Business – Press Herald Sat, 21 Oct 2017 12:13:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wild blueberry milk coming from Oakhurst in the spring Sat, 21 Oct 2017 03:20:05 +0000 Oakhurst Dairy plans to introduce a wild Maine blueberry milk this spring, and based on the response the announcement got on social media, there will be some eager customers.

“Will they ship to California?” two Facebook users asked. There were outcries from Illinois and New Hampshire about the immediate need for this milk.

“Low fat?” another asked. (Just whole milk for now.) They weighed in on Oakhurst’s choice of possible labels, voting in favor of one that features Maine’s iconic berry, although someone shot down the logo “straight from the barrens” on the grounds that the term has too many connotations.

But the bigger question, asked over and over, was, will this purple milk be made with real wild Maine blueberries? The Oakhurst representative who handles Facebook promised that yes, the berries would be real.

Oakhurst already offers a blueberry ice tea.

Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook already makes a blueberry milk.

If the new flavor is a hit, that would be good news for wild blueberry growers in Maine. Blueberry farmers continue to increase the yield from the state’s 44,000 acres of blueberry fields. The high yield, coupled with fierce competition from Canada, has led to a glut of wild Maine blueberries on the market. In August the United States Department of Agriculture agreed to buy $10 million worth of the Maine crop, subsidizing the crop for the third year in a row.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2017 23:39:05 +0000
Maine to emphasize road safety in future construction projects Fri, 20 Oct 2017 20:48:28 +0000 State officials intend to redirect highway funding to improve safety on Maine roads and stem a rising trend of injuries and deaths among pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

Changes to transportation funding follow the completion of a report by a state task force on roadway safety. The task force was commissioned in February by Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt in response to a rising trend of vehicle collisions, specifically pedestrian deaths. It released its report publicly on Friday.

“We had a terrible year last year with fatalities on our road system,” said Joyce Taylor, chief engineer at Maine Department of Transportation. “That really was the trigger to say, ‘OK, how do we refocus our efforts?’ ”

As of the beginning of October, 15 pedestrians had been killed in Maine in 2017, compared to nine killed in the same period last year, according to data from the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. There were 132 total fatalities as of the start of October, compared to 107 in 2016.

To curb injuries and deaths on Maine roads, the task force recommended changes to road engineering plans, street design and more education and public awareness. The recommendations will be implemented in the department’s updated three-year work plan in January.

Practically, that may mean road projects with a greater emphasis on sidewalks and bicycling infrastructure, reduced speed limits, narrowed travel lanes and more visible painting and striping. The task force also recommended required training for all staff and contractors on a design policy that emphasizes road use by pedestrians, bicycles and motor vehicles. More variable message boards, signage and new safety videos and community outreach were also recommended.

A focus on safety means reconsidering traditional highway planning, which emphasizes getting drivers to their destination as quickly as possible, Taylor said

“In the past it was always about mobility. I think we have to go back to engineering and say we need to get from point A to point B, but maybe not as fast.”

In its report, the task force said speed, aggressive driving and highway design contribute to the trend of rising crashes in Maine and the United States, but distracted driving was a “particular menace” pervasive in task force discussion and recommendations.

Law enforcement and highway officials believe distracted driving, especially from cellphones and mobile devices, is a leading cause of vehicle crashes. Maine has a ban on texting and driving, but it is difficult to enforce. A law that would have banned drivers from using hand-held devices behind the wheel was passed by the Legislature this year but vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.

The department is going to try to address distracted driving, but changing attitudes about using a cellphone behind the wheel will be a generational process just like curbing drinking and driving or improving seat belt use were, said MDOT Deputy Commissioner Jon Nass.

“It is going to take kids sitting in the back seat telling their parents to stop texting and driving,” Nass said. “There is no simple answer.”

Shifting focus to safety will mean reallocating scarce highway funding and finding money in new places. “It is going to be a lot of juggling of funds; it is a zero-sum game,” Nass said.

Members of the task force included MDOT staff and representatives from AAA New England, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, the cities of Portland and Lewiston, AARP, the Maine Motor Transport Association, Maine State Police, the Maine Turnpike Authority and representatives from the state’s disabled community.

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 bicyclists would be safer with bicycle paths rather than bicycle lanes painted on the road. And probably a lot more people would take to their bikes, because paths don't require riding in traffic.Fri, 20 Oct 2017 22:28:19 +0000
Maine home values rose 10% in September to a median of $207,225 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 20:18:34 +0000 September’s median sale price for existing, single-family homes in Maine was up 10.2 percent from a year earlier, the Maine Association of Realtors reported Friday.

The volume of Maine home sales in September increased by 2.3 percent compared with September 2016, it said.

September’s median home sale price in September was $207,225, compared with $188,038 a year earlier, it said. The median price indicates that half of homes sold for more and half sold for less.

“Maine has been riding the wave of the real estate recovery for the past five years, and 2017 is shaping up to be one of the best years of the recovery,” said Greg Gosselin, broker and owner of Gosselin Realty Group in York and president of the Maine Association of Realtors. “Sales during the third quarter of 2017 exceeded the comparable 2016 third quarter and year-to-date statistics are on a close pace to catch the all-time high of 2016, running just 1.5 percent behind.”

Also on Friday, the National Association of Realtors reported that home sales nationally fell by 1.2 percent compared with a year earlier. The national median sale price rose by 4.2 percent to $246,800 in September.

Regionally, home sales in the Northeast declined by 1.4 percent and the regional median sale price of $274,100 represented a 4.8 percent increase from a year earlier.


]]> 0 - This Jan. 26, 2016 file photo shows a "For Sale" sign hanging in front of an existing home in Atlanta. Short of savings and burdened by debt, America's millennials are struggling to afford their first homes in the face of sharply higher prices in many of the most desirable cities. Surveys show that most Americans under 35 lack adequate savings for down payments. The result is that many will likely be forced to delay home ownership and to absorb significant debt loads if they do eventually buy. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)Fri, 20 Oct 2017 17:48:02 +0000
U.S. budget deficit hits $666 billion, an $80 billion spike for the year Fri, 20 Oct 2017 20:02:43 +0000 WASHINGTON – The federal budget deficit rose to $666 billion in the just-completed fiscal year, a spike that comes as Republicans are moving to draft a tax code rewrite that promises to add up to $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the coming decade.

The sobering deficit numbers, released Friday by the Treasury Department and the White House budget office, followed Senate passage Thursday night of a 10-year budget plan that shelves Republican concerns on deficits and debt in favor of a tax overhaul.

Still, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin insisted Friday on “CBS This Morning”: ”We’re Republicans. We’re sensitive to the deficit.”

President Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill promise this year’s tax legislation will spark a burst of economic growth – and hope it will pay big political dividends for their party.

Friday’s budget figures represent an $80 billion jump over last year’s $585 billion deficit, which itself was way up over the previous year’s $438 billion.

The administration says the sour deficit report shows a need to pass the tax overhaul measure.

“Through a combination of tax reform and regulatory relief, this country can return to higher levels of GDP growth, helping to erase our fiscal deficit,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“These numbers should serve as a smoke alarm for Washington, a reminder that we need to grow our economy again and get our fiscal house in order. We can do that through smart spending restraint, tax reform and cutting red tape,” said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Democrats argue that the Republicans should work with them on a bipartisan approach to revamping the tax code without adding to the deficit.

“With the deficit as large and growing as quickly as it is, Republicans pursuing a reckless plan that would blow a huge hole in the deficit and put Medicare and Medicaid at risk is the height of irresponsibility,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Mulvaney drafted Trump’s May budget plan, which promised to balance the budget within a decade, but only through politically unrealistic cuts and rosy assumptions of economic growth. But Trump hasn’t promoted the effort, which was quickly shelved by Republicans in Congress.

The White House in July revised its short-term deficit outlook significantly to warn of worsening deficits. Since then, a bad hurricane season has forced the government to spend billions in disaster relief.

The deficit issue has largely fallen in prominence in Washington in recent years, and Trump doesn’t speak of the issue. He has ruled out cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Earlier, gridlock between former President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans took hold after failed attempts at budget deals. Most economists don’t believe the deficit is very worrisome in the short term, though it is creeping above 3 percent of the size of the economy, a threshold that bears watching.

The picture over the long run is more problematic, at least under a conventional view that if deficits continue to rise and the national debt grows, government borrowing will “crowd out” private lending and force up interest rates. And if interest rates go up, the government would have to pay much more to finance the more than $14 trillion in Treasury debt held by investors.

]]> 0 of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said the sooner Congress raises the debt ceiling the better.Fri, 20 Oct 2017 17:56:29 +0000
Maine State Housing Authority director to retire in January Fri, 20 Oct 2017 18:53:54 +0000 Maine State Housing Authority Director John Gallagher plans to retire on Jan. 5 after five years of leadership at the $1.6 billion financial institution.

Gallagher said Friday in a news release that he has notified Gov. Paul LePage and MaineHousing Board of Commissioners Chairman Peter Anastos of his decision to retire.

“The decision to leave MaineHousing was not an easy one,” Gallagher said. “My time here has been professionally and personally rewarding. I’m proud to have contributed to the business growth of MaineHousing, along with providing leadership and guidance toward setting a new direction for the organization.”

John Gallagher

Under Gallagher’s leadership, MaineHousing evaluated and redefined its mission and goals through a strategic planning process that included its partners and customers. By strengthening relationships with partners, including developers, local public housing authorities, community action agencies, landlords, property management companies and state agencies, more Maine people are being served, an accomplishment that’s been achieved while funding for federal programs that MaineHousing administers has remained stable, it said.

MaineHousing’s fiscal management has led to its maintaining an AA+ bond rating throughout the long-lasting financial crisis that began in 2008 while other housing finance authorities fell a full grade, the release said.

During Gallagher’s five-year tenure, MaineHousing made 3,900 first-time homebuyer loans, completed 80 housing projects providing more than 2,100 Mainers with affordable homes with another 2,500 in the pipeline, and worked with state elected officials to increase funding for homeless shelters and to restore funding for the state’s affordable housing trust fund.

LePage will nominate a new director and the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee will consider the nominee for confirmation.

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Yale Kamila/Staff Writer: Malcolm Noyes, who is Mayor Colleen Hilton's father and the board chair of Westbrook Housing, enjoyed the festivities with Pauline Gallagher, John Gallagher, who is the executive director of Westbrook Housing, and Susan Eldridge, who is the deputy director of Westbrook Housing. staff photoFri, 20 Oct 2017 22:34:52 +0000
Portland real estate consulting firm to be acquired by Detroit investor Fri, 20 Oct 2017 18:31:56 +0000 Detroit-based Bloomfield Capital and Portland-based VAR Capital Advisors said Friday that the companies have entered into an agreement under which Bloomfield will acquire the consulting platform and key leadership from VAR Capital, and Renee Lewis, founder of VAR Capital, will be named a managing partner of Bloomfield.

VAR Capital specializes in due diligence, asset management and consulting services for institutional real estate investors nationwide, according to a news release. The company has five employees in Portland.

The agreement was formed in order to help Bloomfield with additional talent as the firm grows its operations nationwide, the release said. Details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Bloomfield has completed over $500 million in closed transactions and currently has over $180 million assets under management, according to a company spokeswoman.


]]> 0 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 18:32:56 +0000
Education committee endorses board members for Maine Maritime, UMaine system Fri, 20 Oct 2017 18:29:11 +0000 Lawmakers on the education committee unanimously endorsed outgoing State Board of Education representative and former Charter School Committee member Ande Smith for the board of Maine Maritime Academy.

Smith was one of several nominations supported unanimously Friday by the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. The nominations now go to the Senate for confirmation.

“I’m passionate about education,” Smith told the committee, adding that he hoped to “bring diverse experience and perspective” to Maine Maritime Academy’s board. His term as a State Board of Education member ends this month.

Smith is a Navy veteran and reservist, attorney and owner of Deer Brook Associates, a privately held firm providing legal and consulting services principally in information security, technology and privacy.

Last year, Smith narrowly lost the Republican primary race for Maine’s 1st District seat, held by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

The committee also unanimously supported the reappointment of Doug Wellington to the Maine Maritime Academy board of trustees. The board has 16 members, appointed by the governor for five-year terms, and they may be reappointed.

