officials say they are grateful that the land, known locally as The Fairgrounds, will be developed after sitting on the market for three years. Read the story.

New apartment buildings proposed in Westbrook

A developer wants to add nine new apartment buildings to a Westbrook subdivision that has already prompted calls for a moratorium on residential construction and substantial changes to the city’s zoning. That new construction would add 108 market-rate units to Blue Spruce Farm, where nearly 200 single-family homes and apartments are already being built. Risbara Bros. had previously hoped to build an even larger extension to the existing neighborhood, but scaled back the plans because of a legal dispute with the landowner. The Westbrook Planning Board reviewed the most recent sketch plan for the newer extension on Tuesday night. Read the story.

Shopping center on Westbrook/Portland line OK’d

The Westbrook Planning Board has approved a large shopping center to be built at a former quarry. Wal-Mart has been the only confirmed tenant at Dirigo Plaza for months, but the latest documents presented to the Planning Board on Tuesday night included the layout for a Chick-Fil-A restaurant as well. Those national brands will be part of 500,000 square feet of new retail on the 80-acre parcel at the intersection of Main Street – Route 25B – and Larrabee Road, between two exits on the Maine Turnpike. The developer, Jeffrey Gove, estimated about 25 retailers and restaurants will eventually open in Dirigo Plaza, but he declined to name any others. The project could open by fall 2017. Read the story.


ImmuCell seeks $3.5 million to finish new facility

Portland-based ImmuCell Corp. said Tuesday that it plans to seek $3.5 million in private investment to help fund a $20 million production facility for a new animal health product for which the company is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. ImmuCell also released a preliminary earnings estimate for the third quarter, in which product sales were down 20 percent from a year earlier. Maine’s smallest publicly traded company, which makes products that improve bovine health and productivity in the dairy and beef industries, said it has entered into agreements with institutional and accredited investors for the private placement of roughly $3.5 million of ImmuCell’s common stock. ImmuCell said in a news release that it has agreed to sell nearly 660,000 shares at $5.25 per share to outside investors. ImmuCell stock, which trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol ICCC, was trading at $7 a share when the market opened Tuesday. Read the story.


Save-A-Lot grocery chain sold to Canadian firm

A discount grocery chain with nine locations in Maine is being sold to a Canadian private equity firm for $1.36 billion. Supervalu, the Minneapolis parent company of the Save-A-Lot chain of small supermarkets, announced the agreement to sell the chain to Onex Corp. of Toronto on Monday. The deal is still subject to customary closing conditions. In connection with the sale, Supervalu will enter into a five-year professional services agreement to provide management of day-to-day operations for Save-A-Lot, including cloud services, merchandising technology, payroll, finance and other services, according to a news release announcing the sale. Supervalu, which is one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S. with more than 3,300 stores, intends to use the money from the sale to pay down $750 million in debt and to grow its other divisions. Read the story.

 Jeweler named Retailer of the Year

The Retail Association of Maine has named Day’s Jewelers as its Retailer of the Year. The trade group, which represents 400 businesses in Maine, announced the selection of the Waterville-based jewelry chain Thursday. The award will be presented at the association’s annual meeting Oct. 27 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport. Day’s was chosen for its reputation as a growing family business, patient and careful long term growth, social, ethical and environmental responsibility, and staff development procedures, according to a release from the association. The annual award is given to a Maine retailer that demonstrates continued growth in employees or sales; commitment of company resources to community projects; and creation of a positive work environment. Read the story.


Report cites loss of prime-age men from labor force

A growing share of men in the prime of adulthood are dropping out of the labor force in Maine, adding to the state’s loss of able-bodied workers from the aging population and lack of in-migration. Labor force participation of males age 25 to 54 has declined over the past four decades in Maine, with a sharp drop-off beginning in 1990, according to a report by the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information. The labor force is the combined number of employed workers and active job-seekers. The share of “prime-age” males in Maine who are working or looking for work declined from nearly 95 percent in 1970 to slightly more than 86 percent in 2014, the report says. The primary reason is the loss of manufacturing and the middle-income jobs it created for workers who lack higher education. Many men who were laid off from such jobs appear to have given up on finding new employment, it says. The report’s authors say it is essential to Maine’s economy that the state come up with ways to bring more of those prime-age men back into the labor force. Read the story.


Winter fuel prices expected to rise slightly

The statewide average price for fuel oil inched above $2 a gallon this week for the first time since last November, ushering in a heating season in which oil prices are expected to rise moderately. With winter temperatures predicted to be closer to normal, Mainers can expect a heating season that – on balance – is also likely to be closer to normal. It appears that there will be a sufficient supply of all fuels. The latest price survey by the Governor’s Energy Office, released Wednesday, shows fuel oil at an average of $2.01 a gallon statewide, ranging from a low of $1.76 in western Maine to $2.20 in central, eastern and northern regions. The survey follows projections last week from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that higher crude-oil costs will push up retail prices for heating oil by 42 cents a gallon over the winter. The federal agency also is forecasting moderate price increases for propane and natural gas. Read the story.

PUC hears testimony on solar incentives

A parade of residents and small-business owners told the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Monday that its proposal to reduce financial incentives for homeowners using solar panels would stifle the growth of solar and already is having a chilling effect on installations. Several who testified at a public hearing said the commission should withdraw its proposal and let the Legislature set solar policy. But those comments were tempered by testimony on behalf of utilities and by Gov. Paul LePage’s energy director, and from a consumer affairs consultant who said the current financial incentives for rooftop solar hurt other ratepayers. And the state’s public advocate said the PUC’s proposal failed to determine the actual impact on electric customers and should be withdrawn for further analysis. The PUC has said it plans to make a decision before year’s end. Read the story.


Fishermen observe new techniques in Japan

A group of Maine fishermen from Cape Elizabeth to Stonington traveled to northern Japan this month to study mechanized techniques for growing scallops. Funded in part by a grant from the United States-Japan Foundation, the 10-person group traveled to the coastal region of the Aomori prefecture to learn about the machines that the fishing and aquaculture cooperatives there use to grow scallops on vertical lines suspended in the sea, a farming method proven to speed up their growth. The group also learned about shellfish processing and value-added shellfish products. Read the story.


New train shed ready in Brunswick

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority unveiled its new train layover facility in Brunswick this weekend, more than five years after it first proposed the project to improve service on the Amtrak Downeaster. The 60,000-square-foot facility, which is longer than two football fields, will allow the rail authority to begin the overnight servicing of Amtrak Downeaster passenger trains starting in November. Once it becomes fully operational Nov. 21, the layover building will allow the Amtrak Downeaster to operate a third train between Brunswick and Boston – a service that Amtrak officials say is sorely needed, especially by passengers who might want to spend the day and night in Boston at a Bruins or Celtics game. Currently, Amtrak only operates two passenger trains north of Portland on a daily basis. Read the story.

]]> 1, 21 Oct 2016 19:56:41 +0000
Michelle Singletary: Millennials in need of informed money mindset Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Parents always ask me how to teach teens or college students about money.

They often want a recommendation for a book.

The truth is it’s going to take more than a book or even a financial class in high school or college. Your children are watching you and, it turns out, you’re the most influential model of good money behavior.

In a report on money habits, Bank of America found that 80 percent of millennials believe their parents shaped their financial attitudes and habits toward money “a lot or some.”

In another survey by EverFi, most parents said that talking to their kids about money is important – but only 43 percent think they are prepared enough to do so.

Many parents aren’t prepared because they’re still struggling to figure out their own finances. And yet, not talking about money – not getting teens and young adults to focus on personal finance – could lead to major issues once they begin to run their own financial lives.

A survey from Citizens Bank found that 80 percent of millennials who have student loans worry about their ability to pay back the money.

We live in an age in which information is digested in 140 characters, in bite-size posts on Facebook or through the lens of an Instagram photo.

So how do you get your teen or college student to focus long enough on finances to make a difference?

If you don’t have the skills, for this month’s Color of Money Book club I’m recommending a guide with millennials in mind. It’s the $12.95 “O.M.G. Official Money Guide for College Students” by Susan and Michael Beacham and their 24-year-old daughter, Allison.

Susan is the chief executive of Money Savvy Generation (, which she co-founded with her husband. Both have a background in financial services. Allison is a recent graduate of Miami University who is a national accounts manager for Rust-Oleum and writes a blog ( that includes posts about money.

The book is a mere 52 pages – nine chapters and a short resource section – easy enough to read between tweets and Snapchat conversations. It’s colorful and definitely has a millennial vibe with its use of emojis and breakout boxes throughout, like “Messy Money Moment” and “Major Money Moment.”

A sample messy moment: Being driven to exhaustion by your part-time job while in college. The money is nice and probably needed, but think about the consequences. “The bigger paycheck is awesome, but all the hours away from the library and your computer mean that you’re not studying enough for tests and not submitting assignments on time,” the Beachams write.

They also point out a host of financial tips that young adults might not be aware of, such as saving sales receipts or realizing that while away at college they won’t have access to everyday items that are readily accessible back home. When I took my daughter grocery shopping for the first time for her off-campus apartment, she was stunned almost into tears at what she needed to set up her own kitchen. She kept asking, “Do I really need that?”

“You mean, dishwashing liquid?” I replied. “Unless you plan on just licking your plates clean, yes.”

And she already had gotten a lot of money lessons from me. But they don’t really know until they start paying for stuff.

“If your parents are planning to help you out financially while you’re at school, you need to know who is going to pay for what,” the authors advise.

The short chapters are all framed around questions such as “How Do I Keep My Expenses Under Control?” or “Will Student Loans Hang Over My Head Forever?” Speaking of student loans, there’s a brief but helpful list of financial aid terms that every borrower should know. The book is available on and Amazon.

Millennials are being trained to consume information in the amount of time it takes to heat food in a microwave – quickly. “O.M.G. Official Money Guide for College Students” is an engaging way to communicate important financial information that hopefully will lead to a lot of longer conversations.

I know talking about money can cause mental paralysis. But this book takes major money topics and downsizes them into digestible pieces of information.

I’ll be hosting a chat about the book at noon Eastern on Nov. 3 at My guest will be Susan and Allison Beacham, who will take your questions about managing money as a college student. Parents: Text, tweet or Snapchat your kid and invite them to join you online for the chat. I’d love to see some families participating together.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 19:58:27 +0000
Venerable telecom giant isn’t about to pipe down Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:53:28 +0000 Companies that provide phone and internet connections are investing in media to find new revenue sources and ensure they don’t get relegated to being just “dumb pipes.” Verizon bought AOL last year and has now proposed a deal for Yahoo to build a digital-ad business. Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011.

AT&T has been active, too. After its attempt to buy wireless competitor T-Mobile was scrapped in 2011 following opposition from regulators, the company doubled down on television by purchasing satellite-TV company DirecTV for $48.5 billion.

The pressure on AT&T has been intense.

The venerable phone company with roots back to Alexander Graham Bell has to contend with slowing growth in wireless services, given that most Americans already have smartphones, and it faces new competitors for that business from cable companies. Comcast plans to launch a cellphone service for its customers next year.

Buying Time Warner may be “a good defensive move” against Comcast as the cable giant continues stretching into new businesses, New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin said in a Friday note. Comcast also bought movie studio DreamWorks Animation in August.


]]> 0, 22 Oct 2016 20:53:39 +0000
More than 80 arrested at North Dakota pipeline protest Sat, 22 Oct 2016 22:49:40 +0000 MANDAN, N.D — More than 80 people protesting the Dakota Access pipeline were arrested Saturday during a demonstration that gathered about 300 people at a construction site in North Dakota and prompted law enforcement officers to use pepper spray.

Morton County sheriff’s office spokesman Rob Keller said authorities were called at 5:20 a.m. Saturday to a pipeline construction site located about five miles from an area where protesters have been camping out for weeks near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers.

The confrontation between officers and protesters lasted five hours.

The sheriff’s office released a statement saying officers used pepper spray when some protesters tried to breach a line that officers had formed between demonstrators and construction equipment.

The statement said one protester tried to grab an officer’s pepper spray canister, spraying the officer in the face and blinding him for five minutes.

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Saturday’s incident showed that “this protest is not peaceful or lawful.”

“It was obvious to our officers who responded that the protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior during this event,” he said.

“This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”

Protests have drawn thousands of people to the area where Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is trying to finish building the 1,200-mile pipeline. More than 220 people have been arrested since demonstrations began in August.