Also Friday, the committee unanimously approved the following nominations:

Elizabeth “Betsey” Timm to the University of Maine System board of trustees. Timm is the former president of Bank of America and Citicorp in Maine, and she currently serves as president of the board of directors of Girl Scouts of Maine.

 Wendy Ault, a former state representative, to the State Board of Education. Ault is the executive director of the MELMAC Education Foundation.

 Patricia Duran and Emily Smith to the board of trustees of the Maine Community College System. Duran, a former schools superintendent, is being reappointed to the board. Smith, president of Smith’s Farm in Aroostook County, is chairwoman of the Presque Isle City Council.

 Jay Hibbard as a trustee for the Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. board of trustees. Hibbard, a one-time member of the Portland City Council and executive director of the Maine Republican Party, is vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

 Terry Morrell, John Shattuck and Michelle Ames, as members of the school board of the Maine Education Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, formerly known as the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf. Shattuck is currently chairman of the board, and Ames is vice chairwoman of the board. Morrell is director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Division for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing & Late Deafened.

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

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 SMITHFri, 20 Oct 2017 19:46:16 +0000
Athenahealth, with an office in Belfast, announces layoffs Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:30:27 +0000 Massachusetts-based digital health care services provider athenahealth, which has major operations in Maine, said Thursday that it is laying off about 500 employees across all its operations – about 9 percent of its total workforce.

The company said it employs about 1,000 workers in Belfast but would not disclose how many would be let go as a result of the restructuring.

“What I can tell you is that athenahealth remains a committed employer in Maine,” company spokeswoman Victoria Gavaza said via email. “While we’re not breaking out the numbers in terms of impact, the vast majority of those impacted are from the Watertown headquarters and Atlanta office. Our most recently publicly shared total headcount is 5,600 employees, with approximately 1,000 in Belfast.”

The company also reported Thursday in its most recent quarterly financial report that it would close offices in San Francisco and Princeton, New Jersey.

According to the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information, athenahealth is the 35th-largest employer in Maine by workforce size, based on figures from January 2017.

Earlier this year, athenahealth was reportedly reorganizing in response to pressure from activist hedge-fund manager Paul Singer of Elliott Associates, who announced that he held a 9.2 percent share in the company and wanted greater shareholder value.

In its third-quarter earnings report, athenahealth outlined a goal of reducing costs by $100 million to $115 million by the end of 2018.

The reorganization would “result in a leaner, more simplified structure that is more responsive to client needs and is expected to improve employee engagement by increasing efficiencies, streamlining workflow, and enhancing accountability,” the report said.

“All geographies are impacted to varying extents, with most significant changes happening across sales, marketing, general and administrative functions, and some client-facing teams,” Gavaza said.

Athenahealth came to Maine in 2008 when it took over an unused 53-acre campus build by credit card giant MBNA. Two years earlier, Bank of America bought MBNA and shut down four call centers in Maine, including the Belfast operation.

Ethan Andrews of the Republican Journal contributed to this report.


]]> 0, which has an office in Belfast, is laying off about 500 people.Fri, 20 Oct 2017 22:30:17 +0000
Maine unemployment rate dipped to 3.7% in September Fri, 20 Oct 2017 14:46:40 +0000 Maine’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in September, down from 4 percent a year earlier and 3.8 percent in August, according to the state Department of Labor.

The total number of unemployed, job-seeking Mainers in September was 26,100, down 1,500 from a year earlier, the department said. At 24 consecutive months, Maine is experiencing the second-longest sustained period in over 40 years with an unemployment rate of 4 percent or lower, it said.

The preliminary nonfarm payroll jobs estimate for Maine was up 3,400 jobs from a year earlier to 621,200 jobs in September, the department said. The largest job gains continued to be in health care, construction and hospitality.

Maine’s employment-to-population ratio estimate in September was 61.8 percent, above the U.S. average of 60.4 percent, according to the department.

September unemployment rate estimates for other states in the region were 2.7 percent in New Hampshire, 2.9 percent in Vermont, 3.9 percent in Massachusetts, 4.2 percent in Rhode Island and 4.6 percent in Connecticut.

The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate of 4.2 percent in September was down slightly from 4.4 percent in August, and down from 4.9 percent a year earlier. The New England unemployment rate averaged 3.9 percent.


]]> 0, 20 Oct 2017 21:28:42 +0000
Wal-Mart looks to virtual reality to let shoppers try out products Fri, 20 Oct 2017 00:43:33 +0000 Wal-Mart has spent billions buying up websites like and ModCloth, and investing in new technology as it goes head-to-head with Now, the world’s largest retailer is setting its sights on virtual reality.

Imagine this, says Katie Finnegan, who heads Wal-Mart’s tech incubator: You need a tent for your next camping trip. If all goes to plan, you could one day virtually swoop in to your campsite and see any given tent in action. “You could unzip it, lay down, look left and right, and say ‘Oh, this is supposed to be a two-person tent? It’s kind of tight,’ ” she said.

And then you could move on to the next tent – without leaving your couch.

“There is a lot of technology we’re excited about,” she said, “but virtual reality in particular offers an opportunity to actually experience products and items in an immersive way.”

The technology has yet to catch on with the mainstream, so such concepts are still very much in the gee-whiz stage with no guarantee of actually boosting sales.

But this summer, the company put out an open call for technology firms, venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs to submit their ideas.

A panel of five judges – including Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global, and Marc Lore, head of Wal-Mart’s U.S. ecommerce operations. – whittled down the 200 applicants to five winners. They then spent about two months at Walmart’s technology incubator, called Store No. 8, coming up with new shopping-centric applications for virtual reality.

Walmart has been experimenting with virtual reality to help train its employees for busy shopping days like Black Friday. It is also testing a program that would allow delivery drivers to walk into customers’ homes and deliver groceries straight to their refrigerators.

Here are the five ideas the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company says could be making their way online as early as next year:

3-D holograms at, the male clothing site Walmart acquired this year for $310 million, that would make it possible for shoppers to try on virtual clothing for fit and style. According to Wal-Mart, the technology would allow customers “to view how the fabric moves and get a sense of sizing, allowing for more realistic shopping previews and reviews.” (The idea was proposed by 8i, a New Zealand-based maker of virtual reality software.)

 Over at ModCloth, the womens’ clothing site Wal-Mart took over in March, customers may one day be able to take 3-D photos of themselves using just their smartphones, and use those images to get an idea of how something might look on them. That way, executives say, shoppers could “experience the realistic feel of an item before they purchase without having to physically go in-store.” (A concept offered by Fyusion, a San Francisco-based company that develops technology for processing 3D scans.)

 An “interactive virtual store” for designer Rebecca Minkoff, whose items are sold at, would allow customers to sit in on fashion shows and shop directly from the runway. The technology, the company said, would effectively allow it to create a virtual store-within-a-store. (Developed by Obsess VR, a New York-based technology firm that specializes in 360-degree shopping sites.)

 Tired of shopping online alone? If Wal-Mart gets its way, you may soon be interacting with other shoppers and experts as you pick out items for your virtual cart. Need help picking out a pair of jeans? A virtual fashion assistant may be able to help. Trying to figure out why your nightstand is lopsided? An employee could tell you which screws are loose. (A concept from Nurulize, a Los Angeles-based virtual reality software developer.)

 Electric outlets, stove tops and door handles can all be child safety hazards – and soon, an online tool could peek inside your home and tell you where the biggest risks are lurking. The site could also give product recommendations and allow customers to test out items virtually before buying them. (Piloted by Specular Theory, a Venice Beach, California, company that specializes in immersive content.)

]]> 0 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:49:21 +0000
Toyota tops Consumer Reports’ auto reliability list Fri, 20 Oct 2017 00:43:08 +0000 DETROIT — Toyota Motor Co. is continuing its reign at the top of Consumer Reports’ reliability rankings, a reward for its conservative approach to new technology.

The Toyota brand came in first in this year’s rankings, followed by the company’s luxury Lexus brand. It’s the fifth year in a row that a Toyota brand has topped the survey. Kia, Audi and BMW rounded out the top five.

Cadillac, GMC, Ram, Dodge and Volvo got the poorest reliability scores, dinged by buyers’ problems with their infotainment systems and transmissions.

Consumer Reports predicts reliability of 2018 vehicles based on a survey of its subscribers, who owned or leased 640,000 vehicles from the 2000-2017 model years. Consumer Reports forecasts how a model will perform based on recent data for that model. The magazine gives more weight to mechanical and safety issues than minor problems like wind noise.

The magazine’s rankings are closely watched in the industry, since many buyers seek advice from Consumer Reports.

Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of auto testing, says Toyota’s strategy of adding new technology gradually – instead of all at once – helps make its vehicles more reliable.

Toyota’s new Camry sedan, for example, has an eight-speed transmission that was first tested in the Highlander SUV.

Kia has also steadily climbed in the rankings because it uses proven technology that has already been tested by its sister brand, Hyundai, which slipped in the rankings.

Consumer Reports found that the Kia Niro hybrid, which went on sale earlier this year, was the most reliable vehicle in its entire survey.

Audi and BMW also have better-than-average infotainment systems because they were some of the first to the market with them more than a decade ago.

“They’ve had all those growing pains,” Fisher said.

By contrast, Buick dropped from third to eighth in the rankings because of troubles with its new 2017 LaCrosse sedan, which has a new eight-speed transmission, new engine and new electronic shifter, among other features. Fisher said other recent Buicks, like the Envision, went on sale in China or Europe first and got some kinks worked out before heading to the U.S.

Electric cars escaped some of those reliability problems because they have fewer parts. General Motors Co. didn’t fare well overall, but its new Chevrolet Bolt electric car had above-average reliability.

In its debut on the list, Tesla Inc.’s Model 3 sedan got an “average” reliability score. The car isn’t widely available yet, but the magazine based its ranking on responses for the company’s Model S sedan, which has above-average reliability.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s not in electric cars. They’re simpler,” Fisher said.

Chrysler was the biggest climber in the rankings, thanks to consumer reviews of its new Pacifica minivan. Acura fell the furthest, hurt by problems with the transmissions on several of its new models.

]]> 0's 2018 Camry has an eight-speed transmission that was first tested in the Highlander SUV.Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:43:08 +0000
New rules approved for New England shrimp fishery, in case it ever reopens Thu, 19 Oct 2017 23:00:25 +0000 New England’s shrimp fishery will be managed differently if it ever reopens.

Fishermen haven’t been allowed to catch Maine shrimp since 2013. But the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved a new set of restrictions for the fishery Thursday in the event it does one day reopen.

Fishermen used to catch the shrimp in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The new restrictions include a requirement that shrimp trawlers use new gear to minimize the catch of small shrimp. There would also be maximum fishing season lengths, penalties for states that exceed quotas and a new state-by-state allocation program.

An arm of the commission is set to vote Nov. 29 on whether the fishery can reopen next year.

The moratorium came about because of concerns about environmental changes and poor reproduction.

]]> 0 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission closed the 2014 shrimp season for the first time in more than 30 years because shrimp populations dipped to their lowest recorded levels. The commission is considering restrictions that could limit the number of licenses to fish for shrimp in the Gulf of Maine once the depleted fishery reopens.Thu, 19 Oct 2017 19:01:54 +0000
Fishing regulators eye protections for all-important menhaden Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:45:21 +0000 Changes in the way some small fish are managed could have major implications for the ocean ecosystem and marine industries on the East Coast, according to conservationists, fishing groups and scientists.

Interstate regulators are considering altering the way they manage menhaden to better account for its role as one of the most important fish in the sea.

The schooling fish makes up a key piece of the Atlantic Ocean’s food web, as important prey for whales, seabirds and large fish. Menhaden is also used in products such as aquaculture feed and fish oil supplements.

The U.S. commercial fishermen catch more than a billion pounds of the fish per year.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering new management tools crafted with an eye toward menhaden’s key environmental role, which could involve reducing the amount of the fish that can be caught by commercial fishermen.

The regulation changes could also impact the size and distribution of the fishing fleet, and the kind of gear that is used, said Tina Berger, a spokeswoman for the commission.