The sheriff’s office said four people who attached themselves to a sport utility vehicle parked on private property near construction equipment were among those arrested Saturday. Two of the individuals attached themselves to the outside of the vehicle, one person was attached to the steering wheel, and another had his body outside of the vehicle with his arm fed through a hole in the door and his hand in a bucket of hardened concrete.

Those arrested Saturday are facing charges including assault on a peace officer, engaging in a riot and criminal trespass.

]]> 0 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 19:32:42 +0000
AT&T buying Time Warner for $86 billion Sat, 22 Oct 2016 18:34:18 +0000 AT&T has agreed to a blockbuster $86 billion acquisition of Time Warner, a move that would turn the most storied U.S. telecom company into one of the most prominent TV, film and video-game producers in the world, multiple news outlets reported Saturday.

The merger casts a spotlight on a defining movement for the giants of modern tech: their accelerating conquest of media in an increasingly unbundled world.

AT&T,, Google and Verizon have all surged into original content, thinking it offers them a lucrative foothold into viewers’ pockets and living rooms, and a unique bulwark against the rapidly changing Web and cable-TV landscapes.

But the consolidation of media into fewer empires also has renewed concerns over the fairness and freedom of tomorrow’s entertainment. Telecom gatekeepers such as AT&T could steer customers to their own offerings, muscling out independent artists and limiting choice. Or they could exclude non-customers, forcing curious audiences to subscribe or go without.

“You have a big distributor owning some of the largest networks. Is everyone going to have equal access to those networks?” said Eric Handler, a media and entertainment analyst for MKM Partners.

The deal, which the Wall Street Journal first reported could be announced this weekend, would be the largest in a year of mega-mergers. It would probably attract heavy regulatory scrutiny over its potential to stifle media competition or suppress innovation.

Regulators, Handler said, would ask whether creators in the shadow of the AT&T juggernaut could “survive in this new ecosystem.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Saturday that if elected he would block the merger.

“As an example of the power structure I am fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN – a deal we will not approve in my administration, because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said during a speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

AT&T and Time Warner did not respond to requests for comment.

News of the merger follows a wave of dealmaking and consolidation that has been transforming viewers’ leisure time and media spending, including Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal in 2011.

Tech giants, meanwhile, have been aggressively encroaching on traditional media. Google has pushed into live-TV streaming. And Netflix and Amazon doubled their yearly investments on programming between 2013 and 2015, reaching a combined $7.5 billion last year, more than CBS or HBO, according to industry researcher IHS Markit. Apple, which has more mobile screens in the hands of consumers than any other company in the United States, is also making moves to offer original services and content that can be directly accessed through its smartphones and tablets.

For years, AT&T has run the pipes to channel content to living-room televisions or cellphones, but didn’t create the content itself. Its marriage with Time Warner would give AT&T prime control and potential influence over some of the biggest names in TV, news and film, including CNN, HBO and Warner Bros., the movie studio behind the “Harry Potter” and “Batman” films that is rivaled only by Disney and Universal for box-office supremacy.

Time Warner content also gains much of its value from being sold to multiple distributors, including cable companies such as Comcast and Cox Communications or through Verizon’s FiOS service. That could undermine the value of AT&T’s exclusivity.

“There are some exclusivity options … but when you have to do deals, it really pays to be platform agnostic,” Handler said. “You have to go where the eyeballs are.”

Telecom titans such as AT&T and Comcast were once content to run their businesses like utilities, providing basic services to a steady clientele and leaving the creative costs and risk-taking to a horde of producers, filmmakers and studios.

But the financial bedrock of traditional TV and wireless service looks shakier than ever. The core business for companies such as AT&T now mostly involves fighting over a shrinking household base for TV packages and a saturated audience for mobile and Internet service.

Pay-TV service – dominated by AT&T through its ownership of satellite service DirecTV, which it bought for $48.5 billion last year – is also under threat by the rise of “cord cutters,” who are trimming their cable bills or finding video and entertainment options over the Web.

The rapid reshaping of technology and consumer preference has undermined the telecom industry’s traditional moneymakers, such as cable and wireless subscriptions. Many viewers are swearing off cable packages, streaming shows over the Web to their phones or computers, and spending time on games, social media or on-demand video outside the traditional structure of linear TV.

Owning media that keep people engaged through the life of a weekly TV series, or every day through a video game, would give a company like AT&T an exclusive hook to ensure that subscribers keep coming back.

“They’ve got this sunk investment in these assets of distribution, and distribution is changing rapidly. There’s only so much they can raise the prices on online service,” said Robin Diedrich, a senior analyst with Edward Jones. “Being able to own content that is unique to them allows them to … pay back those investments they made.”

But John Bergmayer, senior counsel at the Washington technology advocacy group Public Knowledge, also said the deal poses a major threat to consumer choice. The merged company could crowd out or block alternative programming on its TV service, give preferential treatment to its own content on its broadband Internet service, or impose higher costs for TV competitors seeking to run Time Warner shows.

In this case, the Federal Communications Commission would probably not have jurisdiction over the merger because no regulated telecom assets will be changing hands, said an industry attorney who has worked with Time Warner. Time Warner owns a single TV station in Atlanta, and that could easily be cut out of the deal to avoid FCC oversight, the attorney said who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters that have not been made pubic yet. Approval of the deal would probably fall to the Justice Department instead.

The AT&T-Time Warner deal presages a broader transformation of the tech and entertainment world. TV conglomerates Viacom and CBS also are considering mergers that could be secured in the coming months.

“When a big deal like this happens, more deals tend to happen,” analysts with New Street Research told investors Friday. “It is a good time to be an asset ‘in play.’ ”

Time Warner represents a clean get for any deep-pocketed company seeking to greatly expand its empire. The company had sweetened its future prospects by carving off low-growth divisions, such as AOL and its magazine business, and spinning off its cable-TV provider, Time Warner Cable. And much of its content has remained popular – from CNN to TV shows such as “Game of Thrones” or hit movies such as “Suicide Squad” – even as the traditional entertainment model has begun to unravel.

The company offers what Brean Capital managing director Alan Gould said in a Friday note to investors has “historically been the greatest content factory in the industry.”

]]> 6, 22 Oct 2016 21:51:43 +0000
New York slaps new rules on Airbnb, with fines up to $7,500 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 15:23:18 +0000 ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state enacted one of the nation’s toughest restrictions on Airbnb on Friday with a new law authorizing fines of up to $7,500 for many short-term rentals.

The measure signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo applies to rentals of fewer than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present.

Supporters of the measure say many property owners use sites like Airbnb to offer residential apartments as short-term rentals to visitors, hurting existing hotels while taking residential units off the already expensive housing market in New York City.

“Today is a great day for tenants, seniors, and anyone who values the safe and quiet enjoyment of their homes and neighborhoods,” said Manhattan Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger, a co-sponsor of the bill. “For too long companies like Airbnb have encouraged illegal activity that takes housing off the market and makes our affordability crisis worse.”

Airbnb said it would immediately file a lawsuit challenging the law.

“In typical fashion, Albany backroom dealing rewarded a special interest – the price-gouging hotel industry – and ignored the voices of tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” said Josh Meltzer, Airbnb’s head of public policy in New York.

Enforcement of the new laws will be a challenge. Thousands of short-term apartment rentals are listed for New York City despite a 2010 law that prohibits rentals of fewer than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present.

The new law won’t apply to rentals in single-family homes, row houses or apartment spare rooms if the resident is present.

The complicated rules mean many New Yorkers may not know whether they can legally rent out their homes – and Airbnb says it does not have the ability to remove listings that violate the 2010 law.

Supporters say the imposition of fines will likely be driven by complaints from neighbors. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said the intention is to go after commercial operators who rent large numbers of vacant units in multi-apartment buildings.

“That’s who we’re targeting,” said the Manhattan Democrat, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly.

Airbnb mounted a last-minute campaign to kill the measure and this week proposed alternative regulations that the company argued would address concerns about short-term rentals without onerous fines.

Most people who list a rental on Airbnb are looking to make a little money while they’re out of town, according to Chris Lehane, head of global policy for San Francisco-based Airbnb. The company says the 46,000 Airbnb hosts in New York City have generated more than $2 billion in economic activity.

“It’s baffling to us in this time of economic inequality that folks would be looking to impose fines of as much as $7,500 on a middle-class person looking to use the home that they live in to help make ends meet,” Lehane said before the bill was signed.

A spokesman for Cuomo said the administration gave the bill careful consideration.

“Ultimately, these activities are already expressly prohibited by law,” said spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

An investigation of Airbnb rentals from 2010 to 2014 by the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that 72 percent of the units in New York City were illegal, with commercial operators constituting 6 percent of the hosts and supplying 36 percent of the rentals.

Schneiderman vowed to fight any legal challenge to the new law.

“The law signed today will provide vital protections for New York tenants and help prevent the continued proliferation of illegal, unregulated hotels, and we will defend it,” he said in a statement.

As of August, Airbnb had 45,000 city listings and 13,000 others across the state.

]]> 0, 22 Oct 2016 15:11:03 +0000
Cyberattack disrupts access to major websites, worries experts Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:41:00 +0000 Withering cyberattacks on server farms of a key internet firm repeatedly disrupted access to major websites and online services including Twitter, Netflix and PayPal across the United States on Friday. The White House called the disruption malicious and a hacker group claimed responsibility, though its assertion couldn’t be verified.

Manchester, New Hampshire-based Dyn Inc. said its data centers were hit by three waves of distributed denial-of-service attacks, which overwhelm targeted machines with junk data traffic. The attacks, shifting geographically, had knock-on effects for users trying to access popular websites across the U.S. even in Europe.

“The complexity of the attacks is what is making it so difficult for us,” said Kyle York, the company’s chief strategy officer. “What they are actually doing is moving around the world with each attack.” He said an East Coast data center was hit first; attacks on an offshore target followed later.

The data flood came from tens of millions of different Internet-connected machines – including increasingly popular but highly insecure household devices such as web-connected cameras. It was an onslaught whose global shifts suggested a sophisticated attacker, though Dyn said it had neither suspect nor motive.


The level of disruption was difficult to gauge, but Dyn serves some of the biggest names on the web, providing the domain name services that translate the numerical internet addresses into human-readable destinations such as “”

Steve Grobman, chief technology officer at Intel Security, compared an outage at a domain name services company to tearing up a map or turning off GPS before driving to the department store. “It doesn’t matter that the store is fully open or operational if you have no idea how to get there,” he said in a telephone interview.

Jason Read, founder of the internet performance monitoring firm CloudHarmony, owned by Gartner Inc., said his company tracked a half-hour-long disruption early Friday in which roughly one in two end users would have found it impossible to access various websites from the East Coast.

“We’ve been monitoring Dyn for years and this is by far the worst outage event that we’ve observed,” said Read.

Dyn provides services to some 6 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies, he said. A full list of affected companies wasn’t immediately available but Twitter, Netflix, PayPal and the coder hangout Github said they experienced problems.


Members of a shadowy collective that calls itself New World Hackers claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter. They said they organized networks of connected “zombie” computers called botnets that threw a staggering 1.2 terabits per second of data at the Dyn-managed servers.

“We didn’t do this to attract federal agents, only test power,” two collective members who identified themselves as “Prophet” and “Zain” told an AP reporter via Twitter direct message exchange. They said more than 10 members participated in the attack. It was not immediately possible to verify the claim.

Dyn officials said they have received no claim of responsibility, but are working with law enforcement.

The collective, @NewWorldHacking on Twitter, has in the past claimed responsibility for similar attacks against sites including in September and the BBC on Dec. 31. The attack on the BBC marshaled half the computing power of Friday’s onslaught.

The collective has also claimed responsibility for cyberattacks against Islamic State. The two said about 30 people have access to the @NewWorkdHacking Twitter account. They claim 20 are in Russia and 10 in China. “Prophet” said he is in India. “Zain” said he is in China. The two claimed to their actions were “good,” presumably because they highlighted internet security problems.

Another collective member the AP previously communicated with via direct message called himself “Ownz” and identified himself as a 19-year-old in London. He told the AP that the group – or at least he – sought only to expose security vulnerabilities.

During the attack on the ESPN site, “Ownz” was asked if the collective made any demands on sites it attacked, such as demanding blackmail money. “We will make one demand actually. Secure your website and get better servers, otherwise be attacked again,” he said.


For James Norton, the former deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security who now teaches on cybersecurity policy at Johns Hopkins University, the incident was an example of how attacks on key junctures in the network can yield massive disruption.