The possibility of changing the way menhaden are managed reflects a movement to begin looking at them not just as a single species, but in terms of “how we can leave enough menhaden in the water for the predatory species that rely on them,” Berger said.

An arm of the commission will bring the subject up for a key vote on Nov. 13 in Linthicum, Maryland. It’s accepting public comments on the subject until Oct. 24 and has received about 11,000 so far.

The proposal has galvanized environmentalists and some scientists, who say the commission should do everything in its power to protect the fish.

“There’s a lot of science that says these fish are very important to the health of the ocean,” said Ellen Pikitch, a marine fisheries scientist with Stony Brook University in New York. “There’s every reason to move forward right now, and not wait.”

But some commercial harvesters of the fish said cutting the amount of menhaden they take wouldn’t be an evidence-based move. Scientific stock assessments have shown that menhaden are not being overfished, said Ben Landry, a spokesman for Houston-based Omega Protein, which is the largest harvester of menhaden in the Atlantic.

“That’s what your scientists are spending all this time doing. It’s kind of a slap in the face to the harvesters,” Landry said.

Menhaden are fished commercially up and down the East Coast, and also used as bait in important fisheries including those for lobster. They are also well known to recreational fishermen, who call them “pogies” and “bunkers” and use them to catch larger fish like striped bass and bluefish.

]]> 0 and salted menhaden sit in a barrel Thursday at a lobster bait warehouse in Portland. Regulators are considering altering the way they manage menhaden to better account for its role in the environment, with a key vote planned in November.Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:45:21 +0000
General Motors to pay Maine $1.1 million in settlement Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:05:23 +0000 The payment is part of a settlement of claims that the automaker failed to disclose safety defects.

Maine will receive $1.1 million as part of a multistate, $120 million settlement with General Motors Co. over allegations that the Detroit automaker concealed safety issues related to defects in certain vehicles.

The settlement, reached between GM and the attorneys general of 49 states and the District of Columbia, concludes a multistate investigation into the auto manufacturer’s failure to disclose the defects in a timely way, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills’ office said Thursday in a news release.

“This intentional deception by GM created a dangerous situation for their customers and for everyone else on the road,” Mills said in the release. “My office will continue to go after deception by any business, no matter how big, that endangers the public.”

In 2014, GM issued seven vehicle recalls affecting more than 9 million vehicles in the U.S. The recalls involved a defective ignition switch that can cause a loss of electrical systems, including power steering and power brakes.

The vehicles’ safety airbags also might fail to deploy in a collision, increasing the risk of serious injury or death in crashes, according to the release.

The states alleged that certain GM employees knew as early as 2004 that the ignition switch posed a safety problem because it could cause the airbag to fail.

Despite that knowledge, GM personnel delayed issuing recalls, the release said.

GM continued to market the reliability and safety of its motor vehicles, which were equipped with the defective ignition switch.

The states alleged that the automaker’s actions were unfair and deceptive in violation of state consumer protection laws, including Maine’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Mills spokesman Andy Roth-Wells said the $1.1 million will go into the office’s consumer trust account and will be used for purposes such as paying litigation costs and funding programs overseen by the office.

Roth-Wells noted that a class action lawsuit filed by consumers against GM over the defective ignition switches still is underway.

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

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 - This Friday, May 16 2014, file photo, shows the General Motors logo at the company's world headquarters in Detroit. The final destination is a mystery, but General Motors is taking another step on its fast-moving journey into new ways of getting around. The company on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, announced that it’s formed a brand called “Maven” that will run its car-sharing ventures, including a new one that will begin competing with ZipCar next month in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and spread to other metro areas later this year. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:01:13 +0000
Nonesuch, Spurwink rivers could be home to oyster farms Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:03:37 +0000 SCARBOROUGH — More oysters soon could be farmed in the Nonesuch and Spurwink rivers.

Two lease applicants will hold a so-called “scoping session” at the Scarborough Municipal building at 6 p.m. Monday.

Matthew Hassler and Robert Willette have scheduled the session, as required by the Maine Department of Marine Resources application process.

The public scoping session “will discuss a proposed aquaculture lease application to raise American/Eastern oysters using suspended culture techniques in three proposed locations,” a news release from the Department of Marine Resources said.

Two of the three proposed locations are in the Nonesuch River in Scarborough and the third is in the Spurwink River on the border of Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth.

Information provided by the department indicates that more than 3 acres in the two areas on the Nonesuch River are in the lease application. The size was not indicated for the Spurwink River.

Willette is a member of the town’s Shellfish Conservation Commission and has served as the chairman.

Town Councillor Peter Hayes, who serves as a liaison to the Shellfish Conservation Commission, said Nonesuch Oysters and Pine Point Oysters already operate oyster farms in the Nonesuch River.

Jeff Nichols, communications director for the Department of Marine Resources, said the session is the first step in the process of getting a lease application approved. Notices are sent to communities and landowners adjacent to the lease site.

The sessions are designed to provide an opportunity for residents to learn about the proposals and to have an informal discussion with applicants.

]]> 0 Carroll, owner of Nonesuch Oyster Farm in Biddeford, adds mignonette to oysters on the half shell from her farm. Gordon Chibroski/Staff PhotographerFri, 20 Oct 2017 22:57:02 +0000
Biomass operator seeks partner to be a win-win neighbor Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:22:19 +0000 ReEnergy wants to work with a business that could gain from being next to its Maine plants.

The owner of four biomass plants in Maine is looking for a partner to co-locate next to its facilities as a strategy to improve the plants’ commercial viability.

ReEnergy Biomass Operations, a company based in New York, owns biomass plants in Fort Fairfield, Ashland, Startton and Livermore Falls. It has filed a request for proposals for a partner with commercial technology to co-locate at one or several of the plants.

The intent is, within three years, to increase the profitability of the biomass plants, and either manufacture bio-based materials from wood, or convert the heat and steam from the energy process into other high-value products.

Examples of industries that could co-locate include biofuels, agriculture and aquaculture. Proposals must be submitted by Nov. 30.

“Since we became a Maine corporpate citizen in 2011, we have deployed more than $500 million in capital and operating expenses in our Maine assets, and we wish to increase that commitment,” said CEO Larry D. Richardson, at an event Thursday in Fort Fairfield. “We firmly believe that our biomass assets represent a critical economic development tool, as each of our power facilities is located adjacent to at least one large tract of undeveloped land, and each could provide affordable electricity, thermal energy and other infrastructure support to a co-located industry.”

A similar project is being pursued in Jonesboro by investors who want to co-locate three shrimp farms next to a biomass plant there. The idea is that excess energy from the biomass plant would be diverted to heat the shrimp farms.

Maine’s biomass power plants were hurt by historically low prices on New England’s wholesale electricity market last winter, a result of the record-low cost of natural gas. Because wood-fired power plants provide a crucial market for sawmill waste, loggers and truckers, the Legislature enacted a $13.4 million taxpayer subsidy to help keep them running.

The scale of the ReEnergy projects could depend on the size and capacity of its biomass plants. The Ashland facility produces 36 MW of electricity and uses 475,000 tons of biomass per year; Fort Fairfield produces 33 MW of electricity and uses 380,000 tons of biomass; Livermore Falls produces 36 MW of electricity and uses 440,000 tons of biomass; and Stratton produces 45 MW of electricity and uses 600,000 tons of biomass.

The request for proposals is being administered by Biobased Maine, a trade group that promotes and provides resources for bio-based companies.

]]> 0 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 19:04:39 +0000
Days before vote on marijuana law, bill from LePage calls for delaying sales until 2019 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 17:27:00 +0000 House Republican Leader Ken Fredette and Gov. Paul LePage joined forces Thursday on a last-minute effort to delay the launch of Maine’s new adult-use marijuana market until January 2019, a move that frustrated some members of a committee that has spent months trying to finalize regulations to govern the state’s recreational pot industry.

Fredette and LePage want state lawmakers to kill the legislative committee bill that would set up Maine’s regulatory framework for recreational cannabis, saying it’s too big, complex and controversial for lawmakers to debate in a single day. The full Legislature is scheduled to return and vote on the bill Monday.

Instead, LePage submitted a Fredette bill that calls for legislators to extend the existing moratorium on the commercial aspects of the marijuana law from February 2018 to January 2019.

It is unreasonable to ask lawmakers to come in from their summer break and read, debate and approve in a single special session a 76-page law on a controversial topic that voters passed by a razor-thin margin last November, Fredette said.

“I’m not saying we’re not going to do this, but we need to slow it down and do it right,” he said. “You can’t just plop a bill this big down and say pass it right now or we’ll have chaos. That is not how you make laws here in Maine.”


Many lawmakers have told Fredette they don’t know enough about the committee bill to vote for it, he said. The bill covers everything from tax rates to testing requirements to license fees and rules.

But they also don’t want the language approved by voters to go into effect without tightening the loopholes, such as the section that allows marijuana social clubs, Fredette said.

“A moratorium is the least lousy option,” he said. “It gives the Legislature time to come back in regular session in January and debate this bill right. It is a major change for Maine. It shouldn’t be rushed.”

The reaction to the proposed moratorium was mixed.

Legalize Maine, the advocacy group that wrote the referendum question and represents the interests of many medical marijuana caregivers, had pulled its support for the committee bill, saying it was “not ready for prime time.”

The group had hoped the bill would fail and the existing language of the citizen initiative would go into effect, which would give medical marijuana caregivers a big leg up in a new market. A continued moratorium would scuttle that dream, for now.

The Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, which along with Legalize Maine helped organize the citizen initiative, supports the committee bill, and criticized Fredette and LePage for trying to delay the will of the voters.

“We hope lawmakers will not let their work be in vain or the will of the people be delayed,” said director David Boyer. “It’s a shame (Fredette and LePage) are trying to hijack the legislative process by proposing further delays.”

He said the committee allowed for ample input from the public and lawmakers.


The committee leaders, Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Democrat Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, criticized Fredette and LePage for sitting on the sidelines while the committee sought their help to craft the law.

They have complained that neither LePage nor most state agencies that they invited to advise the committee would provide assistance, leaving them alone to consult with local industry players and experts from other states.

“The 11th-hour attempt to wreak havoc is obstructionism for no good reason,” Katz said. “Their unwillingness to problem-solve is irresponsible to the voters, the businesses and the communities of Maine.”

Pierce accused Fredette and LePage of “kicking the can down the road” and “disrespecting voters.” Stalling implementation of a legal regulatory system is handing the market over to criminals, Pierce said.

The last-minute governor’s bill adds a lot of uncertainty to an already chaotic special session. Fredette thinks lawmakers will go the safe route and support a moratorium, but Katz and Pierce say the committee’s bill will pass on its merits.

LePage’s spokeswoman did not respond to an after-hours request for details about the governor’s position on the committee bill, but Fredette, Katz and Pierce agreed he must support a moratorium if he submitted Fredette’s bill.


The committee bill requires 100 votes in the 150-member House to qualify as “emergency legislation,” which means it would go into effect as soon as the session closes. It needs two-thirds of those present and voting to override a LePage veto.

There are 74 Democrats, 69 Republicans and seven independents currently serving in the House, which has one vacancy. Two of the independents are former Republicans. But the vote may not go along party lines.

The marijuana committee approved its bill, 15-2. Although it enjoyed bipartisan support, the bill also engendered bipartisan dissent – Democratic Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop and Republican Rep. Patrick Corey of Windham opposed it.

If the moratorium passes, lawmakers would have more time to review the bill and state agencies would have more time to write rules to govern the market and calculate the fiscal impact.

As of Thursday, the projected fiscal impact of the bill is still unknown, but one state agency predicted a combination of a 10 percent sales tax and an excise tax would generate $20 million a year in new revenue for the state.

If the moratorium extension were to pass, Mainers could continue to grow up to six mature plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal use. It is the only major part of the voter-approved law unaffected by a moratorium.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at:

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2017 15:45:04 +0000
Maine gets extension to comply with Real ID Act Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:51:18 +0000 The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has granted Maine an additional one-year waiver for complying with the Real ID Act, allowing federal agencies to continue to accept Maine driver’s licenses and identification cards through Oct. 10, 2018, state officials said Thursday.

Mainers were in danger of no longer being able to use their driver’s licenses to pass through airport security or to gain access to federal facilities next year because the state’s licenses do not comply with federal standards, such as digitized photos that can be used with facial recognition technology.