“I think you can see how fragile the internet network actually is,” he said.

Dyn officials said attacks stemmed from tens of millions of devices connected to the internet – closed-circuit video cameras, digital video recorders and even thermostats – that were infected with malware.

“The Internet of Things sort of ran way ahead of how the Internet was architected,” Dyn’s York said on a call with reporters. He said there are between 10-15 billion such devices online.

Dyn first became aware of an attack around 7:00 a.m. local time, focused on data centers on the East Coast of the U.S. Services were restored about two hours later. But then attackers shifted to offshore data centers, and problems continue.

“It is a very smart attack. As we start to mitigate they react and start to throw something that’s over the top,” York said on a call with reporters.

The second attack broadened its net, affecting the U.S. West Coast. “Prophet” of New World Hackers said hacktivists of the broad, more amorphous Anonymous collective piled on in the third wave on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve stopped all our attacks,” he said at midafternoon. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the situation, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. He said he had no information about who may be behind the disruption.

Security experts have recently expressed concern over increasing power of denial-of-service attacks following high-profile electronic assaults against investigative journalist Brian Krebs and French internet service provider OVH .

In a widely shared essay titled “Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet,” respected security expert Bruce Schneier said last month that major internet infrastructure companies were seeing a series of worrying denial-of-service attacks.

“Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical internet services,” he said.

]]> 3 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:24:16 +0000
New toys reflecting increasing diversity Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:44:02 +0000 NEW YORK — Toy companies are working harder to think outside their usual box, offering more-inclusive items like dolls with disabilities, female superhero figures and characters with a range of skin tones.

Many of the products breaking down the barriers started with smaller businesses, but big names like Mattel and Hasbro are getting into the game and offering lots more options this holiday season.

What that means on the shelves is Barbies that have a greater variety of body types, eye colors and facial structures, a Lego mini-figure of a man who uses a wheelchair, and an American Girl doll with accessories like a diabetes kit and arm crutches in addition to the hearing aids and service dogs it has offered before. Other items include coding toys, robots and circuit builder sets aimed at both girls and boys.

Jennifer Weitzman, whose 5-year-old daughter Hannah has cochlear implants, has the American Girl doll with hearing aids and a Tinker Bell doll with a cochlear implant that Weitzman bought from a British site called

“She lit up when she was given them. She thinks it’s awesome that they have implants just like her,” said Weitzman, of Mount Kisco, New York. “For many kids, it helps them identify and makes them feel included.”

The trend started a few years ago, pushed by parents who didn’t see enough diversity in the toy aisle and were turning to the internet or startups to find items.


Increasingly, the inclusiveness in the toy aisle means dolls with disabilities. Toys R Us has carried an exclusive line since 2013 called Journey Girls, which includes a wheelchair and a crutch set. Its partnership with American Girl to carry the Truly Me collection starting this month will include dolls that also use crutches, diabetes kits and wheelchairs.

While Lego has had larger figures before that use wheelchairs, the mini-figure introduced this year comes as part of the “Fun in the Park” set, mixed in with several figures that don’t.

“The designers were thinking about what might you see in the park in the city,” said Lego spokesman Michael McNally.

Lego mini-figures had been yellow so that children could imagine their own identity for the characters. “We’ve always been about helping kids find themselves,” McNally said. But in 2004, it introduced flesh tones when representing real-life personalities.

Experts say it’s critical for children to play with toys that don’t perpetuate stereotypes about what’s considered beautiful. They say the toys children play with have lasting impressions on their careers and their confidence.

“There’s been some good progress, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist and lecturer at California State University in Sacramento, California. “Kids need to see themselves in the toys and objects they interact with.”

For building toys, the company GoldieBlox, founded in 2012, was among the first to disrupt the pink aisle by offering construction sets aimed at girls. But it also realized it needed more racial diversity, and last fall introduced a black character called Ruby Rails and has since then added a Latina engineer called Valentina and other characters.

Many experts have been closely watching the moves made by Mattel, particularly with its iconic Barbie, whose business has been rebounding amid a makeover after seeing its sales suffer. The nation’s largest toy maker launched the Barbie Fashionista collection last year that offered more skin tones, eye colors and facial structures. This year, it added three body types – curvy, petite and tall. It said those items have been doing well. Spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni says the company is also looking to add different body shapes to the Barbie career line and the Fairytale doll collection.

Racial diversity can also be key. American Girl, which is owned by Mattel, launched a doll this year whose story is that she is growing up in civil rights-era Detroit. Wal-Mart’s My Life As doll collection has expanded the number of skin shades available, and Hasbro is adding more skin tones to its Baby Alive doll for next year.


Beyond introducing dolls and games that feature all kinds of characters, companies are starting to think differently about toys that have traditionally been aimed at boys or girls. The White House held a conference on gender stereotypes in media and toys, drawing executives from major toy companies.

Target Corp. phased out gender-based signage in the toy aisle last year. It also was for a time the exclusive seller of Mattel’s DC Super Hero Girls, including Wonder Woman and Batgirl, which were the first 6-inch action figures designed for girls. They join other female characters in the action figure aisle that include Black Widow and Star Wars heroine Rey, says Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, an online toy review site.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is selling its first 18-inch boy doll this holiday season under the My Life As brand, and Hasbro plans to launch a boy doll under the Baby Alive brand next year.

John Frascotti, president of Hasbro Brands, cited My Little Pony, which originally was aimed at girls, and Nerf, which was traditionally for boys. Hasbro found the brands attract both boys and girls, so three years ago, it launched Nerf Rebelle that was styled for girls. As for My Little Pony, it’s expanding into comic books, usually more a domain for boys.

“We are focusing on storytelling and worrying less about gender,” he said.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 21:00:02 +0000
ImmuCell closes on $3.5 million private funding round Fri, 21 Oct 2016 21:20:51 +0000 Portland-based ImmuCell Corp. said Friday that it has closed on a $3.5 million round of private investment to help fund a $20 million production facility for a new animal health product for which the company is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

The company, which makes products that improve bovine health and productivity in the dairy and beef industries, said net proceeds from the offering are roughly $3.2 million after deducting placement agent fees and other expenses. Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC acted as exclusive placement agent in connection with the offering, it said.

On Tuesday, ImmuCell said it had agreed to sell nearly 660,000 shares at $5.25 per share to outside investors. In all, 19 different investors purchased shares as part of the offering, the company said Friday.

ImmuCell raised the money to build a production facility for Nisin, the active ingredient in a new product it has developed called Mast Out, for which it is seeking FDA approval.

Mast Out is a novel treatment for dairy cows with mastitis, an inflammation of the udders that is often caused by a bacterial infection. Nisin is a preservative with antibacterial properties that is made from milk and used in processed cheeses, meats and other products.


]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 20:39:18 +0000
New hires across Maine Fri, 21 Oct 2016 18:35:26 +0000 NEW HIRES
1098000_121952 Hannah Clark.jpgSarah Stebbins and Ben Williamson joined Down East magazine.
Stebbins, of Portland, was recently hired as a special projects editor for the magazine. She spent the past eight years working as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Every Day With Rachael Ray, Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal and O: The Oprah Magazine.


1098000_121952 Dave Chapman.jpgWilliamson was hired as photography director. Williamson has been photographing for the magazine for the last four years.




Adam Wiles-Rosell has joined Scott Simons Architects as an architectural designer.
He graduated from Norwich University in Vermont in May 2016 with a master’s degree in architecture. He lives in Portland.

1098000_121952 Kirk_Mullen.jpgThe Rowley Agency Inc. has hired Kirk Mullen as a commercial insurance account executive.
For the past four years, Mullen worked as a project manager for a commercial construction management firm in Portland. He lives in Portland.



SymQuest hired David Kerkhoff as a regional sales manager.
Before joining SymQuest, Kerkhoff was a branch manager and strategic development director for Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. Inc.

121952-jenna-lucasJenna Lucas joined Volk Packaging Corp.’s design group as a graphic designer.
Lucas, of Saco, has degrees in graphic design and multimedia communication from the Maine College of Art.




121952-andrea-kingMaine Media Collective has hired Andrea King as chief operating officer and associate publisher.
Before joining MMC, King founded Aristelle, a retailer of fine lingerie.



1098000_121952 Hannah Clark.jpgHannah Clark recently joined Down East Enterprise Inc. as a circulation assistant and production representative.
Before joining Down East, she was filling customer service and sales roles at Camden Falls Gallery and Linda Bean’s Maine Wyeth Gallery.




1098000_121952 Susan MacArthur.jpgSusan MacArthur joined Strategic Talent Management as vice president.
MacArthur was previously a business and event management consultant for many years. She also served as the first executive director for the Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.



Nicholas Crosman joined Macpage LLC as a senior tax associate.
Crosman has practiced in public accounting since July 2011. He previously worked at Berry Dunn as a tax specialist and a senior tax specialist.

1098000_121952 Dave Chapman.jpgCES Inc. has hired David Chapman as project geologist in its Lewiston office.
Chapman previously worked as a project geoscientist in New Hampshire.




Melissa Vigue joined Diversified Communications as a customer service representative.
Vigue previously worked at gymNation in Kennebunk.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 13:03:17 +0000
Volume up but prices flat in latest Maine home sales report Fri, 21 Oct 2016 16:10:25 +0000 Maine home sales spiked more than 6 percent in September, but median prices barely moved – two trends that diverge from what’s happening nationally.

A report Thursday from the Maine Realtors Association shows the volume of single-family home sales up 6.1 percent over September 2015 sales, while national home sales rose only 0.6 percent. But median prices here nudged up only 1.4 percent to $188,083, compared with a 5.6 percent increase nationally to $235,700.

In September, sales in the Northeast jumped 5.7 percent, and the median price rose 2.1 percent to $261,600. A median sales price indicates half the homes were sold for more and half were sold for less.

Ed Gardner, president of the Maine Association of Realtors and owner of Ocean Gate Realty, said the September data show stability in most markets across Maine.

Southern Maine markets saw the greatest year-over-year increase in sales prices from July through September. Cumberland County had the highest median sales price of $275,000, followed by York County at $247,000 and Lincoln County at $225,000.

Some rural counties saw decreases in their sales price. Aroostook County had a 17.75 percent drop in its median sales price over the same three-month quarter in 2015 to $82,250. Franklin County saw its median price drop by nearly 6 percent to $128,000.

Washington County, however, saw a 25 percent increase in its median sales price, rising from $80,000 to $100,000 over the quarter.

]]> 5, 21 Oct 2016 17:51:35 +0000
AT&T approaching Time Warner merger talks cautiously Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:41:07 +0000 AT&T may be interested in a deal with media giant Time Warner, but the phone carrier’s ambitions are constrained by its hefty $120 billion debt load and its desire to keep an investment-grade credit rating.

Senior executives of AT&T and Time Warner have met in recent weeks to discuss various business strategies, including a possible merger, people familiar with the situation told Bloomberg Thursday. Time Warner shares surged 4.7 percent on the news, valuing the company at $64.5 billion.

If talks progress to a deal, the combination would remake the Dallas-based phone giant into a media colossus. But investors would be asked to swallow another heap of debt, and probably a diluted equity stake, just a year after the company borrowed to acquire DirecTV for $48.5 billion. AT&T, with the third-lowest investment-grade rating, could make a deal work without getting downgraded to junk – but it would be tough.

“AT&T generates a great deal of free cash flow, and it definitely has the capacity in the debt market,” said Dave Novosel, an analyst with Gimme Credit. “If it was done with a combination of equity and debt there’s a pretty good chance they could stay investment-grade,” based on a premium valuing Time Warner at about $70 billion, he said.

Fletcher Cook, an AT&T spokesman, declined to comment.

The phone company, which has $7.2 billion of cash on hand, has said it will generate more than $16 billion in cash from operations this year. AT&T, which has a Baa1 credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service and a BBB+ rating from S&P Global Ratings, has said it wants to reduce its debt and return to a single-A credit rating.

Even a single-notch downgrade would raise the company’s borrowing costs and go against the company’s interests in keeping “strong market access,” said Mark Stodden, a senior credit officer at Moody’s.

“They’ve been fairly consistent in their message that they were targeting lower leverage, so we did not anticipate another megadeal,” Stodden said. “On the other hand, the company has a very low growth profile so I understand the strategic rationale.”

A deal with a media company like Time Warner — the owner of HBO, CNN and the Warner Bros. movie studio – would help AT&T shift its business toward ownership of programming, instead of being reliant solely on video distribution. AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson is focusing on buying businesses to expand into media and entertainment, people familiar with the plans said earlier this month. Targets have included companies worth $2 billion to $50 billion, the people said.

For a Gadfly take on AT&T’s media ambitions, click here

The informal talks with Time Warner executives have been aimed at building relations between the companies rather than establishing the terms of a specific transaction, the people familiar with those discussions said, asking not to be identified as the deliberations are private.

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is a willing seller if he gets an offer he thinks is fair, said one of the people. Bewkes and his board rejected an $85-a-share approach in 2014 from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc., which valued Time Warner at more than $75 billion.

Beyond financing, a deal with New York-based Time Warner has a number of other challenges.

The companies would face scrutiny from regulators in trying to combine distribution and content, Mike McCormack, an analyst with Jefferies Group LLC, said in an interview Thursday. AT&T hasn’t yet completed its integration of DirecTV, he said. And maintaining AT&T’s 5 percent dividend yield could be tough, he said.

“They’d have a couple choices with the dividend – either they bulk up the payout or they cut the dividend and explain that they are trying to become a different kind of company,” McCormack said. “The caveat there is a lot of their investors are looking for their dividends.”

“If AB InBev could get financing to acquire SABMiller, I think AT&T could get this done,” Novosel said, referring to the recent beer merger.

“Look, it would take 12 months to close the deal,” he said of AT&T and Time Warner. “That’s plenty of time to pre-fund it, raise money and put it in escrow. They are probably thinking, ‘With these interest rates, why wait?’ “

]]> 1 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 20:38:28 +0000
Crackdown looming on illegal Airbnb rentals in New York Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:26:28 +0000 ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state may soon enact one of the nation’s toughest restrictions on Airbnb, the popular online short-term rental service.

Legislation awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo before the end of the month would authorize fines of up to $7,500 for tenants and landlords who advertise rentals for 30 days or less in violation of a 2010 state occupancy law.

Supporters of the measure say many Airbnb rentals are already prohibited under that law. They say fines will help bring an end to illegal, unlicensed rentals that hurt local hotels and reduce the number of affordable apartments in New York City.

Cuomo hasn’t said what he intends to do, and Airbnb is pushing hard for a veto. The San Francisco-based company has proposed regulations intended to prevent property owners from running unlicensed hotels.

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:49:37 +0000
Bait crisis is over, but Maine lobstermen are still feeling the pinch Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The lobster bait crisis that plagued New England this summer is finally over, now that fishermen have begun to catch herring off Georges Bank.

But the price of lobstermen’s favorite bait fish, which rose dramatically when the offshore fleet wasn’t landing enough herring to refill empty bait freezers, has remained high through the end of peak lobster season, typically August through late October. Although there’s been no appreciable effect on consumer prices, lobstermen agree the shortage hurt their bottom line.

“Earlier this year, when prices were at their highest, I paid $170 for a barrel of herring and I usually pay about $110 for that same barrel,” said Jeff Putnam, a lobsterman out of Chebeague Island. “Like a lot of guys, I like to fish herring, but with prices like that, I turned to pogeys, but then pogey prices went up, too. Overall, I would say my bait costs are up 15 percent this year.”

Putnam has fared better than other lobstermen, especially those who fish out of the more isolated wharves or island communities and always have had a harder time securing a steady and affordable source of fresh bait. Prices vary from wharf to wharf, and the impact of bait costs varies from one boat to the next. Terry Savage Sr., who fishes out of the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-Op, said his bait costs have almost doubled this year,

“Some of it is because I hired a new sternman this year, and I had to teach him how to bait the traps, how to stack the new bait over the old and ration herring out, using pogeys and redfish heads to make it last,” Savage said. “But also, our bait is barged out to the island, and the barge company jacked prices up, and I’ve got no choice but to pay. I can’t fish without bait.”

The price of herring has come down from the summer high in most harbors, although not all the way down, lobstermen say. But in more far-flung places like Cranberry Island, fishermen like Savage say the prices remain high, even though the offshore herring are finally coming in. Prices rose when Maine lobstermen had to rely entirely on the inshore herring catch and alternative bait fish like menhaden to lure lobsters to their pots.

The lobster industry is Maine’s most lucrative commercial fishery. Last year’s catch was valued at more than $500 million.


The bait crisis began early this summer when the offshore fishing fleet that trawls for herring off Georges Bank, an underwater plateau in the relatively shallow waters off the New England coast between Maine and Cape Cod, was coming up empty. Some fleet captains said the herring simply weren’t there, while others said they were, but were mixed in too closely with the quota-restricted haddock to fish.

Herring also is a managed fishery, with a quota that is divided up among four different zones and rules about what kind of fishing, like purse seine and trawling, can occur in each zone. Most of the nation’s Atlantic herring comes from Georges Bank – about 40 percent of the 108,975 metric tons of herring allowed to be landed in 2016. So a dry period in Georges Bank can empty bait freezers pretty fast.

At the start of September, when Maine lobstering is in the middle of peak season, the offshore fleet had only landed 8,700 metric tons of herring, which wasn’t even 20 percent of its maximum allowable catch for the year. At the same time last year, the offshore fleet had landed three times that amount of herring. Even that amount had lobstermen grumbling about scarce bait fish conditions.

An offshore shortage puts tremendous pressure on the inshore herring fishery in the Gulf of Maine, where summer fishing is limited to purse seine vessel fishing, with no trawling allowed. Regulators worried the inshore fleet would run through its much smaller herring quota too fast, leaving lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts with no bait at all during the busiest time of their year.


The agencies that manage the herring fishery – the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the New England Fishery Management Council – took steps to limit inshore herring fishing, adding days-out-of-the-water provisions and daily catch limits in hopes of stretching that inshore quota through the end of peak lobster season.

The strategy appears to have worked. Regulators had worried about hitting the inshore quota in late summer, but with additional management, they kept it open through Oct. 18, after having landed 27,908 metric tons, or about 93 percent of the annual herring quota. Despite tremendous pressure, that is just about two weeks earlier than the inshore fleet hit its quota last year.

Patrice McCarron, the director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, applauded the way regulators handled the bait shortage. Lobstermen didn’t want the high prices or bait shortage in July, but they could live with the situation then, and learn to ration their herring use, McCarron said. But running out of herring during peak season, when most lobstermen earn the bulk of their profits, could have been catastrophic, she said.

Luckily, the offshore fleet finally began to find haddock-free schools of herring off Georges Bank in mid-September, according to weekly herring landing reports from the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They doubled the amount of herring landed in the zone, which traditionally stands out as one of the nation’s most productive fisheries, in just three weeks.

“There is always a risk of something like this in a wild-caught fishery,” McCarron said. “You can’t create supply. Herring just wasn’t available, and no manager can fix that. I think the managers did the best they could to stretch the inshore bait out as long as they did, but there’s no doubt, it cost us more than ever to bait our traps this year.”

The association has been monitoring the bait situation throughout the summer, but its board won’t have the time, or the data, to analyze the way that it played out until the winter when many Maine lobstermen crunch their year-end budget numbers. The association expects to consider what steps should be taken to avoid or at least mitigate the impact of another shortage in the future.

Some lobstermen already have some recommendations. Putnam, the Chebeague Island lobsterman, sits on the Department of Marine Resource’s Lobster Advisory Council and wants Maine to push federal regulators for a bigger share of the national herring quota, as well as the most popular alternative bait fish, menhaden, which are also called pogeys. Fishermen know both of these fish are here in greater numbers now, he said, and government surveys are backing that up.

]]> 5, 21 Oct 2016 08:27:41 +0000
Downeaster’s $13 million layover facility in Brunswick ready to roll Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Jim Russell of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority gives a tour of the new train shed in Brunswick on Thursday. Longer than two football fields, it will become fully operational Nov. 21. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jim Russell of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority gives a tour of the new train shed in Brunswick on Thursday. Longer than two football fields, it will become fully operational Nov. 21. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority will finally unveil its new train layover facility in Brunswick this weekend, more than five years after it first proposed the project to improve service on the Amtrak Downeaster.

The 60,000-square-foot facility, which is longer than two football fields, will allow the rail authority to begin the overnight servicing of Amtrak Downeaster passenger trains starting in November.

Tucked between a quiet residential neighborhood to the south and the congestion that clogs traffic on Pleasant Street to the north, the facility is barely noticeable.

Once it becomes fully operational Nov. 21, the layover building will allow the Amtrak Downeaster to operate a third train between Brunswick and Boston – a service that Amtrak officials say is sorely needed, especially by passengers who might want to spend the day and night in Boston at a Bruins or Celtics game. Currently, Amtrak only operates two passenger trains north of Portland on a daily basis.

Siting and construction of the $13 million train shed between Stanwood Street and Church Road did not come without challenges. Neighbors fought the project aggressively, saying that it would pollute the air around their homes, produce loud noise while they tried to sleep, and degrade property values.

They lost their last chance of stopping the project when a citizen oversight board of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection rejected an appeal of a stormwater permit for the layover facility last year. The appeal filed by the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition was the residents’ last line of defense after the town of Brunswick and Federal Rail Authority gave their approvals.

“It’s over. It’s done and we are learning to live with our loss. It’s hard to fight the big people,” said Dan Sullivan, a member of the coalition. “We did the best we could.”

Sullivan’s home on Bouchard Drive, where he has lived for 12 years, is about 25 yards from the layover facility.

The 60,000-square-foot facility is barely noticeable, between a quiet neighborhood to the south and busy Pleasant Street to the north. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The 60,000-square-foot facility is barely noticeable, between a quiet neighborhood to the south and busy Pleasant Street to the north. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The rail authority is planning to hold a public open house at the layover shed from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Rail authority spokeswoman Natalie Bogart said Saturday’s event may be the last opportunity for the public to actually see the interior of the massive building, which is accessible from Lombard Street and Church Road. Once crews start parking trains overnight for servicing, the doors to the facility will be mostly closed to the public for security and safety reasons.

Amtrak has been servicing and cleaning its trains outdoors in Portland near the Portland Transportation Center and Thompson’s Point.

That system has proven to be inefficient, Bogart said, because crews have to crawl under trains in winter to clear their undercarriages of ice and snow. The trains in Portland run for 24 hours, but in Brunswick the trains can be shut down for several hours while crews empty sewage, clean coach cars and inspect each train’s brake system.

In Brunswick, the layover facility has the capacity to park three full-sized trains – each comprising a locomotive and six coaches – in a fully enclosed, heated building, said Jim Russell, the rail authority’s special projects manager. Ice and snow will melt off the trains and enter drains that empty into a drainage system.

Russell jokes when he calls the layover facility, “one big barn.” “It’s an extreme improvement over what we have now,” Russell said.

Trains can enter or exit from either end of the layover facility through 18-foot-tall bay doors. The trains will then roll onto three sets of tracks that run the entire length of the 655-foot facility.

The north side of the building – facing Pleasant Street – holds space for staff, including offices, a locker room, bathrooms, a train crew briefing room and a break room. There is also a loading dock and storage area where a vendor can load trains with food and beverages.

Russell said the insulated concrete walls on the south side of the building facing Bouchard Street and several abutting neighborhoods were designed to be soundproof – a measure that Russell says was done in response to residents’ concerns about noise.

Construction of the facility began in October 2015 and is mostly complete. Downeaster crews will begin training in the new facility next week.

Sullivan, who is a member of the neighborhood coalition, said the rail authority refused to consider other locations that he claims would have had less of an impact on residents.

Sullivan said that he first heard about the rail authority’s intentions in the spring of 2011 after the project came before the Brunswick Planning Board.

According to its website, the passenger rail service operates five round-trips daily between Boston and Portland – with stops in Wells, Saco and Old Orchard Beach. Two of those round-trips continue on to Freeport and Brunswick. Its ridership since 2005 has grown from just under 300,000 passengers to more than 500,000 annually.

Consigli Construction of Portland designed and built the facility.


]]> 236, 21 Oct 2016 08:27:55 +0000
Following boom, Cuba puts freeze on new licenses for Havana restaurants Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:53:32 +0000 HAVANA — Cuba is freezing new licenses for private restaurants in Havana as it struggles with the runaway success of one of the most important openings in the state-run economy.

The country was once famed for its dire state restaurants and cafeterias, but it’s developed a vibrant dining scene since private restaurants were legalized two decades ago. A sector that began with enterprising Cubans setting up a handful of tables in their backyards has expanded into an industry of hundreds of restaurants with offerings ranging from freshly caught sushi to sophisticated interpretations of classic Cuban dishes.