Federal officials had issued a previous compliance waiver to Maine on June 15, which expired at midnight Oct. 10. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap submitted a request for a one-year renewal on Sept. 15, and Maine had been operating on a grace period extension while the request was being reviewed.

The Real ID Act, a federal law passed in 2005, seeks to improve the security standards for state-issued identification credentials. On April 28, Gov. Paul LePage signed into law L.D. 306, which requires Maine to comply with the federal act.

Passage of the state law has allowed the state to request annual compliance waivers while working toward implementation.

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0 drivers convicted of OUI are waiting an additional five weeks on average to get their licenses back. A new bill would address this burdensome delay by allowing the state to reinstate licenses without having to wait for formal certification that the applicant had completed a prevention program.Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:25:59 +0000
UNE receives $1.3 million to develop better ways to farm seaweed Thu, 19 Oct 2017 15:20:07 +0000 The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the University of New England a three-year, $1.3 million research grant to develop new technologies for seaweed production.

The grant is part of a new DOE program called Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources, or MARINER, that aims to develop the tools to enable the U.S. to become a leading producer of macroalgae, or seaweed, to help improve U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness, the Biddeford-based university said in a news release.

Seaweed can be used as a raw material for transportation fuels, chemicals, foods and other commercial products without competing with food crops for land and water, it said.

“This award will support UNE’s network of eager, young scientists and entrepreneurs in all of our marine programs,” UNE President James Herbert said in the release. “With the help of this funding from the Department of Energy, our students will be part of a movement to pioneer the next generation of marine products.”

The university said its team will develop a fine-tuned 3D modeling tool to simulate hydrodynamic-induced mechanical stresses that seaweed farms face in the open ocean. The team will use its modeling expertise to determine the structural performance of new and existing farm designs in the Gulf of Maine.

Its model will be capable of simulating hectare-sized farms, which would speed up the engineering, testing and permitting process for new, large-scale seaweed farming systems, UNE said.

The team will expand UNE’s experimental seaweed farm from its current small size off Wood Island to 4 acres in Saco Bay, it said.

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

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 of New England photographer Holly Haywood, left, and associate professor Jeri Fox, far right, work with students at the school's kelp farm off Wood Island in Biddeford.Fri, 20 Oct 2017 06:16:53 +0000
U.S. unemployment claims fall to lowest number in 44 years Thu, 19 Oct 2017 14:25:34 +0000 WASHINGTON — The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since Richard Nixon was president.

The Labor Department said Thursday that claims for jobless aid dropped by 22,000 to 222,000, fewest since March 1973. The less volatile four-week average slid by 9,500 to 248,250, lowest since late August.

The overall number of Americans collecting unemployment checks dropped to 1.89 million, lowest since December 1973 and down nearly 9 percent from a year ago.

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The low level suggests that employers are confident enough in the economy to hold onto workers.

The unemployment rate last month hit a 16-year low at 4.2 percent. Employers cut 33,000 jobs in September — the first monthly drop in nearly seven years — but only because Hurricanes Harvey and Irma rattled the economies of Texas and Florida; hiring is expected to bounce back.

The economic impact of Harvey and Irma is fading; claims dropped in Texas and Florida as more people returned to work. But the Labor Department said that Hurricanes Irma and Maria have disrupted the ability of people to file claims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

]]> 0 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 10:25:34 +0000
Food law leaves Maine meat producers squealing for a fix Thu, 19 Oct 2017 03:39:59 +0000

Steve Burger, seen Wednesday at his Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, plans to address lawmakers Friday about a new law that has confused and outraged many farmers. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Freeport farmer Steve Burger is concerned that his pigs will not be able to make their Nov. 6 slaughter date at Bisson’s in Topsham. Bisson’s is one of Maine’s five state-inspected meat-processing facilities that could be shut down by the federal government unless the Legislature amends a new food sovereignty law before Nov. 1.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it will override Maine’s ability to run its own meat inspection program unless the state clarifies the law. Maine’s Department of Agriculture is concerned that the law would keep it from inspecting any meat slaughtered and processed in a town that is food sovereign, negating an agreement it has with the USDA to meet federal standards.

The prospect that meat-processing facilities like Bisson’s could close, even temporarily, has sent food producers across Maine into a state of near panic and confusion. The cause of the problem is the food sovereignty bill that Gov. Paul LePage signed into law in June despite opposition from his chief agricultural advisers.

If Steve Burger can’t process his hogs on schedule this fall, he’ll have to keep feeding them and the quality of their meat will go down over time. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The bill, called “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems,” endorses the right of Maine communities to declare themselves “food sovereign,” something 20 communities, including several on the Blue Hill Peninsula, already have done.

In practical terms, it means consumers can buy directly from farmers and food producers in those communities who are operating outside of state and federal licensing. The legislation was intended by those who shaped it, including state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, its sponsor, and state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who has put forth numerous similar bills, as a means to encourage local food production and consumption.

“Perhaps with the best intentions,” Walt Whitcomb, Maine’s commissioner of agriculture, said during an appearance on a radio show Wednesday morning.

Problems ensued when the USDA said it would have to take control of inspections unless the law was amended to make it clear that state regulators can continue their work protecting Maine’s meat supply, regardless of whether a municipality is “food sovereign” or not.


As a result, the food sovereignty law has prompted confusion and outrage among many of the farmers and food producers whose independence and success it was supposed to bolster. The Maine Farm Bureau hopes to have 50 members show up at a public hearing Friday to oppose the law.

Several amendments have been proposed, and Burger plans to be among those who address the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry when it discusses the law Friday. After the hearing and a work session, the Legislature is scheduled to vote Monday on an amended bill.

Burger will speak out against the law generally, and specifically as it relates to the processing of meat. If he can’t get into Bisson’s on Nov. 6, he’s going to lose a month of hog-related income. That’s 50 percent of the monthly profits at Winter Hill Farm, which sends about 85 percent of its animals to state-inspected facilities.

“One of the legs of the stool is potentially being kicked out from under us,” Burger said.

Last year, state-inspected slaughterhouses in Maine produced nearly a million pounds of red meat, an increase of 42 percent in four years.

The issue to be addressed in the coming days is meat, but the Maine Farm Bureau’s executive director said there is widespread concern about the law’s ramifications for dairy and seafood, and for growers and processors of local foods.

Pigs at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport are slaughtered at Bisson’s in Topsham, one of Maine’s five state-inspected meat processing facilities that could be shut down by the federal government. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“This kind of thing is so frustrating because basically all agriculture in Maine is so fragile and we are kind of almost at that tipping point,” Julie A. Smith said. “Where we are either going to thrive or get wiped out. This kind of law is just detrimental to our progress.”


The legislative headache began with a flurry of warning letters between the state and federal officials in July. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called LePage to tell him that the USDA would be forced to take control of inspections unless the law was amended.

In August, the governor called for an emergency legislative session to amend the bill. “If the state program is eliminated, small farms will lose the most,” he said in a letter to legislative leaders.

If Burger can’t process his hogs on schedule, he’ll have to keep feeding them. The quality of their meat would go down with time, and who knows when he’d have a chance to get it processed if the state facilities were closed, even temporarily. He doesn’t want to get stuck with them.

“I’d have to sell them for pennies on the dollar,” Burger said.

He and cheesemaker Sarah Wiederkehr built their family business in Freeport based on a few factors, including predictability. The Department of Agriculture provides regulatory advice and licensing for the dairy side of their business, helping Wiederkehr be assured that her raw milk and cheeses are safe.

If Steve Burger can’t get his hogs into Bisson’s slaughterhouse on Nov. 6, he will lose a month’s hog-related income – 50 percent of Winter Hill Farm’s monthly profits. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The department also oversees, as it has for about 15 years, a meat-processing system. That includes five state-licensed facilities that process meat for retail sale, 30 custom facilities that deal directly with customers who bring them animals for personal consumption (like farmers culling their herd or hunters with a moose to break down) and 51 facilities for poultry processing. There is only one USDA-certified meat processor in the state, and the state Department of Agriculture has said it is “unlikely” the USDA would assign staff to Maine to run the former state facilities.

“We have the state slaughterhouses and we couldn’t run this business if we didn’t have them,” Burger said.

Like many in Maine’s agricultural and food community, Burger has been wondering why the governor signed the bill when the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry opposed it.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Burger said. “I have never heard him say why he thought that was a bill worth signing.”

The governor’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, referred all questions to the Department of Agriculture.

Steve Burger carries a bucket of whey to his pigs Wednesday. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette


Among those who didn’t expect LePage to approve the law? Jackson, the Allagash Democrat who sponsored the food sovereignty bill in the 128th session. “I was surprised as anyone that he did sign,” Jackson said Wednesday.

The issue had come up multiple times since 2013, often sponsored by Hickman, a food sovereignty proponent whose experiences as a farmer in Winthrop motivated him to seek a deregulation of what you might call farm-to-friend sales.

The bill, L.D. 725, originally was assigned to the Committee on State and Local Government in March, instead of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, as it has been this week.

State Sen. Paul Davis, a Republican who chairs both the agriculture committee and the one on state and local government, said it would have been better if the bill had been assigned to the agriculture committee, which is more knowledgeable about food issues, from the beginning. “It probably then would have had a different outcome,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture was contacted by the federal officials “immediately” after the bill became law, said Ron Dyer, who oversees the department’s inspection program.

Steve Burger watches his pigs eat Wednesday at Winter Hill Farm. On Friday, he plans to tell the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee about problems caused by Maine’s new food sovereignty law. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Whitcomb, who comes from a farming family, told talk radio show hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler on Wednesday morning that he was in the governor’s office when a call came in from “Dr. Perdue” outlining the federal government’s problems with Maine’s new law. “The governor quickly committed to calling the Legislature back,” Whitcomb said.

Jackson hopes that the two-thirds majority that is needed for an amendment can be reached, but he’s aware that there may be further roadblocks, even if the law is amended. He knows the Food and Drug Administration is not enthusiastic about the law and that the farm bureau is rallying the troops.

“Go ahead,” he said. “They are not going to get the law repealed in this session for sure.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, ME - OCTOBER 18: Steve Burger at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport Wednesday, October 18, 2017. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:28:19 +0000
Blue Apron cuts 320 employees Wed, 18 Oct 2017 23:48:33 +0000 NEW YORK — Blue Apron is cutting about 320 jobs, less than four months after the meal-kit seller became a public company.

New York-based Blue Apron, which had nearly 5,400 employees in June, said Wednesday the layoffs represent about 6 percent of its workforce. The company says the cuts were at its corporate offices and warehouses where its meal kits are packed and shipped.

Blue Apron has been facing increasing competition. Amazon, which recently bought Whole Foods, is testing its own meal kits. And supermarket Albertsons recently bought rival Plated and plans to sell kits at its 2,300 stores. Shares of Blue Apron have lost nearly half their value.

]]> 0 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 19:48:33 +0000
New home construction takes huge drop Wed, 18 Oct 2017 23:17:57 +0000 WASHINGTON — Construction of new homes fell 4.7 percent in September, the biggest decline in six months, reflecting weakness in both single-family activity and apartment building.

The September result left construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.13 million units, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. It was the sharpest decline since a 7.7 percent fall in March.

Homebuilding has been sliding this year, but economists remain optimistic that the low level of unemployment will soon spark a rebound in sales and construction. Even though construction activity has fallen in recent months, home building is 6.1 percent higher than a year ago.

Single-family building contracted 4.6 percent in September, while apartment construction was down 5.1 percent.

Construction activity in August declined a revised 0.2 percent, a slightly smaller drop than initially reported.

]]> 0 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 19:17:57 +0000
Dear Amazon hopefuls: It’s not just food trucks Wed, 18 Oct 2017 22:29:47 +0000 SEATTLE — Memo to the many places vying for Amazon’s second headquarters: It ain’t all food trucks and free bananas.

For years, much of downtown Seattle has been a maze of broken streets and caution–taped sidewalks. Dozens of enormous cranes tower overhead as double–length dump trucks hauling excavated dirt rumble past pedestrians and bicyclists. The crashing and clanging of construction is the city’s soundtrack on a perpetual loop.