However, the private restaurateurs lack a wholesale market or legal way to import supplies and equipment. So they’ve been emptying the shelves of retail shops and buying other goods on the black market. That has led to rising food prices and shortages of goods for other Cubans.

Acting Vice President Isabel Hamze told state media on Wednesday that Havana’s provincial government is temporarily freezing the approval of new licenses and is inspecting restaurants to detect violations ranging from prostitution, drug use and excessive noise to illegal importation and purchase of stolen goods.

She said one business had been closed because it was operating a bar and nightclub in violation of a license exclusively meant for restaurants.

Hamze’s statements appeared intended to reassure restaurant owners and residents that the measures were not a crackdown on private restaurants but rather an attempt to impose common-sense regulations on issues ranging from closing times and parking spaces.

“We recognize the importance that these businesses have for the city, and the government wants them to be successful, but within legal limits,” she said.

The city is also starting to impose more limits on private bed-and-breakfasts, another flourishing sector of the new private economy.

Draft regulations being circulated among bed-and-breakfast owners and real estate agents would limit the number of bathrooms and kitchens built in private homes, and the division of high-ceilinged old homes into de facto apartment buildings with the use of concrete intermediate floors.

A boom in tourism set off by the declaration of detente with the U.S. two years ago has fueled furious growth in private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 20:53:32 +0000
Spending on luxury items stalls amid election in U.S., terrorism Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:23:23 +0000 MILAN — The terror threat in Europe, a strong dollar and uncertainty over the U.S. presidential elections have eroded the confidence of the globe’s big spenders, holding luxury purchases flat in 2016, according to a study released Thursday.

Spending on luxury apparel, accessories and other personal items is expected to hold steady at 249 billion euros ($273 billion) this year, according to a study by Bain Consultancy for the Altagamma association of Italian high-end luxury producers. Add in spending on luxury cars, yachts, jets, cruises, hotels, fine art, design and food, and the market tops a stunning 1 trillion euros.

As political events and monetary policy exert greater influence on luxury spending patterns, brands have turned their focus to wooing buyers in their home countries rather than counting on tourist arrivals to buoy sales, said Bain partner Claudia D’Arpizio.

“This is not happening by default,” D’Arpizio said. “Brands are refocusing on the local customer base and working to develop products that are more affordable and more inclusive to meet their needs.”

For the first time, spending by China’s super-consumers shrank, albeit slightly from 31 percent of the total to 30 percent of the total. Part of the shift was due to an increase in the number of middle-class Chinese travelers, who collectively spend less than higher rollers, she said.

While U.S. presidential elections always put the freeze on consumer spending, D’Arpizio said this year’s squeeze was a little tighter because of a strong dollar, which also hurt tourist spending, and higher oil prices.

In Europe, brands are also working to cultivate local buyers as the threat of terrorism has hurt tourism. They are seeing local consumption recover in Italy, Germany, Spain and Britain. But spending remains soft in France, with terror attacks affecting the sentiments of both tourists and locals, D’Arpizio said.

Britain’s decision to exit the European Union so far has proven a boon for luxury spending, with the falling pound encouraging both domestic consumption and travelers to spend.

“Currently, London is the cheapest luxury market,” D’Arpizio said.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 21:13:40 +0000
Snoopy shot down again, this time as MetLife icon Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:42:20 +0000 MetLife, the largest U.S. life insurer, will phase out the use of Snoopy and Peanuts characters in its marketing.

The insurer announced a new tagline, “MetLife. Navigating life together,” in what the New York-based company called the most significant change to its brand in three decades. The company plans to roll out its new logo, featuring a green and blue letter M, through next year.

CEO Steve Kandarian has been rethinking the company’s business model, and will increasingly focus on group benefits, such as dental and disability coverage. He announced a plan this month to spin off the U.S. retail business, which was recently given the Brighthouse Financial name.

“We brought in Snoopy over 30 years ago to make our company more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant,” Chief Marketing Officer Esther Lee said in a written statement. “As we focus on our future, it’s important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers.”

Iconix Brand Group holds the majority stake in the Peanuts characters.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:51:11 +0000
Wal-Mart steps up online push into China Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:26:24 +0000 Shoppers in remote villages could see Wal-Mart products being delivered by drones.

Wal-Mart Stores has hit the reset button on its China strategy in dramatic fashion.

The world’s largest retailer is making an ambitious push into e-commerce in China and aims to deliver goods from its stores around the world to Chinese consumers within hours. Shoppers in select remote villages could even see their Wal-Mart products being delivered by drones as part of a pilot project by its Chinese partner,

After unsuccessful efforts to scale up its own e-commerce network, Wal-Mart launched several new initiatives this week through a tie-up with – China’s second-largest e-commerce website, with almost 200 million active users. With this partnership, Wal-Mart said it will now be able to deliver its goods, ranging from American vitamins to Japanese hand cream, to more than 90 percent of China’s 1.4 billion consumers.

“There isn’t another country in the world that represents the kind of retail growth opportunity that China does, given the growth rate of the market itself and the consumer demand here,” CEO Doug McMillon, 50, said in an interview in Beijing. “We see opportunities to partner together to provide goods to our customers, to leverage our supply chain and their digital capabilities.”

Wal-Mart has a lot riding on its new online strategy aimed at getting a bigger slice of the world’s biggest e-commerce market. The retailer this month forecast that earnings will be flat the next two years while it invests in e-commerce. As it looks to China to fuel growth, cracking the Chinese online game will be more important than ever.

“They have found a clever way to leverage someone else’s network to help them sell things online, and it’s easier to jump on the back of,” said Chan Wai-Chan, a senior partner at Oliver Wyman’s Asia Pacific consumer practice. “They need to do something online to stop e-commerce from taking away their business. This is Wal-Mart’s solution.”

Wal-Mart shares gained 12 percent this year through Wednesday in New York trading, outperforming the Bloomberg World Retail Index, which was down 1.1 percent. That still lagged the U.S.-listed stocks of its major e-commerce competitors, Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which gained 21 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over the period.

McMillon, who took over the top role in 2014, said the initiatives will keep the company’s China operations on track to contribute a quarter of its global retail growth in the next five years. That’s despite sluggish sales at Wal-Mart’s retail stores in China, while shoppers there increasingly turn to online websites for convenience. The strategy also gives it access to new Chinese consumers in smaller cities where Wal-Mart doesn’t operate stores.

“The scale of the last mile here in China is unique – the economics related to it are different,” McMillon said. “We could have built this ourselves, but everything requires investment. What we are doing is being very deliberate about where we’re putting our resources and being open to working with others. In today’s world, there’s different ways to build that ecosystem that serves customers.”

To reach customers, Wal-Mart is relying on and its extensive logistics and delivery network. founder and CEO Richard Liu said the company wants to build a fully-automated delivery infrastructure that includes automated warehouses and distribution centers, self-driving delivery cars and drones.

The company is delivering products to a number of remote villages in southern China by drones. Villagers who order Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club products could see some goods flown to them, according to spokesman Josh Gartner.

Wal-Mart operates 420 stores and Sam’s Club membership outlets in the country. Wal-Mart’s global online sales are about $14 billion, or 3 percent of worldwide revenue, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. About 20 percent of China’s retail sales are online, according to Ben Hassing, senior vice president for China e-commerce. Wal-Mart, which posted $482 billion in annual sales, doesn’t break out China revenue.

The initiatives include guaranteed deliveries within two hours to customers who live within a few miles of 20 Wal-Mart stores initially. The U.S. retailer will also stock a warehouse with imported products from its stores globally to capitalize on Chinese consumers’ preference for overseas goods. That means things such as dried cranberries from the United States, toothpaste from Japan and face masks from Korea available at Wal-Mart stores overseas will be available to Chinese consumers for the first time. The company plans to offer tens of thousands of items it imports from around the world to Chinese consumers within 18 months, Hassing said.

The other twist: Sam’s Club stores’ upscale products are now available to all Chinese. A range of products from the membership store, which sells $3,000 rice cookers and $1,800 bottles of red wine, will be available for the first time to nonmembers online in China – at a 10 percent price premium.

Wal-Mart has struggled in China with multiple attempts to get a foothold in the market since its entry two decades ago. In 2007, it acquired Taiwanese chain Trust-Mart, though the company struggled to integrate it into its wider business. In the last few years, it’s pulled back on an expansion as it closed stores in mostly second- and third-tier cities while opening new ones at a slower pace. The new strategy follows Wal-Mart’s decision to sell its Chinese e-commerce platform Yihaodian in June in exchange for a 5 percent stake in

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 19:26:24 +0000
Long-term U.S. mortgage rates rise again Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:11:04 +0000 WASHINGTON — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose this week for a second straight week, reaching their highest levels since June.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.52 percent from 3.47 percent last week.

Rates still remain near historic lows. The benchmark 30-year rate is down from 3.79 percent a year ago and close to its all-time low of 3.31 percent in November 2012.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, popular with homeowners who are refinancing, rose to 2.79 percent from 2.76 percent.

Rates on adjustable five-year mortgages averaged 2.85 percent, up from 2.82 percent last week.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 19:11:04 +0000
More Americans have income they can bank on Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:06:39 +0000 NEW YORK — Fewer Americans are without access to a checking or savings account, according to a survey released Thursday by federal regulators, a sign that the improving economy is helping lift the nation’s poorest households.

Having a checking or savings account is considered a cornerstone of financial stability in the U.S. Without one, households must rely on check-cashing services, prepaid debit cards and other costly ways to pay bills and make routine transactions.

While the gains were modest, the results of the survey from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation are an encouraging sign that more people are getting access to bank accounts.

The portion of Americans who do not have a bank account, known in industry jargon as “the unbanked,” declined to 7 percent in 2015 from 7.7 percent in 2013, according to the FDIC. The improvements mostly came from households making less than $15,000 a year.

The FDIC report is the most recent piece of data showing that the economic recovery is beginning to help those at the bottom. In September, the Census Bureau said median household income rose 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, the first annual increase in that metric since before the Great Recession.

There are several reasons why people would choose not to have a traditional bank account. Some do not trust banks or want to avoid their fees, or they have privacy concerns. There is also a perception among the unbanked, according to the FDIC, that banks do not want to do business with the poor.

But the No. 1 reason why Americans say they do not have a checking or savings account is because they believe they do not have enough money to get an account. The FDIC says roughly 57 percent of all unbanked households cited lack of money as a reason not to have an account, and roughly 38 percent of those same people said that was the main reason.

The FDIC does a survey of the unbanked and underbanked every two years, gathering the data on odd years and releasing the results roughly a year later. The figures released Thursday were gathered in June 2015, so the results do not reflect the ongoing improvements in the U.S. economy since then.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:51:54 +0000
Home sales surge, set
 best pace 
since June Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:03:54 +0000 WASHINGTON — More Americans bought homes in September, many for the first time, despite a persistent shortage of properties for sale.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes rose 3.2 percent from August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million, the strongest pace since June. Sales rose across the country: 5.7 percent in the Northeast, 5 percent in the West, 3.9 percent in the Midwest and 0.9 percent in the South.

The supply of available homes stood at 2.04 million units, down 6.8 percent from a year ago. Tight inventories drove the median price of existing homes up 5.6 percent from a year ago to $234,200.

Institutional investors who bought up homes in recent years have continued to rent them out rather than putting them on the market. Moreover, homebuilders have not stepped up construction. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that home construction fell 9 percent in September to the slowest pace in 18 months.

But buyers have been lured into the market by mortgage rates near historic lows.

The association said first-time home buyers accounted for 34 percent of the purchases. On Tuesday, the real estate firm Zillow reported a surprise increase in first-time home buyers over the past year, as home ownership rates for adults under 34 have been at record lows.

The strong demand for homes combined with tight inventory suggests that would-be home owners could wind up in bidding wars when the home buying season heats up in the spring.

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:21:31 +0000
Starbucks starting new upscale chain with up to 1,000 cafes Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:37:18 +0000 Starbucks plans to open as many as 1,000 locations of a new upscale chain that will tout its premium Reserve coffees, escalating an effort to reach more sophisticated customers.

The world’s biggest coffee-shop operator had previously set a target of 500 globally for the Reserve chain, which hasn’t rolled out yet. The first location, scheduled to open next year, will sell more expensive small-lot coffee, along with food from Starbucks’ Italian bakery partner, Princi.