Housing prices have soared faster than anywhere else in America, driving some low– and even middle–income residents beyond city limits. Traffic is frequently unmentionable. And while Amazon is far from solely to blame – and while lawmakers, economists and many residents say the benefits clearly outweigh any drawbacks – life in its hometown is indeed one more endeavor the tech giant has disrupted.

“Economic growth brings opportunities, and it brings headaches,” says Margaret O’Mara, a University of Washington professor who specializes in urban history. “That was true in 1840s Manchester, it was true in 1890s Pittsburgh, and it’s true with Seattle in the 20–teens. … It’s on both cities and the tech companies to figure out the way to handle these things.”

Amazon opened its headquarters in a previously sleepy warehouse district known as South Lake Union in 2010, foregoing what it says would have been the cheaper option of building in the suburbs, where its workers might have been less connected to the city.

Since then, it has expanded from a workforce of about 5,000 to more than 40,000 in 33 buildings here. It surpassed the university as the city’s biggest employer, and it’s still growing apace. Even as it announced plans for a second headquarters location, the company said it would lease the entirety of Seattle’s second–largest skyscraper, the still–under–construction Rainier Square tower, which will have room for 3,500 workers.

The city has been transformed, with new towers seeming to sprout weekly and Amazon’s striking new biospheres due to open next year. Amazon estimates its direct spending boosted Seattle’s economy by $38 billion from 2010 to 2016. Hotels are thriving thanks to visits by friends and family of Amazon workers, as well as by Amazon employees from elsewhere. The Downtown Seattle Association estimates $5 billion in construction activity was underway during the summer, with more than 30,000 residential units in the works.

Cities across the U.S. and Canada are clamoring at the prospect of landing Amazon’s second headquarters – and with it, investments topping $5 billion. They have until Thursday to submit their proposals.

In Seattle, there’s no question the company’s growth has improved life in many ways. Unemployment is extremely low. A large fraction of its workers walk to the office or rely on public transit, and its buildings have green roofs, recycled heat, reclaimed lumber and other sustainability features. It opened plazas where it hosts farmers markets, concerts and, yes, banana stands – Amazon has given away 2.7 million bananas and counting.

Terrific restaurants, cafes and food trucks have proliferated, with lines of Amazon workers – recognizable by their badges or by their dogs, welcome at work – outside.

Less livable space

That said, not everyone can afford to enjoy such amenities. Robby Stern, president of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, which advocates for seniors, said rising housing costs have forced two of his organization’s board members from the city. The Seattle Times reported in September that the median house price in the city was $730,000 – double what it was five years ago.

“Bringing a lot of new, good–paying jobs to town, you have to view that as being a positive development,” Stern said. “But the changes that have happened have created Seattle as a less livable place for categories of people, and that’s not what I want for Seattle.”

After taking some criticism for a perceived lack of involvement in the community, Amazon has engaged more publicly, including supporting some beloved Seattle nonprofits: It announced this year that it will give the shelter organization Mary’s Place permanent room in its new building to house 200 homeless women, children and families. It has also given FareStart, which trains people struggling with homelessness or drug addiction to work in the restaurant industry, space and equipment to open five new eateries on its campus.

Last year, Amazon gave $10 million toward a new computer sciences building at the University of Washington, where it also endowed two professorships. And this year, the family of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced a $35 million gift to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center – the largest donation in the center’s 41-year history.

The company also donated to a successful political campaign last fall to expand light rail service, and has paid for an additional streetcar to serve South Lake Union.

Seattle had bad traffic and limited housing even before Amazon arrived – some of which lingered from decades of anti-growth policies and a failure to build more mass transit sooner.

With Amazon’s bidding process for “HQ2,” at least the places applying know what to expect.

Greg Nickels, the city’s mayor from 2002 to 2010, worked to transform South Lake Union into a tech and biotech hub. He says Seattle has had to do some catching up on transit and housing, given the company’s unpredictably explosive expansion, and the city’s $15-an-hour minimum wage experiment is a good one to try to alleviate income inequality.

“I know many people find that growth uncomfortable, but it’s much better than being a Detroit or a Cleveland, where people are watching their cities waste away,” Nickels said.

]]> 0 workers huddle under company-provided umbrellas as they wait for lunch. Memo to the many places vying for Amazon's second HQ: It isn't all food trucks and free bananas.Wed, 18 Oct 2017 18:42:54 +0000
Construction has George’s Banana Stand workers, customers going bananas Wed, 18 Oct 2017 22:19:51 +0000 SKOWHEGAN — Owners of George’s Banana Stand, on North Avenue, have been going bananas all summer with road work on the town’s sewer separation project confusing customers, closing streets and cutting into sales during their busiest time of the year.

For customers of the mid-size grocery store with a busy meat department, it’s been “a pain in the butt” getting to and from the store all summer.

Owners say they are losing, on average, $800 a day in sales — roughly $24,000 a month. The store has lost an estimated 54 customers a day this summer, they said.

North Avenue from near Chandler Street to High Street has been closed to southbound traffic since July, as the town completes the latest phase of its combined sewer overflow or storm water separation project.

“We have these few months in the year to make money. I mean, you know, it’s our livelihood,” said Darlene Holt, the store manager. “It’s been a rough summer for the business, very difficult.”

Holt said she did the arithmetic: The average customer spends about $15 per visit, and if 54 customers decide not to come in to shop, that’s about $800 a day in lost sales.

Holt and meat department manager Brent Wright, son of owner Randy Wright, said the summer months, with everyone having cookouts and the traffic generated by the Skowhegan State Fair in August, are the time for top sales.

“Grilling season — especially in my department — it’s huge,” Brent Wright said. “We make it through the winter, everybody buys hamburgers; but to sell a lot of meat in January and February versus July and August, it’s a little different.”

Customers on Wednesday said streets that were open one day were closed the next day, with traffic diverted to an already crowded Madison Avenue.

“It’s been a pain in the butt,” said Debby Salisbury, who lives on nearby Maple Street. “You have to go all the way out and around, and for me to get back home, I have to go all the way around. It’s been quite a hassle. One day I couldn’t even get here. I had to cut across the intersection, and I couldn’t even get here. It was bothersome.”

Salisbury’s daughter, Kalee Salisbury, said she drove taxi for part of the summer and could see the problems firsthand.

“When you’re taxi driving, you really do have to go all the way out and around,” she said. “You can’t go up. You’ve got to find some other way to go around. It was pretty stressful sometimes.”

A water problem Oct. 6 compounded the Banana Stand’s problems, Holt and Wright said, flooding the downstairs offices. The store is insured, but the disruption in business also set them back.

“It put us out of commission, workwise. We were down,” Holt said, noting that the cost of the damage amounted to about $10,000. “We know it was a total mistake and not negligence on their part.”

Holt and Wright said their employees also have suffered, losing hours as work crews dig up the pavement, block off streets and divert traffic away from the store, reducing the flow of customers.

Janine Stadig, the new owner of Alice’s Restaurant just down the street, said her business slows down a lot during the week because of the construction but resumes on the weekend, becoming “super-busy” and illustrating the effect of the work-week traffic.

Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore said that when the work began, it was supposed to stretch well into November, but problems with the sandy soil, the depth of the sewer pipes and an unpredictable water table have put the project behind schedule.

Now, he said, construction crews will work for as long as they can into the winter, then come back in the spring to finish the job.

Customers said Wednesday they already are at a point of frustration.

“It’s been more of a nuisance for me,” said Skowhegan resident Cecil Gray, stopping Wednesday at the meat counter. “I still come here because they have things I want, but it’s still a nuisance, and I’m sure for some people, it will deter them from coming here.”

Joseph Sheehan, who lives with Rebecca O’Brien on adjoining East Dyer Street, said “it’s been hell.”

“I’ve had to go all the way down the road here to get across sometimes,” he said.

O’Brien agreed. “It’s been a hassle when they have this blocked off, and we have to do a whole complete U-ee just to get back home,” she said. “It’s a pain in the butt.”

Dore said the majority of the work is being done on the west side of North Avenue in the southbound travel lane. Traffic has been diverted down Jewett Street to Madison Avenue.

When the project is complete, the stormwater will go directly into the river, the sewer waste will be directed to the town’s waste treatment plant and every home along the North Avenue route will be hooked directly into the town sewer system. Pipes that currently empty into the storm drain will be moved to the sewer line.

Holt and Wright said they understand that the work is necessary and they are not blaming anyone for their losses, but it’s going to take them awhile to recoup. They said that within a week or two of the start of construction, they could see business slowing.

Holt said that in the middle of July, the work was concentrated right in front of the store, scaring customers away altogether.

“Roads got closed off, signage wasn’t there and people got really confused,” she said. “One Friday night I had to go out there and move cones myself because they got done working and they didn’t get moved. We’ve had to send people home because of the down time in sales. It’s the only thing we can do.”

Brent Wright said the business will not be able to recoup what is lost.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “There’s no way to get that back. We’re just thankful to our loyal customers.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


]]> 0, 18 Oct 2017 22:27:15 +0000
Paper industry veteran Randall Davis endorsed by energy committee for PUC post Wed, 18 Oct 2017 22:06:09 +0000 AUGUSTA — A man with nearly 40 years of experience in the paper industry – but little background with regulatory or legal matters – was endorsed by a legislative committee Wednesday to join the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Randall Davis of Smithfield won the recommendation of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee in a unanimous vote. Throughout his confirmation hearing, he projected the attitude of a calm, capable executive who didn’t know everything about the sometimes-arcane issues handled by the PUC, but knew how to find answers to complex problems.

His confirmation faced no public opposition at the hearing.

Davis is currently the energy manager at Sappi North America’s Somerset paper mill. He has worked for Maine’s largest papermaker for 38 years, and has spent the past six years managing electric and natural gas contracts and other energy matters to maximize revenue at the mill.

“Mr. Davis has done outstanding work leading Sappi’s successful overhaul to reduce energy cost in Skowhegan,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the committee’s co-chair. “He is a straight shooter, a problem solver, a quick study and a hard worker.”

Davis was nominated by Gov. Paul LePage to fill a seat left vacant on the three-member panel by the resignation of Carlisle McLean. His confirmation still must be approved by the Maine Senate.

The three commissioners decide cases involving multimillion-dollar power projects, energy-efficiency spending, telecom service and other actions that affect what Mainers pay on their utility bills.

Replacing McLean was a priority for LePage. Last February, the governor said he’d fire all three members if he could, even though he had appointed them.

LePage was upset about a policy they enacted that was meant to reform financial incentives for owners of rooftop solar panels. He said it would lead to a massive expansion of the solar industry and hurt businesses and consumers.

In Davis, LePage apparently believes he has another shot at obtaining a regulator more in line with his priorities of lowering power costs and opposing most renewable energy incentives. And because PUC commissioners are nominated for six-year terms, their influence endures long after the governor has left office.

But during the hearing, Davis drew a contrast by laying out some of his guiding principles.

He said he sees utilities as a human right. He said he sees a need to balance the desire to “jumpstart” new initiatives or “rescue” outdated businesses against any increased cost to ratepayers. And he made clear statements about his thoughts on renewable energy and climate change.

“Solar and wind are not just passing fads,” he said. “They are our needed transition from fossil fuels …”

“Global warming is real and in no small measure man-made,” he concluded.

But Davis admitted he was less well-versed on specific policies and issues facing the PUC. He told the committee he had instead prepared for the hearing by focusing on the process and rules by which the agency operates.

He also said that although his professional career has been in the industrial sector, at the core, he looks at energy costs from a consumer’s perspective.

If confirmed by the Senate, Davis will join Mark Vannoy, chairman, and R. Bruce Williamson on the commission.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or


]]> 0 DavisWed, 18 Oct 2017 23:25:05 +0000
Portland hotel sold to Virginia investment trust Wed, 18 Oct 2017 20:53:53 +0000 The Residence Inn Portland Downtown/Waterfront hotel has been sold to a large real estate investment trust based in Virginia for an undisclosed sum.

The buyer, Richmond-based Apple Hospitality REIT Inc., is a publicly traded company that owns and operates 236 hotels in 33 states, according to its website.

The seller was New Hampshire- and Florida-based Norwich Partners, which develops and invests in commercial real estate, primarily hotels in New England and Florida, according to Holliday Fenoglio Fowler L.P., a Boston-based commercial real estate broker that represented Norwich in the sale transaction.

Completed in 2009, the Marriott-branded hotel, at 145 Fore St. near Portland’s downtown waterfront, has an assessed value of $15.5 million, according to the city Assessor’s Office.

The five-story hotel features 179 suites with kitchens, the Shipyard Lounge, 1,235 square feet of event space, an outdoor courtyard, business center, fitness center and indoor pool.

A Norwich representative said Apple Hospitality has retained the hotel’s existing management team and does not plan any changes to its branding or operation.

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

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 10:14:52 +0000
LePage invites bio-based businesses to call Maine home Wed, 18 Oct 2017 20:31:21 +0000 Touting its vast forests and his administration’s ability to cut through red tape, Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday pitched Maine as the perfect place for bioenergy executives to make investments.

Gov. Paul LePage

LePage offered his remarks to open the third day of the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference in San Francisco. The conference, which drew a crowd of more than 300, was convened to bring together investors, researchers, policymakers, executives and others interested in tapping renewable natural resources for new industrial uses.

Maine has more than 17 million acres of forestland, and its economy has been hampered by the closure of five paper mills in three years – mills that used to be a primary market for wood and pulp. Since the closures, several initiatives have sprung up, including proposals to build bioenergy parks that can revive unused biomass power plants and support new, connected businesses.

“I want to be sure that the word is out there that we are open for business,” LePage told the crowd. He noted that the state supports 24,000 forest-related jobs, down about half from when all the mills were running and robust.

But the state is reinventing itself, trying to attract companies like Ensyn Fuels Inc., which now provides wood-based biofuel to help power Bates College in Lewiston. He also noted that the University of Maine received $3.3 million from the Defense Logistics Agency to help its research in converting wood fiber into jet fuel.

In January, LePage expects the Legislature to begin debate on a $50 million commercialization bond intended to bring new products to market, something that could help attract bio-based companies to Maine. This session, a bill that would have authorized a $55 million bond to accelerate growth and capital investment stalled and was ultimately held over.

“We are going to invest, not in loans, but in equity,” LePage said of the bond proposal. He said the plan is for the state to provide equity funding, which would make it a part owner, in new companies interested in bio-based products. In seven or so years, after the company has built its infrastructure, it could buy out the state’s interest.

“Then we’ll watch you grow, on the sidelines,” he said to the attendees. He invited them to speak to him or officials from Maine’s economic and development office who were also attending the conference.

Referencing the gridlock in Congress these days, LePage said he could do nothing about that. But he said he does have the power to move things along in Maine.

He said his administration’s account executives, advocates who help businesses navigate layers of bureaucracy, can speed up the licensing and permitting process for businesses looking to locate in Maine.

“Because it’s not about government getting in the way, it’s about government being a catalyst to move your projects forward,” he said.

Julie Rabinowitz, the governor’s press secretary, said LePage’s address drew a strong reaction from attendees.

“Several organizations approached the delegation from Maine. They had varying interests, ranging from businesses already in Maine and looking to expand to others with early stage concepts who are interested in Maine brownfield sites, to others intrigued by leveraging new technologies against Maine’s traditional strengths in forest products,” she said. “Maine’s expertise in forest products, access to supply, legacy infrastructure and proximity to European trade routes resonated with the audience.”

In the afternoon, Kimberly Samaha, CEO of Born Global, which is backing a bioenergy project called Stored Solar in West Enfield and Jonesboro, was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on pioneering products. Samaha said her company has invested $17 million in the Stored Solar project, which intends to build a shrimp farm that uses captured waste heat from biomass plants. The project has stumbled because of financing problems, but Samaha is optimistic that it will succeed and intends to break ground in the spring.

Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

]]> 0 Paul LePageWed, 18 Oct 2017 23:37:01 +0000
Scarborough Downs site for Amazon’s second headquarters? It’s a long shot Wed, 18 Oct 2017 20:17:02 +0000 Amazon Corp. is looking for a place to put a second headquarters, and the town of Scarborough is getting into the race.

The town plans to submit the Scarborough Downs racetrack site as a contender for the Seattle-based retail giant’s new facility, which would eventually employ up to 50,000 people.

A town official acknowledged that even with the property’s new buyer on board, Scarborough Downs is an extreme long shot.

“Other (cities and towns vying for the headquarters) have coordinated with state governments on tax incentives,” said Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall. “We don’t have any of that.”

Maine Department of Economic and Community Development spokesman Douglas Ray said he wasn’t aware of Scarborough officials approaching the department to discuss the possibility of including tax incentives in the town’s proposal. However, Ray said Amazon could possibly qualify for certain incentives such as employment tax increment financing, which reimburses a portion of state withholding taxes paid by businesses.

Scarborough isn’t the only Maine locale attracted by the $5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs Amazon says it will bring over the next 10 to 15 years to whichever North American region it chooses to build a second headquarters. The average annual compensation for each of those jobs, including benefits, would exceed $100,000, the company said.

The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority submitted a proposal to Amazon on Wednesday afternoon, offering the former Navy base in Brunswick as the site for its headquarters facility. Executive Director Steve Levesque said a 130-acre parcel zoned for office park use – across from Fat Boy drive-in restaurant on Bath Road – is a possible development site. Brunswick Landing is located near rail, operates its own airport, has a nine-hole golf course, and is located between several major population centers.

“I think there is an opportunity here. We have some good matches for Amazon,” Levesque said Wednesday night, mentioning the former air station’s suitability for developing drones.


The 483-acre Scarborough Downs site meets all of the major requirements listed by Amazon in its request for proposals, Hall said. However, it is lacking in a number of the company’s listed preferences, such as having the headquarters located in a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people.

Another major hurdle for Scarborough is the area’s relatively limited employment pool. Hall said it’s an open question where the 50,000 workers would come from, but he noted the company plans to ramp up the workforce at its second headquarters over a number of years.

He said there is an ample supply of land in and around Scarborough that could be used to build homes to accommodate those future workers.

“This is one of those things where if you build it, they will come,” he said.

Proposals for the Amazon headquarters site are due Thursday and are expected to come from a wide variety of U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City already have confirmed they are submitting bids.

Scarborough Downs, one of Maine’s two remaining permanent harness racing venues, has struggled in recent years because of dwindling profits and attendance, increasing competition from casinos and online gambling, crumbling facilities that have drawn recent scrutiny from government officials, and continuing controversy with horse owners and trainers.

The Downs opened in 1950 as the state’s first thoroughbred horse racing track. Spokesman Michael Sweeney said the racetrack is currently offering live harness racing on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 10. Sweeney said the racetrack plans to shut down for the winter months and reopen in March.

The 67-year-old racetrack has been for sale since November, and as of March was under contract to be purchased by a Massachusetts developer who specializes in distressed properties and mixed-use projects.

The developer, Thom Powers of Cohasset, was leading a group of investors from the Boston area and Maine who were interested in redeveloping the tract in the center of town for residential, commercial and recreational uses. They formed a company called Scarborough Downs Development LLC in anticipation of purchasing the site.


Sweeney referred all questions about the status of the racetrack, which has been on the market for years, to Edward MacColl, the attorney for the racetrack’s owner, Davric Maine Corp. Davric is named after the racetrack’s former owners, Gerald Davidson and Joseph Ricci, who are both deceased.

MacColl declined to comment on whether the racetrack is under contract to be sold.

“These are private matters,” MacColl said. If Scarborough Downs is sold, the corporation will make that news public, he said.

Denise Terry, vice president of finance at Scarborough Downs, said she has not spoken to the town about offering the racetrack as a location for Amazon headquarters. Terry, contacted Wednesday evening, declined to speak about the potential sale of the property.

However, Hall, the town manager, said the property is under contract to be purchased by a Maine-based company called Crossroads Holdings LLC. He would not name the investors involved, but said they are in favor of the Amazon headquarters proposal.

In recent discussions with Scarborough residents about the future of the struggling racetrack, Hall said most supported the idea of redeveloping the property. He noted that those discussions did not specifically involve Amazon’s request for proposals.

“There was an almost universal opinion among our residents that there’s a great development opportunity there,” Hall said.

Even if Amazon doesn’t choose Scarborough’s proposal out of the many dozens it is likely to receive, the process of putting it together has been educational for local officials, Hall said.

“We believe that we’ll benefit from the experience,” he said.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2017 to clarify the Amazon job compensation as an average annual amount.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0, MAINE - OCTOBER 31: Clouds above Scarborough Downs are reflected in the grandstand windows, some of which are missing and boarded up. Built in 1950, the track first hosted thoroughbred racing and later switched to harness racing. (Photo by Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer)Thu, 19 Oct 2017 09:47:46 +0000
Boston isn’t the only New England city bidding for Amazon’s HQ2 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 18:31:10 +0000 BOSTON — In the high-stakes contest to land Amazon’s new headquarters, many consider Boston to be a serious contender competing against other big technology hubs around the United States and Canada.

But it’s also competing against its neighbors: Several smaller Massachusetts cities – along with Rhode Island and southern New Hampshire – are each submitting their own pitches to Amazon, using proximity to Boston’s tech talent as a major draw.

“Talent really is the unquestionable, huge priority,” said Brian Dacey, president of the Cambridge Innovation Center and a former Boston economic development director who says the region could make a strong case for luring the Seattle e-commerce company. Local research strengths – such as in artificial intelligence and robotics – are important to Amazon’s business model, he said.

The Seattle company is promising $5 billion of investment and 50,000 jobs in whichever North American region it chooses to build a second headquarters. Applications are due Thursday and will come from dozens of U.S. states and Canadian provinces .

Amazon asked state and regional leaders to coordinate no more than one bid from any metropolitan area, but that hasn’t stopped multiple cities in greater Boston from making rival bids. There are two alone from northeast Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley – one from a cluster of municipalities in greater Lawrence and another from greater Lowell.

New Bedford also is applying, touting itself as “the inspiring place from which Herman Melville’s novel ‘Moby Dick’ began.” Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella is pitching his city as “the hidden jewel” while also dismissing the attractiveness of a Boston campus, saying Amazon “can’t afford to be anywhere where their employees are fatigued and tired by the time they reach work in the morning.” Worcester is offering up to $500 million in tax breaks and sending Amazon a promotional video.

It’s not clear whether this flood of applications from so many New England cities will help or hurt the region’s chances.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is coordinating a statewide pitch expected to highlight a handful of locations deemed the most competitive, but the Republican said last week he also will “give folks who are bidding locally or regionally an opportunity to put a compendium on the back of our bid.”

The state hasn’t disclosed its preferred locations or how much it’s willing to offer Amazon in business incentives, citing competitiveness.

Top real estate offerings pushed by developers include Suffolk Downs, the former horse racing track at Boston’s border with Revere, or the Union Point development at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station. Others are advocating for more urban locations, such as Boston’s Seaport District, where Amazon is already planning to open a 900-worker office next year to advance its Alexa virtual assistant.

Rhode Island and New Hampshire also are making pitches, promising Amazon a way of tapping into Boston’s high-tech aura while avoiding its congestion and high prices. Rhode Island is touting its universities, cultural amenities and train connections to Boston, while New Hampshire says it doesn’t need financial gimmicks to make its case.

New Hampshire leaders on Wednesday announced a proposal centered in the town of Londonderry. “Everyone else is still trying to play catchup to this tax incentive we created in 1789 – no sales tax and no income tax,” said Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican.

Sununu said that “obviously the Boston region is a great place to go, but if you’re going to be there, be in tax-free New Hampshire. It’s all the benefits without the headaches.”

The AP’s Holly Ramer and Jennifer McDermott contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Foods shareholders voted to bless a $13.7 billion union with Amazon, and the FTC said it won't block it.Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:49:06 +0000
Tides do heavy lifting as steel span is installed on new Sarah Long bridge Wed, 18 Oct 2017 17:11:36 +0000 KITTERY — Aided by the tides, construction crews installed a lift span Wednesday on the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, a major step toward completing one of the biggest and most expensive bridge construction projects in Maine’s history.