The push is part of a move by Starbucks to add different store concepts around the world. It’s also opening giant locations known as Roasteries, which offer tastings and spotlight its premium coffee and the roasting process. The company announced plans on Thursday to open its next Roastery in Tokyo, following a location in Seattle and planned sites in Shanghai and New York.

“The customer is going to demand an upgraded experience,” Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz said in an interview. “We’re becoming much more bullish on what we believe the Reserve brand, in multiple forms, represents.”

Between the Roasteries, the smaller Reserve locations and its regular cafes, Starbucks is increasingly varying the look and experience of the 45-year-old chain. It also has been opening flagship stores around the world that spotlight local tastes, and it’s been adding upscale coffee bars to more of its standard locations.

A common theme is the desire to sell more of its Reserve premium brand, a product line that traces its origins to 2004. It was that year that Starbucks began offering a single-origin coffee as part of its Black Apron Exclusives. The program evolved into the Reserve brand in 2010. Starbucks opened its first Roastery & Tasting Room store in its hometown of Seattle in 2014 to showcase Reserve coffees. The new Roastery planned for Tokyo’s Nakameguro district will be its fourth such location.

In the Seattle Roastery, customers can get specialty drinks such as espresso-topped ice cream and sit at bars to watch beverages being made with French presses and Clover brewers. That location is 15,000 square feet (1,400 square meters), roughly nine times the size of an average Starbucks. The stores planned for Shanghai and New York will both be two levels.

Despite Starbucks’ increasing ambitions for the Reserve stores, they’ve taken time to get off the ground. The company has been discussing plans to open the stores since 2014. The rollout of the large Roastery locations also has been gradual: The New York location, for instance, won’t open until 2018.

Upgrading the brand may allow Starbucks to better compete with regional and local coffee chains that tout coffee origins, locally made pastries and different brewing styles. Reserve coffees are typically produced in small batches and cost more than drinks made with traditional beans, which is helping pull in more sales.

“The Reserve stores will be a significantly higher average unit volume than the traditional Starbucks,” Schultz said, declining to give specific figures. “Our enthusiasm to accelerate our growth all things Reserve is indicative of what’s happening.”

]]> 1 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:52:33 +0000
Day’s Jewelers picked as Maine Retailer of the Year Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:31:50 +0000 The Retail Association of Maine has named Day’s Jewelers as its Retailer of the Year.

The trade group, which represents 400 businesses in Maine, announced the selection of the Waterville-based jewelry chain Thursday. The award will be presented at the association’s annual meeting Oct. 27 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.

“Day’s was chosen for its reputation as a growing family business, patient and careful long term growth, social, ethical and environmental responsibility, and staff development procedures,” according to a release from the association. “Day’s Jewelers’ values aligned perfectly with the award criteria and they were unanimously selected as this year’s recipient.”

The annual award is given to a Maine retailer that demonstrates continued growth in employees or sales; commitment of company resources to community projects; and creation of a positive work environment.

Day’s was one of the first jewelers in America, and one of only six independent companies in the United States to achieve certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council, a nonprofit organization that established a set of best practice business standards and audits for the global jewelry industry, according to the release.

In the last few years, Day’s Jewelers has worked collaboratively with their staff, customers and suppliers to donate to more than 40 charitable organizations and has developed a program, called “Diamonds for Peace” to help Mainers in need by donating $10 for each loose diamond or piece of diamond jewelry sold, said the release.

Day’s was also lauded for growing a family-owned enterprise in a competitive industry dominated by large corporate chains.

“It is a true honor for our company to be named as Retailer of the Year,” said President David Harris in the release. “Kathy, Jeff and Jim (Corey) have come a long way from their humble beginnings in Madawaska and Fort Kent to make Day’s one of the most respected retailers in the U.S. jewelry industry. It has been a pleasure to work in a company where customers and employees are treated like part of the family.”

Day’s operates seven stores, and recently opened a new location in Augusta.

The retail association has bestowed its retailer of the year honor every year since 1980.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:46:02 +0000
Apple: Many ‘genuine’ Apple products on Amazon are fake Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:06:29 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Apple says it has been buying Apple chargers and cables labeled as genuine on and has found nearly 90 percent of them to be counterfeit.

The revelation comes in a federal lawsuit filed by Apple against a New Jersey company on Monday over what Apple says are counterfeit products that were sold on Amazon.

In the lawsuit, Apple says Mobile Star imprinted Apple logos on cables and chargers that “pose a significant risk of overheating, fire, and electrical shock.” It says the chargers and cables were being sold on Amazon as genuine Apple products.

Apple says it purchased the products on Amazon and later told the online retailer that they were fake. Amazon then identified Mobile Star as the source.

Amazon isn’t named in the suit. Mobile Star didn’t return a voicemail seeking comment.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:12:59 +0000
The future of cannabis sales: tiny brownies Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:58:37 +0000 “Well, you know the Maureen Dowd story,” sighed Tim Moxey. “And it’s just not a good story.”

True, Dowd’s experience was less than ideal: She ate a couple bites of a pot-infused candy bar, then curled into a ball in her Denver hotel room and had a panic attack. The next day she discovered the bar was supposed to have been broken into 16 pieces, not munched on bite by bite.

Two years after that story went viral, it still haunts edible marijuana bakers like Moxey, the co-founder of Seattle edibles producer Spot, who says the New York Times columnist’s mishap was bad for the entire industry.

At Spot, Moxey is crafting edibles that will get people high enough – but not too high – and testing them to ensure the dosage is correct. Just 17 percent of edibles are accurately labeled with the proper THC level, according to a June 2015 research letter published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. As a result, many cannabis consumers have no idea how much they’re ingesting and are subject to a multitude of unpleasant effects.

Spot’s cookies and brownie bites are dosed with exactly five milligrams of THC, an amount that leads to a considerably more mellow high than what Dowd experienced. “It’s not going to make you lose control,” Moxey said of the amount. “It’s my belief that five milligrams is the right level to be at.”

It’s not all about being at the “right level.” Spot launched the line of microdosed edibles in part to adhere to state laws. Washington is effectively a microdose state, because the legal limit is 10 milligrams of THC per serving, with a limit of 100 milligrams in an entire package. Each serving must be individually wrapped, which prevents producers of edibles from selling a mega-brownie and saying it has 10 servings within.

This single-serve soft cookie is among a variety of edibles marketed by Spot. The cookie contains 10mg THC, the compound that makes marijuana psychoactive. Product photo from Spot website

This single-serve soft cookie is among a variety of edibles marketed by Spot. The cookie contains 10mg THC, the compound that makes marijuana psychoactive. Product photo from Spot website

Not all states that have legalized some form of marijuana use are so strict. In Colorado, the limit is 100 milligrams per unit. In California, which has no limit at all, a vaguely terrifying 700 milligram brownie is available for purchase. Such a brownie contains more than 35 times the amount of THC necessary to feel a high, but it’s unlikely that the brownie’s purveyor will eat only one 35th of it.

Even though the move to microdosing came out of legal necessity, Spot found these products were perfect for first-time cannabis customers-a gateway to a gateway, if you will. “No one is going to get weirded out at five milligrams,” Moxey explained. “That’s why these products are selling so quickly.”

A five-milligram peppermint produced by Moxey was the top-selling edible in Washington State last quarter, according to data reviewed by the cannabis analytics firm Headset. “For routine customers, eating a five-milligram mint isn’t always to get high, but more about overall wellness and mood enhancement,” explained Jess Henson, Headset’s lead market analyst. “More low-dosage edibles will emerge as cannabis attracts a larger mainstream audience.”

Spot is planning to expand to Oregon and, pending recreational legalization, to California, where the company could theoretically sell higher-dosed edibles. But given the success of microdosed products in Washington, the company plans to continue hawking these little bites in every new market it enters.

“There are vastly more people that don’t consume cannabis that do,” said Moxey. “You have to make it an enjoyable enough experience that someone will say, ‘Oh, I’ll have another.’ “

]]> 1, 20 Oct 2016 18:52:11 +0000
Maine’s wood innovators gathering to explore next-gen products Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:24:49 +0000 Entrepreneur Nadir Yildirim is among those convinced that Maine’s troubled forest products industry is merely going through a period of transition, as innovative minds develop new products that will catalyze a resurgence in demand for the state’s most abundant natural resource.

His stake in this next generation of wood-based products is a foam insulation board made from the molecular building blocks of wood called cellulose nanofibers. The boards made by Yildirim’s high-tech startup, Revolution Research Inc., are 100 percent recyclable, unusual among the other foam insulation boards on the market that are typically made from petroleum-based materials.

“I personally believe these (cellulose) nanofibrils will be the raw material of the future,” said Yildirim, who has a Ph.D. in forest resources from the University of Maine. “It will create a significant change for the future of the Maine forests.”

Yildirim is among those who see new, innovative uses that can come from Maine’s 17 million acres of forest. Those innovations include wood-based biofuels, plastics and chemicals, engineered construction materials that rival the strongest steel, and cellulose nanofiber additives from wood that can boost the durability of products ranging from paper to concrete.

Yildirim, whose company has received several grants from scientific and economic development organizations, is speaking at an upcoming conference on the next generation of wood products that he described as an opportunity for innovators and forest industry leaders to share information about the industry’s future potential with each other and the public.

“We need to show them we can use trees in a better way,” he said. “Instead of making $100 from a tree, you can make $1,000 from a tree.”

A group of industry leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs and academics will meet Saturday in Hiram for the Wood Innovators Conference, organized by Forest Works!, a working-forest conservation partnership, and Tear Cap Workshops, an educational nonprofit based at the Hiram Works business incubator for innovative wood products, located in a former saw mill.

The all-day conference will feature a variety of discussions about current trends in the development of new forest products, with an emphasis on construction materials, biofuels, cellulose nanofibers and policy initiatives to boost the nascent next-gen wood products industry. The conference, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Hiram Works, is open to the public.

“Innovation is not just about internet startups and new apps for cellphones,” said Lee Burnett, project director at Forest Works! and one of the conference’s organizers. “Some of the most promising job-producing innovation in Maine is happening in the woods, and in niche factories and laboratories.”

The focus on new wood products could revive a flagging industry in Maine and bring jobs back to communities that have been devastated economically by paper mill closures, said scheduled conference speaker Charlotte Mace, executive director of Biobased Maine. In the past two years, five mills have closed, displacing thousands of workers.

Mace said part of the reason she wanted to participate in the conference is that she was raised near Hiram in a community that has suffered because of decreased demand for traditional forest products. She sees the new generation of innovative wood products as a solution to that problem.

“We just want that sector of the industry to grow,” Mace said.

Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine in Orono, oversees one of the world’s largest laboratories experimenting with nanocellulose composites, engineered lumber and other innovative products. The center operates like a business, with a staff of 180 people and about 500 clients all over the world. More than 95 percent of the center’s funding comes from outside of Maine, from organizations that support the development of high-tech products made from wood.

“It’s our largest natural resource right now,” Dagher said. “We need to come up with next-generation ways to use it.”

Products being developed or tested at the center include panels of “cross-laminated timber,” a construction material that is as strong as concrete and steel but lighter and easier to work with. Dagher said it can be used to construct buildings of 10 stories or higher with frames made entirely of wood.

The center also is working with a variety of composite materials that contain cellulose nanofibers from wood. Dagher said the nanofibers have an unusual ability to add strength to whatever material they are mixed with, including plastics, cement and concrete. The center is using composites to make sheet piling for sea walls that can last 100 years underwater without corroding like steel.

Nanocellulose-based plastics can be used to build any number of molded or even 3-D printed structures that combine the best properties of both plastic and lumber, Dagher said.

“In 20 or maybe 30 years we may be talking about nanomills in Maine,” he said.


]]> 1, 21 Oct 2016 21:09:09 +0000
U.S. claims for unemployment benefits at highest level in 5 weeks Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:13:57 +0000 WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to the highest level in five weeks but still remained close to the recent 43-year lows.

Applications for jobless benefits rose by 13,000 last week to 260,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That was the highest level since an identical 260,000 claim applications were filed the week of Sept. 10.

Since that time, claims had fallen to the lowest levels since November 1973. Even with last week’s gain, claims, which are a proxy for layoffs, remain at levels indicating that workers are enjoying job security despite sluggish economic growth.

The four-week average for claims, a less volatile measure, rose by 2,250 to 251,750 last week.

Overall, 2.06 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks, down 6 percent from a year ago.