A 4 million-pound structural steel span the length of a football field was floated over the Piscataqua River on two barges Tuesday and maneuvered into place at the center of the new bridge that connects Kittery with Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The operation was timed to take advantage of the 9-foot-plus tidal range on the Piscataqua.

The span rose into place with high tide Wednesday morning and dropped onto bearings on the bridge’s lower deck as the tide went out in the afternoon. The modular two-level bridge has a lower deck for locomotives that need to access the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and an upper deck that carries vehicles on Route 1 about 56 feet above the river.

Crews install the 4 million-pound concrete lift span, center, approximately the length of a football field, on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge connecting Kittery to Portsmouth, N.H. At $160 million, it’s expected to be the most costly bridge construction in state history. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Installation of the lift span is one of the last few steps before the bridge opens to traffic in mid-November, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. An old bridge in the same location had been closed to traffic since August 2016, when it malfunctioned and was stuck in the elevated position. That bridge was demolished last October.

After the span is fully installed, crews will race to complete paving, said Joyce Taylor, chief engineer at MDOT. Construction began in 2015.

“We are kind of dependent on the weather right now,” Taylor said. “We are trying to maneuver around the cold weather we know is coming.”

The bridge has a four-pulley system on four 200-foot concrete towers that raises and lowers the span when a vessel needs to pass through. It is higher above the river than its predecessor, and designed to cut by two-thirds, from 3,000 to 1,000, the number of times it needs to be raised to allow ships to pass through.

Because of the construction work, the U.S. Coast Guard has closed the river about a thousand feet around the bridge to all vessels until Oct. 27.

The project is expected to cost $160 million, the most expensive bridge construction in state history, Taylor said. Construction is a joint project of the Maine and New Hampshire departments of transportation, with the Maine team leading the project. The cost is shared between the two states, said MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said.

“This is a state-of-the-art bridge, very complex,” said Peter Vigue, president and CEO of Cianbro, the Pittsfield company contracted to build the bridge.

Working with tides is a common way to install lift-span bridges, but the Piscataqua tides are particularly intense, he said.

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is one of three that connect Kittery and Portsmouth. A taller bridge to the west carries Interstate 95, and the smaller Memorial Bridge to the east connects downtown Portsmouth and Kittery village. The bridge’s namesake, Sarah Mildred Long, was a 50-year employee of the Maine-New Hampshire Interstate Bridge Authority.

Drivers accustomed to using the bridge have been detoured to I-95 for more than a year. The bridge carried 14,000 to 15,000 vehicles a day before it was closed.

The new bridge has a 100-year life expectancy. The old bridge was 76 years old when it was demolished. Officials opted to pay for higher-cost materials and build it with concrete, not steel, in an effort to moderate future maintenance and repair costs, Taylor said.

“It’s a beautiful bridge I think, but we weren’t looking for the prettiest bridge in the world,” she said. “We wanted it to stand the test of time.”

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 19 to correct the type of material used in the bridge span.

]]> 0;j;lkj ... PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - OCTOBER 18: Maine Department of Transportation installs the bridge span to the Sarah Mildred Long bridge connecting Kittery to Portsmouth, N.H. (Staff photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer) .... asd;lfkh asd;lfhk asdfl;hksdfalk;wer.Thu, 19 Oct 2017 11:25:37 +0000
Electric-car drivers, you can charge it at L.L. Bean in the near future Wed, 18 Oct 2017 03:27:44 +0000 FREEPORT — L.L. Bean is completing construction at its flagship retail store on what will be Maine’s largest charging station for electric vehicles, with an opening planned for late fall or early winter.

Bean is converting a section of a parking lot on Justin’s Way into a cluster of 16 charging plugs. Eight will have the special connector that fits vehicles made by Tesla, now the top-selling U.S. brand. Eight other plugs will be for all other makes.

Bean says it’s responding to customer demand and is anticipating that more shoppers will want to be able to plug in as electric cars become increasingly popular. The company said the move reflects its corporate ethos of community leadership and promoting sustainable business practices.

Developing a highly visible charging station at a store that hosts 3 million shoppers a year also can boost sales, according to ChargePoint Inc., a California-based EV infrastructure company. Electric-vehicle owners have higher average incomes and are more likely to shop where they can plug in. They also may spend more time shopping while waiting to charge up, the company found in a case study.

Bean downplayed the bottom line as its motivation.

“That’s something to consider, but it’s not why we’re doing this,” Mac McKeever, a Bean spokesman, told the Portland Press Herald. “It has some great PR value, but it’s good for the community, good for customers and good for the environment.”

In fact, the company will let its customers, as well as other visitors shopping in Freeport, plug in for free.

Bean declined to say how much the project costs or what it expects to spend by offering free electricity.

Tesla is paying for its plugs, part of a national effort to install a vast “Supercharger” network. It wants to have enough charging stations to support the anticipated sales of hundreds of thousands of its cars in the next few years. In Maine, Tesla already has eight-plug Supercharger stations on Civic Center Drive in Augusta and at Ruby Tuesday in Brewer.

Bean is paying for the other eight plugs in Freeport. In general, similar units can cost between $2,000 and $10,000 apiece to install, depending on where power is located and other factors.

At least for now, McKeever said, Bean isn’t worried about visitors to Freeport hogging plugs and making them unavailable to its own shoppers.

“I think it will be a learning experience and we will adjust accordingly,” he said. “But ultimately, it will be a good thing for the community.”


By installing a charging station that’s twice as large as any in Maine at a location that will be passed by hundreds of thousands of visitors, Bean also is sending a message to local businesses, said Barry Woods, director of Electric Vehicle Innovation at ReVision Energy in Portland.

“Bean has a global reach and global vision,” Woods said. “The fact that it’s willing to dedicate critical surface parking for its retail store and spend its own money, that’s something for other retailers to notice.”

ReVision has been contracted by Bean to install the eight Level 2 chargers. They can provide roughly 20 miles of range per hour of charging. The Tesla Superchargers are more powerful. They use a high-voltage DC connection that can add up to 170 miles of range in a half-hour.

Pure electric and plug-in cars last year made up only a tiny fraction of the 1.2 million vehicles registered in Maine, fewer than 1,000, according to data compiled by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Nationally, roughly 550,000 electric vehicles were counted last year.

But national sales rose 47 percent over last year in the first half of 2017, according to CleanTechnica, which covers clean technology development. And new models now being released by Tesla, General Motors and others, along with commitments by other global carmakers to ramp up production, are expected to greatly increase the number of plug-in vehicles on the nation’s roads. For instance: Bloomberg New Energy Finance is forecasting that electric vehicles will account for 54 percent of new car sales by 2040, driven in part by the falling cost of lithium-ion batteries.


Against this backdrop, retailers can use charging stations as a way to attract and retain electric drivers, ChargePoint says.

The ChargePoint study was done for Target, at a new store in Fremont, California. It found that shoppers with electric cars stayed three times longer in the store, said Mike DiNucci, ChargePoint’s vice president for sales. It also found a linear relationship between time in the store and money spent.

“It helps pay for the free electricity,” he said of the charging station. “It more than subsidizes a charging session.”

DiNucci also said ChargePoint has software that allows retailers to make charging stations free for a pre-determined amount of time. For the eight Level 2 chargers at the Target in Fremont, the first two hours are free; after that, it’s $2 an hour.

“Our software allows operators to add a fee to dissuade drivers from ‘squatting’ on stations,” he said.

Most electric-car charging is done at home. But for travelers to one of Maine’s premiere shopping meccas, the new charging station will fill a void in Freeport. Plugshare, the online database that maps where public charging stations are located, shows only four in town. Two are at an inn and a motel and are wall outlets, which provide very long charge times.

DiNucci said the Target study revealed that electric-vehicle drivers would bypass stores closer to their homes to get to a Target with a charging station. By creating a charging hub at Bean, car owners may be more likely to pick Freeport over other shopping destinations.

“You’re going to see that behavior in Maine, too,” he said. “Like bees around a hive, these cars are going to cluster around those charging stations. It’s the ‘If you build it, they will come’ phenomenon.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

Twitter: TuxTurkel

]]> 0 are two of the new Tesla Superchargers in the L.L. Bean parking lot off Justin's Way in Freeport. The electric-vehicle charging station will include eight Tesla Superchargers and eight more plugs for all other makes. Mac McKeever, a spokesman for Bean, acknowledged the PR value, but said foremost the charging station is "good for the community, good for customers and good for the environment."Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:54:40 +0000
FAA contradicts Portland Jetport’s explanation for airplane noise Wed, 18 Oct 2017 03:11:58 +0000 A federal aviation official on Tuesday contradicted statements by the director of the Portland International Jetport and other officials at the airport that problems with a federal radar system could have contributed to noise complaints by forcing airliners to fly over residential neighborhoods.

There have been no radar outages that changed the direction in which airplanes took off and landed at the Portland airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said Tuesday.

While the FAA’s nearest air traffic radar, in Cumberland, shut down this summer for scheduled maintenance and experienced several unplanned interruptions, the Jetport was covered by three other radar sites and there was no effect on airport operations, Peters said.

“It’s not complicated, it really isn’t,” Peters said. “When we schedule an outage for maintenance or troubleshooting, that has nothing to do with flight procedures or flight patterns at the airport.”

Citing radar malfunctions as a reason for changing flight direction doesn’t make sense, Peters said, explaining that flight patterns and procedures are determined by factors like runway availability, wind direction and weather, but not radar.

“Radar doesn’t determine the runway or the direction we bring aircraft in,” he said.

South Portland residents have been told that federal radar problems were the reason for an apparent increase in loud, low-flying aircraft over their neighborhoods. Jetport officials and a South Portland resident who serves on a noise advisory panel had said radar issues appeared to be at least partly responsible for the recent noise complaints. The officials also incorrectly said the radar station experiencing the problems was at the National Weather Service station in Gray. It is in Cumberland, the FAA said.

On Monday, Jetport Director Paul Bradbury told the Portland Press Herald that there were nine radar outages from March to September that required arriving and departing commercial flights to pass over densely populated neighborhoods east of the airport. Bradbury said flights typically come into the airport over an area to the west that is less populated.

In an interview Tuesday, Bradbury said although it appeared that radar outages could have been part of the problem, in they end they were not.

“I think they have already answered the question, according to their research and their data, this did not cause an impact,” Bradbury said Tuesday. “They’re the FAA, I think they’ve got it.”

Radar problems had been highlighted as a possible cause for noise complaints in a September email to members of the noise advisory committee from Jetport Operations Manager Brad Wallace.

“When this radar goes off-line, the (flight path over Portland Harbor) is no longer available and traffic arriving or departing to the east will fly over land,” Wallace wrote.

The Jetport is covered by radar sites in Cumberland, Skowhegan, Manchester, New Hampshire and North Truro, Massachusetts, the FAA said. The redundant capability ensures air traffic controllers “can provide continuous radar coverage for safe air traffic operations at all times,” the FAA said. It does not use any radar feeds from the National Weather Service in Gray.

Air traffic controllers used alternate feeds for the Jetport during scheduled maintenance of the Cumberland radar site this summer. One of the Cumberland station’s two operating channels experienced several interruptions after normal business hours this summer, but a technician switched the system to the other channel with no impact on air traffic operations, the FAA said.

Air traffic controllers and airport staff don’t use radar to determine flight patterns, Peters said in an interview Tuesday.

“Radar in and of itself doesn’t determine what runways, flight patterns or procedures we use, it is a tool we have,” he said.

The airport determines what runways can be used and air traffic controllers determine the best landing and take off directions based on a number of factors, wind direction being the most important, he said.

On Tuesday, Bradbury said advisory committee members were advised of the radar outages only for information. “This was one ancillary input we wanted to make sure the noise advisory committee had,” he said. “These are technical matters, I don’t have all the answers, I am just trying to get all the information to the committee.”

Adrian Dowling, a candidate for South Portland City Council South Portland and a member of the airport’s Noise Advisory Committee, would like to get some answers on why noise complaints appear to have increased.

“People in South Portland want to know what this is all about and what is happening. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good answers for them,” Dowling said Tuesday night. Based on the number of complaints he has been receiving, he said the noise problem is a real issue.

Bradbury said the Jetport has not yet compiled all the noise complaints for the past year so it is not possible to tell if there have been more complaints.