The labor market has continued to show steady improvement this year although at a slower pace than in 2015. Employers added 156,000 jobs in September, fewer than the 167,000 jobs added in August and below last year’s average monthly gain of 230,000.

The unemployment rate inched up to 5 percent in September, compared to 4.9 percent in August, as more than 400,000 people entered the labor market to look for jobs but not all of them were immediately successful.

Still, the unemployment rate is just half the 10 percent high hit in October 2009 as the country was struggling to pull out of the Great Recession.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:13:57 +0000
Dunkin’ takes revenue hit on store sales, but profit rises Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:11:52 +0000 CANTON, Mass. – Dunkin’ Brands’ third-quarter revenue dipped on the sale of its remaining company-run stores and for a second time, it lowered revenue expectations for the year.

The Canton, Massachusetts-based company earned $52.7 million, or 57 cents per share, for the three months ended Sept. 24, up from $46.2 million, or 48 cents per share, a year earlier.

Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were 60 cents per share, which was 2 cents better than Wall Street had expected, according to analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue slipped 1.3 percent to $207.1 million, well short of analyst projections of $213.3 million.

Chief Financial Officer Paul Carbone said in a written statement Thursday that the sale of the remaining company-run stores pushed revenue lower, but that the company is now 100 percent franchised.

Sales at Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the U.S. open at least a year increased 2 percent on strong drink sales, while the figure fell 0.9 percent at Baskin-Robbins, which the company owns.

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. now anticipates full-year revenue growth of about 2 percent. Its prior guidance was for revenue growth 3 percent to 5 percent. Before that, the company had predicted revenue growth of 4 percent to 6 percent.

Dunkin’ Brands also announced a fourth-quarter dividend of 30 cents per share. The dividend will be paid on Nov. 30 to shareholders of record on Nov. 21.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:47:15 +0000
‘Prime-age’ males exiting Maine’s labor force Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A growing share of men in the prime of adulthood are dropping out of the labor force in Maine, adding to the state’s loss of able-bodied workers from the aging population and lack of in-migration.

Labor force participation of males age 25 to 54 has declined over the past four decades in Maine, with a sharp drop-off beginning in 1990, according to a report by the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information. The labor force is the combined number of employed workers and active job-seekers.

The share of “prime-age” males in Maine who are working or looking for work declined from nearly 95 percent in 1970 to slightly more than 86 percent in 2014, the report says. The primary reason is the loss of manufacturing and the middle-income jobs it created for workers who lack higher education. Many men who were laid off from such jobs appear to have given up on finding new employment, it says.

Nationally, a similar trend occurred, although the sharpening decline started earlier, around 1980, and male participation began to rebound more than a decade ago, unlike in Maine.

The report dispels any optimism that the majority of men leaving the labor force in Maine were busy seeking a higher education or raising children full time. While those men do exist, the report found that 93 percent of the 25- to 54-year-old males who were not in the labor force also were not in school, and 75 percent had no children in their homes.

The report’s authors say it is essential to Maine’s economy that the state come up with ways to bring more of those prime-age men back into the labor force.

“In the years ahead, the labor market is expected to tighten considerably because the number of baby boomers who will be retiring exceeds the number of young people who will begin working,” the report says. “For this reason, it imperative that we find ways to engage prime-age men who are not in the workforce by helping them gain the education and job skills employers need.”

Glenn Mills, chief economist at the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information, said the drop in labor force participation is specific to males.

“The labor force participation among women has not been going down at the rate that it has among men,” Mills said.

Reasons why female participation has remained more stable include fewer stay-at-home moms, births and marriages, Mills said, adding that labor force participation actually has increased among women 55 and older.


Geography and education both play critical roles in the labor force decline among men, according to the report. Men without high school diplomas have been hit the hardest, as have those in rural areas.

The trend of declining participation among men without an education beyond high school coincides with the decline in manufacturing jobs, the report says. Historically, the manufacturing sector provided large numbers of production, transportation and repair jobs that did not require post-secondary education but offered middle-income wages.

“The decline of textile mills, shoe shops, paper mills and other forest-products industries, and other types of manufacturers left a void of opportunity for many men whose experience is not in demand in such well-paying, hiring sectors as health care and professional services, nor in the modern manufacturing environment that increasingly involves complex processes and requires higher education and skills,” the report says.

Areas of the state that relied most heavily on manufacturing for employment have seen the greatest losses in labor force participation among prime-age males. From 2012 to 2014, it was lowest in Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and Piscataquis counties, followed by Washington, Aroostook and Penobscot counties, the report says. Meanwhile, participation was highest in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc and Androscoggin counties.

Mills noted that Androscoggin County’s relatively high immigrant population has helped it buck the statewide trend of a declining and aging labor force. “Androscoggin County is one of the younger counties, and I believe it has a lot to do with the Somali population,” Mills said. “It’s true that our lack of diversity (statewide) is the huge reason that we’re in this place.”

Economists have been warning for years that Maine is headed for a significant labor shortage that could spell trouble for its economy and opportunity for tomorrow’s job-seekers. The exact size of the shortage remains unknown, but predictions that it will occur are based on simple math.

In 2012, the number of Maine residents between the ages of 45 and 64 totaled roughly 411,000. Most members of that group are expected to exit the labor force by 2032. There were 302,000 residents under age 20 in 2012, most of whom are expected to enter the workforce by 2032.

Even if none of those young people left the state, the aging of Maine residents alone would generate a shortfall of up to 109,000 workers – a significant problem in a state where the civilian labor force totaled about 689,600 in August.

In March, a Portland Press Herald analysis of state unemployment data found that Maine’s shrinking labor force appeared to be a key factor driving the decline in the state’s unemployment rate. Maine’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 3.6 percent in February, its lowest rate at that time since March 2001, according to the labor department. However, Maine had roughly 3,300 fewer employed workers in February, a decline from about 653,000 a year earlier. The unemployment rate went down because the size of the state’s labor force decreased by 11,500 to 673,700 during the same period. Maine’s unemployment rate then fell even lower, to 3.4 percent in March and April, before rising gradually to 4 percent in August, the most recent month available.

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 60, 20 Oct 2016 15:48:17 +0000
Obama administration expanding airline passenger protections Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:50:34 +0000 Travelers may soon be able to get refunds for delayed baggage, more accurate information about on-time performance of the airlines they fly and more transparency when booking tickets with online travel services, under executive actions announced by the Obama administration Wednesday.

“Airline passengers deserve to have access to clear and complete information about the airlines they choose to fly and to expect fair and reasonable treatment when they fly,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in making the announcement. “The actions we’re taking today and in the coming months will expand aviation consumer protections we have previously enacted.

“These actions will enable passengers to make well-informed decisions when arranging travel, ensure that airlines treat consumers fairly, and give consumers a voice in how airlines are regulated,” Foxx said.

He said the announcement builds on previous efforts to promote competition and protect consumers at a time when mergers mean they have fewer choices when it comes to flying.

But Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said the public should be cautious about new efforts to “re-regulate” the industry.

“It would be difficult to find an industry that is more transparent than the airline industry; customers always know exactly what they are paying for before they buy,” Calio said. “Further, the fact that a record number of people are flying underscores that customers are benefiting every day from affordable fares and the ability to choose among carriers, amenities and service options that best meet their needs. Dictating to the airline industry distribution and commercial practices would only benefit those third parties who distribute tickets, not the flying public.”

Foxx said the administration already requires airlines to refund bag fees when luggage is lost, but he said officials soon hope to add a requirement that airlines refund fees when luggage is “substantially” delayed. Officials offered no details on how “substantially” would be defined.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:47:02 +0000
Fed’s economic outlook ‘mostly positive’ Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:45:06 +0000 The U.S. economy maintained a steady growth pace between late August and early October, as a tight labor market with nascent wage pressures contributed to a “mostly positive” outlook, a report from the 12 Federal Reserve districts showed.

“Most districts indicated a modest or moderate pace of expansion,” according to the Fed’s latest Beige Book, an economic survey by reserve banks. “Outlooks were mostly positive, with growth expected to continue at a slight to moderate pace in several districts.”

The job market “remained tight” with modest employment and wage growth, according to the report. In the San Francisco district, some small business owners said they needed to bring back health-care benefits to attract applicants.

“Wage growth held fairly steady at modest levels, although some districts reported rising pressure for certain sectors,” the report stated. Three districts – Dallas, Richmond and San Francisco – noted a shortage of construction workers, which in some cases constrained building activity.

A tight labor market has yet to lift inflation to the Fed’s 2 percent target. The report characterized price growth generally as “mild.”

Overall, prices increased “slightly on net,” the report said.

Housing expanded in most districts, and “contacts in a few districts expressed optimism about future growth,” the Beige Book said. Even so, home inventories were reported to be low enough to restrain sales in some districts.

The oil and gas sector showed signs of stabilizing, and Dallas Fed energy business contacts expect 2017 to be a better year.

Commercial real estate contacts in a few districts expressed concern about economic uncertainty surrounding the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 21:28:57 +0000
California targeting Wells Fargo over suspicion of ID theft Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:32:54 +0000 LOS ANGELES — The California Department of Justice is investigating Wells Fargo & Co. over allegations of criminal identity theft related to its creation of millions of unauthorized customer accounts, according to a search warrant sent to the bank’s San Francisco headquarters this month.

The warrant and related documents, served Oct. 5 and obtained by the Los Angeles Times through a public records request, confirm that California Attorney General Kamala Harris, in the final weeks of a run for the U.S. Senate, has joined the growing list of public officials and agencies investigating the bank in connection with the accounts scandal.

Harris’ office demanded that the bank turn over a trove of information, including the identities of California customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their names, information about fees related to those accounts, the names of the Wells Fargo employees who opened the accounts, the names of those employees’ managers, and emails or other communications related to those accounts.

Her office is also requesting the same information about accounts opened by Wells Fargo workers in California for customers in other states.

Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for Harris’ office, said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Wells Fargo spokesman Mark Folk said the bank is “cooperating in providing the requested information,” but would not comment further.

Documents filed along with the search warrant argue that there is probable cause to believe Wells Fargo violated two sections of the state penal code – one outlawing certain types of impersonation, the other outlawing the unauthorized use of personal information. Both violations can be charged as felonies, punishable by imprisonment for more than a year.

It’s not clear whether Harris’ office is considering charges against individual bank workers, high-level bank executives or the bank itself. The investigation could lead to charges beyond the identity-theft allegations used to secure the search warrant.

In the weeks since Sept. 8, when the Los Angeles city attorney’s office and federal bank regulators announced a $185 million settlement with Wells Fargo over the creation of the accounts, lawmakers and other regulators have questioned whether the bank may have violated fraud, labor and securities laws.

At a fiery Capitol Hill hearing last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told former Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf that he should be criminally investigated. Stumpf abruptly retired last week and was replaced by longtime Wells Fargo executive Timothy Sloan.

There also have been questions about when and how much former bank executive Carrie Tolstedt, who led the bank division at the root of the accounts scandal, knew of the practices. She retired this summer, just months before the settlement was announced.

But identity theft has not been a central issue in the matter, and it’s noteworthy that it seems to be at the heart of Harris’ investigation, said Paul Stephens, policy director at the San Diego nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

“One wouldn’t typically think of a financial institution opening an account in the name of a customer as being an act of identity theft,” Stephens said. “It’s a creative way of looking at these activities and finding them unlawful under a statute that arguably could be prosecuted in state court.”

U.S. attorneys in San Francisco, New York and Charlotte, N.C., have opened their own investigations, although the scope of those inquiries is not clear.

Irving Einhorn, a retired white-collar criminal defense attorney and former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regional office in Los Angeles, said there are few charges that a state attorney general could bring that federal prosecutors could not.

Still, he said it’s not surprising that Harris’ office is investigating the bank on its own. “With a big national bank like this, there are overlapping jurisdictions,” he said.

Not to mention political ramifications. Elected officials of all political stripes have jumped on Wells Fargo in the weeks since the settlement was announced, holding hearings, enacting sanctions and calling for legislation aimed at reining in big banks or even breaking them up.

In California, State Treasurer John Chiang last month said his office would cut off several business relationships with the bank, a move that’s since been followed by officials in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and the states of Illinois and Ohio.

At this point, Einhorn said, no one wants to be left out.

“You have to remember how it looks to constituents in a particular state when their officials get tough with the big, bad banks,” he said.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 22:02:50 +0000
Safety gets spruced up for a day in streets of Waterville Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:04:09 +0000 WATERVILLE — What looked like colorful fall decor popped up Wednesday morning near busy intersections on Main and Front streets here.

The hay bales, pumpkins and flowers weren’t just to celebrate fall, though. They were actually curb extensions, also known as “bump-outs,” used to increase pedestrian safety at crosswalks.

At the intersection of Front and Temple streets, the hay bales and pumpkins were set out just outside the curb. The extension served a few purposes, said Jim Tasse, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

While the curb extension did not change the width of the driving lanes, it did change the perception of width, slowing traffic. It also forced cars to make better turns and provided space for pedestrians to step out farther and look for oncoming traffic, Tasse said. “With just a few hay bales, you can see that instead of coming through here at 40 (mph), people are coming through at 25,” he said.

The demonstrations around downtown were part of the morning session of GrowSmart Maine’s annual conference, which was held in Waterville this year. Carol Morris, vice president of the board of directors for GrowSmart, said the group likes to hold its conference in cities that are working to revitalize their downtown areas. Waterville has a number of downtown revitalization projects underway, which were further buttressed by the announcement Tuesday night of a $20 million fund from the Harold Alfond Foundation and Colby College.

Samantha Herr, the coalition’s community advocacy coordinator, was stationed Wednesday morning at the intersection of Appleton and Main streets, where the hay bales and flowers lined the crosswalk for the length of the parking bay.

With this simple and cost-effective solution, “the perception of safety is greater,” Herr said. It also has a “place-making” effect, making the experience of downtown happier and more enjoyable for people.

The third demonstration, which was in front of the Camden Pocket Park, let people see what it was like to be visually impaired or a wheelchair user. Groups that partnered with GrowSmart had people put on goggles to impair their vision or use wheelchairs to get around.

“This is to raise awareness about what it’s like to live with a disability on the streets, about what it’s like to go get a cup of coffee every day using a wheelchair,” said Jill Johanning, an architect and access specialist at Alpha One.

GrowSmart Maine is a statewide organization based in Gardiner that works to preserve downtowns, agricultural land and forest land, among other things, Morris said. The objective is to keep “Maine the way people love it,” she said.

The organization covers a broad range of topics, including how to make downtowns more walkable and more accessible to people with disabilities.

For its afternoon session, GrowSmart hosted a panel at Thomas College on the changes in the workforce and how climate change affects downtowns.

Morris said the organization goes to downtowns that are going through a revitalization for its annual conference, and that she is “very impressed” with Waterville and what it’s doing.

“It’s great when the public and private sector work together,” Morris said. “Maine’s downtowns are a treasure.”

The board and partnering organizations that attended the conference also took walking tours around the area.

“I think that we’re seeing increasing excitement about renovating Maine’s downtowns, as well as Maine’s agricultural sector, and those are two things that can help Maine on the economic level,” Morris said. “So we’re feeling good about the trends we’ve been seeing.”

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: @madelinestamour

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2016 20:04:09 +0000
Regulators unveil proposed rules to tighten bank cybersecurity Wed, 19 Oct 2016 23:14:41 +0000 Banking regulators outlined a new set of rules Wednesday aimed at tightening cybersecurity requirements to protect financial markets and customers from online attacks.

A proposal from the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation suggests minimum standards and requirements for how the nation’s largest financial institutions are supposed to prepare for, track and respond to potentially catastrophic hacks.

The proposals do not spell out what fines or other consequences would be meted out should banks not meet the “binding requirements.” The notice of proposal rulemaking serves as a starting point for the industry and others to begin offering feedback. The deadline for comments is Jan. 17.

The proposal suggests banks with more than $50 billion in assets would be subject to the requirements, sparing all but the smallest community banks, whose vulnerabilities are less likely to wreak havoc on the global financial system.

Under current regulations, individual institutions are largely responsible for their own systems, governed by a network of frameworks and guidelines.

Those who lobby on behalf of big banks prefer to keep it that way, arguing that blanket requirements can be counterproductive because individual banks differ in their cybersecurity needs. The American Bankers Association, which represents banks, supports a broad framework that “harmonizes” existing regulations but argues against strict requirements.

“What we’re accustomed to having in place particularly as it relates to cyber risk is the ability to utilize our own discretion,” said Doug Johnson, senior vice president for payments and cybersecurity policy at the bankers association. “Different organizations have different risks based on the types of organizations that they support.”

The suggested requirements mostly concern how banks manage the cyber risk, but also proposes new requirements on how banks should prepare for and recover from harmful hacks. Such standards could make winners and losers out of an already-thriving cottage industry of corporate cybersecurity firms using advanced technology to identify threats.

The proposal floats a possible requirement that banks have separate senior leaders in charge of cyber-risk management with direct access to company boards of directors. Such a requirement would formalize a trend that has been percolating in much of the business world for years, as more chief information security officers take their seat in top management.

Perhaps in response to a slew of ransomware attacks over the past year – in which hackers take control of critical data and threaten to delete it unless they receive a payment – the proposal demands “secure, immutable, offline storage of records” relating to things like loan data and account records. And the draft rules would require that banks have the capacity to recover from a disruptive cybersecurity attack within two hours.

]]> 0 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 19:14:41 +0000
Texas conglomerate buys Maine-based glass installation company Wed, 19 Oct 2016 17:50:01 +0000 Cumberland County Glass, an installer of glass for office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and other commercial projects, has been acquired by a Texas-based competitor.

The Dwyer Group, which is based in Waco and operates Portland Glass in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, purchased the Bowdoinham-based company this month for an undisclosed price.

Cumberland Glass founder and former owner Ken Boucher is now director of commercial accounts for Portland Glass. Boucher said his former company and its 20 employees will continue to operate under the Cumberland name and will serve as the commercial division of Portland Glass.

Portland Glass has a large presence in northern New England with 34 locations in three states. Boucher said his bigger competitor had been interested for a long time in buying him out.

“Portland Glass was chasing me for three years,” he said.

Boucher said he had been pursuing an exit strategy for the 23-year-old business that would ensure its continued operation. Although he has family members involved in the business, Boucher said none of them was interested in taking it over when he retires.

“I wanted to make sure my employees were taken care of as the years progressed,” said Boucher, who is 55.

Some of Cumberland’s notable projects include the Hilton Garden Inn in Portland; the recently renovated Cliff House Maine resort in Cape Neddick; Greely Middle School in Cumberland; and the former Goodall Hospital, now part of Southern Maine Health Care, in Sanford.

Dwyer Group said in a news release that the Cumberland purchase is its seventh acquisition in roughly the past two years, and that it contributes to the expansion of the group’s only non-franchised, corporate-owned network. In addition to operating Portland Glass, Dwyer is also a franchisor of several business chains including Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric, Mr. Handyman, Mr. Rooter and Molly Maid.

“We are happy to welcome Ken and his employees to Dwyer Group,” Mike Bidwell, the company’s president and CEO, said in the release. “We believe the combined businesses will now be even more competitive in this important commercial glass projects market.”

Boucher said Cumberland customers probably won’t notice any major changes under the new ownership, but that the Dwyer acquisition greatly expands the company’s reach.

“It should make us more competitive in a number of areas,” he said.

]]> 1 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 21:30:24 +0000
Heating costs likely to rise moderately this winter in Maine Wed, 19 Oct 2016 17:37:44 +0000 The statewide average price for fuel oil inched above $2 a gallon this week for the first time since last November, ushering in a heating season in which oil prices are expected to rise moderately.

With winter temperatures predicted to be closer to normal, Mainers can expect a heating season that – on balance – is also likely to be closer to normal. It appears that there will be a sufficient supply of all fuels.

“It’s going to be a little more expensive than last year, based on higher prices and colder temperatures,” said Lisa Smith, senior planner at the Governor’s Energy Office. “But we were at decade-low prices last year.”

The latest price survey by Smith’s office, released Wednesday, shows fuel oil at an average of $2.01 a gallon statewide, ranging from a low of $1.76 in western Maine to $2.20 in central, eastern and northern regions. That’s up 4 cents over last week, and 13 cents a gallon since Oct. 1.

The survey follows projections last week from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that higher crude-oil costs will push up retail prices for heating oil by 42 cents a gallon over the winter.

The federal agency also is forecasting moderate price increases for propane and natural gas.

While propane prices fluctuate with the market, retail natural gas supply rates in Maine are reviewed by utility regulators and vary by service area. An average home served by Unitil, the state’s largest gas provider, will pay $1,178 this heating season, according to company estimates, compared with $1,080 last year.

Mainers who heat with wood should find plentiful supplies and prices that are either on par or lower than last year. Last winter’s bargain oil prices and mild temperatures kept firewood stacks and wood pellet bags from being depleted, creating a surplus in many homes.

Fuel oil remains the most-watched barometer for Maine heating costs, because two-thirds of homes burn it as their primary way to keep warm. And until this month, retail prices had more-or-less been falling since February 2014, when the statewide average hit $3.89. Last March, they bottomed out at below $1.70.

If temperatures this winter are in the normal range and oil prices average $2.20 statewide, that means a home that burns 800 gallons will pay $1,760.

“If it’s a normal winter, I don’t see any issues,” said George Gyorgy, co-owner of Charlie Burnham Heating Services in Freeport. “I think it will be fairly uneventful, which is good for everybody.”

Burnham’s cash price on Wednesday was $1.85 a gallon.

At Dead River Co., one of the state’s largest dealers, Wednesday’s cash price in Portland was $2.05 a gallon. But Deanna Sherman, the company’s president and chief executive, said many customers had taken advantage of pre-buy programs earlier this year to lock in at $2 a gallon for the season, or signed up for a price cap with a ceiling of $2.14 a gallon. These programs offer stability and predictable monthly payments, she said.

“Prices were down and people wanted to take advantage of it,” she said.

Above-average temperatures this fall have led cash-price customers to delay fill-ups, she said. But with a cool-down expected this weekend, Sherman expects phones to be ringing Monday morning.


The most recent forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for temperatures 17 percent colder in the Northeast this winter compared with last year, but slightly warmer than the average of the five preceding winters.

Michael Cempa, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gray, said the data he’s seeing for December, January and February is highly uncertain, as the El Nino weather pattern that has spiked global temperatures to record levels fades away.

“To me, it’s probably more of an average type of winter,” Cempa said, “although there is always the possibility for warm and cold spells.”

Portland typically experiences 7,001 heating degree days, a calculation that uses average temperatures to gauge heating demand. Last year, the city tallied only 6,119 heating degree days, which contributed to the second-warmest winter on record.

That warm weather meant people who heat with firewood, or use it to supplement their central heating systems, didn’t use as much.

“Most folks have leftover firewood,” said Kris Hutchins, operations manager at Southern Maine Firewood in Gorham. “Sales have been slower than last year.”

Hutchins said customers who typically order three cords of green wood in the spring asked for only one. At this time of year, people start calling for seasoned wood.

“We’ve run out of seasoned wood every year by December,” Hutchins said. “It doesn’t look like that will be the case this year.”

Slack demand also has lowered prices. Last year, seasoned wood ranged from $285 to $295 a cord. This year it’s going for $260.

Supplies of wood pellets and wood bricks are robust, said Bob Maurais of Southern Maine Renewable Fuels in Windham. Wood pellet inventories aren’t overflowing like cord wood, he said, because the lack of demand last winter forced several mills to shut down or curtail production.

A typical home customer buys three to four tons of pellets or two to three tons of bioproducts, such as compressed wood bricks and logs. The company expects to sell more than 3,000 tons of pellets and bricks this year.


Still unclear is the rate for standard-offer electric service next year in Central Maine Power and Emera Maine service areas. The state Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve rates in late November, based on bids received from competitive energy suppliers.

Whatever the new rates, ductless electric heat pumps continue to be the most popular new heating source noted by Efficiency Maine, which offers $500 rebates for approved units. More than 15,000 homeowners have installed heat pumps over the past three years, with 1,650 units put in since July. Recently, the agency began offering an additional $250 rebate for second units.

The latest generation of ductless heat pumps are proving capable of warming homes, even at extremely low temperatures, said Dana Fischer, residential program manager at Efficiency Maine. Depending on the cost of electricity, the super-efficient units can provide heat at a price that’s equivalent to fuel oil at between $1.50 and $2.20 a gallon.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of homeowners choosing to install a second unit to provide heating and cooling to a second floor or the distant end of a ranch home,” Fischer said.

But even though energy prices are relatively low this winter, Fischer suggested all Mainers tighten up their homes with air sealing and insulation. That will make them more comfortable and save owners money every year, he said, regardless of what energy prices do in the future.


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