“I can’t even verify for sure analytically that the number of complaints are higher than last year,” he said.

Complaints could have been generated by work at the airport itself. In April, the Jetport warned there would be more noise for people in Portland, South Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth for a short time because of a taxiway repair project.

The airport also had more daytime runways closures this summer because of a new mowing schedule, maintenance and runway lighting repairs Wallace said in the same email that mentioned radar outages. The closures were timed to avoid aircraft arrivals and departures but “it does seem likely that they could have contributed to some changes in the noise patterns, even if briefly,” Wallace wrote.

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

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 member of the airport's Noise Advisory Committee says noise complaints about the airport appear to have increased.Wed, 18 Oct 2017 08:50:02 +0000
White House memo linked weak manufacturing to increases in abortion, spousal abuse, infertility Wed, 18 Oct 2017 01:22:44 +0000 WASHINGTON — White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter said.

The fact-sheets, which were obtained by The Washington Post, were prepared and distributed by Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. They were presented without any data or information to back up the assertions, and reveal some of the materials the Trump administration reviewed as it was crafting its trade policy.

Two administration officials confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The fact-sheets have emerged as the administration has threatened to withdraw from a free trade agreement with South Korea and is taking a hard-line stance against Canada and Mexico in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The fourth round of talks wrapped up on Tuesday amid pointed remarks and with few signs of progress. Negotiators said the talks would have to be extended beyond the original deadline into 2018.

The administration has repeatedly linked the decline in U.S. manufacturing to NAFTA and other trade agreements, claiming the deals were bad for U.S. workers.

Navarro has urged Trump to favor bilateral trade agreements over regional ones such as NAFTA, and he supported the president’s decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His documents alarmed other White House officials, who worried that such unverified information could end up steering White House policy, the two administration officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal documents, which were not released publicly.

The documents Navarro circulated list what he alleges are the problems that have resulted from a “weakened manufacturing base.” Some of the consequences are economic, including “lost jobs,” “depressed wages,” and “closed factories.”

But a separate sheet claims “Socioeconomic Costs” of the decline of the country’s manufacturing industry, such as “Higher Divorce Rate,” “Increased Drug/Opioid Use,” “Rising Mortality Rate,” “Higher Abortion Rate,” among many others.

“We don’t comment on purported internal documents,” said a White House official. “The President is working hard on behalf of the American people to make sure our trade agreements are free and fair and benefit the American worker.”

Navarro, an economist, is part of a wing of small but influential White House advisers who believe decades of free trade policies have decimated the U.S. manufacturing base and allowed other countries, such as China, Mexico, and Canada to take advantage of the U.S. They blame U.S. reliance on exports for hurting U.S. manufacturing, something Trump has promised to reverse.

Two administration officials gave differing accounts of Navarro’s memo, which was prepared and shared last month. One described the documents as staff level, but another said the paperwork was shared with cabinet secretaries during internal deliberations.

Though Trump has called NAFTA the “worst agreement ever,” he has heard from a cacophony of voices within the White House on how he should proceed on his trade threats.

White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn has tried to press Trump to be cautious, worried about what abrupt changes might mean for the United States and the global economy. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has focused much of his attention on dealing with what he views as trade imbalances between the United States and China, though some of those decisions have also been delayed as the White House has focused on NAFTA.

Navarro had worked in the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, a new division created by Trump after the inauguration. But the office was recently folded into the White House National Economic Council. Despite losing his official senior perch within the administration, Navarro remains influential and has argued for a harder line on trade.

]]> 0 from:, 18 Oct 2017 00:00:06 +0000
Costume depicting Holocaust victim Anne Frank pulled from online retail site Wed, 18 Oct 2017 01:13:51 +0000 The costume, a blue button-up dress, is accessorized with a green beret and a brown shoulder bag.

It’s “reminiscent of the kind of clothing” young girls are likely to have worn in the 1930s and 1940s, said a product description below the image of a model – a brown-haired girl with a smile on her face and her hand on her waist.

For $25 (plus shipping), “your child can play the role of a World War II hero” on Halloween, it promised.

But the costume portraying Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager whose diary chronicled the horrors of the Nazi regime, was called offensive by numerous critics, including major advocacy groups. So, an online retailer, removed the item from its website, and its spokesman apologized, saying offending people wasn’t the company’s intention.

A listing for a costume on shows the same costume that drew criticism online and led to a retailer pulling it from its offerings.

Images of the costume began circulating over the weekend. Critics were disgusted, calling it a misguided way of remembering a Holocaust victim.

“We learn from Anne Frank’s life and death to honor her & prevent future atrocity. We don’t exploit her,” the Anti-Defamation League’s St. Louis branch wrote on Twitter.

“We should not trivialize her memory as a costume,” the ADL’s regional director in Arizona said.

As the outrage swelled, Ross Walker Smith, spokesman for, said on Twitter: “We take feedback from our customers very seriously. We have passed along the feedback regarding this costume, and it has been removed from the website at this time.” is owned by, which began as small family business operating out of Mankato, Minn.

“There are more appropriate ways to commemorate the legacy of Anne Frank than through a Halloween costume, which is offensive and trivializes her suffering and the suffering of millions during the Holocaust,” said Alexandra Devitt, a spokeswoman for the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.

Devitt said in a statement that the organization was pleased that had stopped selling the product.

]]> 0, 18 Oct 2017 06:36:40 +0000
President Trump falls to 248th on Forbes wealthiest list Wed, 18 Oct 2017 00:15:02 +0000 NEW YORK — President Trump’s ranking in the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans has dropped because the value of some of his Manhattan real estate holdings has declined recently, the magazine says.

Forbes ranked the first billionaire president as the 248th-wealthiest person in America and put his wealth at $3.1 billion. The year before, he was ranked 156th and Forbes said he was worth $3.7 billion.

As a candidate, Trump said his net worth was more than $10 billion, but Forbes pegged that figure at $4.5 billion in September 2015.

Forbes’ list is once again topped by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with a net worth of $89 billion, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett.

]]> 0 TrumpTue, 17 Oct 2017 21:03:08 +0000
Head of Amazon Studios resigns after sexual harassment allegations Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:52:43 +0000 Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, has resigned from his position amid allegations that he sexually harassed a producer of one of the company’s most high-profile shows.

An Amazon Studios spokesman on Tuesday confirmed Price’s resignation. It follows his suspension by the company last week.

Isa Hackett, a producer on “The Man in the High Castle,” described the 2015 encounter Thursday in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. She told the outlet that she was ready to talk about the “shocking and surreal” episode after bombshell reports detailing sexual harassment and assault allegations made against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“I think women inspire each other. I feel inspired by the other women who have been far braver than I am, who have come forward,” Hackett said. “I hope we all continue to inspire each other and ultimately create change.”According to Hackett, Price and she had been promoting the “The Man in the High Castle” at Comic-Con in San Diego and ended up in a cab together with another Amazon executive who has since left the company. Hackett told the Reporter that Price relentlessly propositioned her.

Once they all arrived at their destination, an Amazon staff party, Price loudly said “anal sex” in her ear as she talked with other executives, according to Hackett. “We take seriously any questions about the conduct of our employees,” an Amazon spokesperson told the Reporter. “We expect people to set high standards for themselves; we encourage people to raise any concerns and we make it a priority to investigate and address them. Accordingly, we looked closely at this specific concern and addressed it directly with those involved.”

Hackett is the daughter of Philip Dick, whose work forms the basis of “The Man in the High Castle.” The tech news website Information reported in August that investigated an allegation that Price made unwanted sexual remarks to Hackett.

Soon after Hackett’s interview with the Hollywood Reporter published, Amazon announced that the executive was on a leave of absence. A representative added: “We are reviewing our options for the projects we have with the Weinstein Co.”

]]> 0 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 21:05:04 +0000
U.S. negotiator faults NAFTA for trade loss Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:52:18 +0000 The leading U.S. trade negotiator exchanged unusually sharp words with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts Tuesday, saying he was “disappointed” at their “reluctance to give up unfair advantages.”

In a press conference wrapping up a fourth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, a combative U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the Trump administration was determined to craft a better deal for U.S. companies and reduce a roughly $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico.

“Trade deficits do matter and we intend to reduce them,” Lighthizer said at a joint press conference with Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal.

However, Freeland cautioned earlier that an agreement “cannot be achieved with a winner take all mindset.” Guajardo said: “In order for the efforts of Mexico, the United States and Canada to be fruitful, we must understand that we all have limits.”

Despite the harsh words, the three ministers agreed to spread out the rounds of talks and extend them through the end of March, which Freeland called a sign of “goodwill.”

But there was little positive in the remarks beyond that.

Although NAFTA was designed to encourage investment and freer flow of goods among the three countries, Lighthizer said “continuing to design a national manufacturing policy largely dependent on exports to the United States for balance cannot long continue.”

And he said that “It is unreasonable to expect that the United States will continue to encourage . . . U.S. companies to invest in Mexico and Canada primarily for export to the United States.”

Freeland countered that U.S. proposals to increase U.S. national content in goods given favored treatment within NAFTA “would severely disrupt supply chains” and “put in jeopardy tens of thousands of jobs.”

Guajardo also appealed for reason. “Despite our current differences, we must ensure that the decisions we make today do not come back and haunt us tomorrow.”

]]> 0 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 21:31:53 +0000
Hurricanes help cause increase in canceled flights by air carriers Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:39:18 +0000 WASHINGTON — Partly because of Hurricane Harvey, which shut down both major Houston airports for several days, canceled flights surged and delays increased on U.S. airlines in August.

The U.S. Transportation Department said Tuesday that the dozen airlines covered in its monthly air travel consumer report canceled 2.2 percent of their flights, up from 1.4 percent in August of last year.

The department said 77.1 percent of flights arrived on time, down from 77.6 percent in August 2016. The government counts a flight on time if it arrives within 14 minutes of schedule.

Hawaiian Airlines had the best rating among the 12 largest U.S. airlines, and Virgin America had the worst rate.

]]> 0 Rodriguez rescues Gloria Garcia after rain from Hurricane Harvey flooded Pearland, in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif - RTX3DKUFTue, 17 Oct 2017 21:09:46 +0000
Wildfires upend California wine industry Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:37:29 +0000 SONOMA, Calif. — Outside one of the first shops to reopen for business on an empty central square in California wine country, clerk Rhiannon Lorenzini swept the sidewalks as the sky cleared of ash more than a week after the state’s deadliest group of wildfires ignited.

In a wine region that normally draws more annual visitors than Disney World, Lorenzini waved to some of the few passers-by: firefighters in firetrucks rolling through Sonoma’s normally thronged 19th-century plaza. The blazes have left many business owners and employees without work or pay for nine days.

“I’m really grateful to be back at work, safe. And praying to have business here,” Lorenzini said as authorities began to lift evacuation orders this week and a utility restored power to more of the area, where fires have killed at least 41 people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.

“I do have bills coming up that I have to pay,” said Lorenzini, who works at a home-goods store targeting visitors flocking to the more than 1,000 wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties. “You start to wonder how you’re going to take care of yourself.”

The fires up-ended business across wine country, forcing evacuations at some of the biggest employers, ranging from a sprawling state center for the disabled to department stores, hotels and wineries, shops and factories. Business communities were just returning Tuesday to assess the effect on revenue and jobs.

Wine tourism companies said customers were canceling almost all scheduled visits. Some businesses launched fundraisers for employees facing the prospect of long-term unemployment, including those who lost homes to the fires.

Tourists visit the Pine Ridge Vineyards tasting room after it reopened following the wildfires in Napa, Calif., that have forced many businesses to close indefinitely. Associated Press/Eric Risberg

“It is hard to imagine that any significant level of tourism will resume anytime soon, despite that this is a magnificent time of year to be here,” tour operator Don Rickard said.

California produces 85 percent of the country’s wine, and Sonoma and Napa valleys make the highest-value bottles, according to the state’s Wine Institute trade group. The valleys, linked by ridges now riddled with wildfires, provide the bulk of the state’s 325,000 wine industry jobs and $58 billion in business for California alone, the group said.

Normally, the vineyards and wineries draw tens of millions of visitors each year and help support fast-growing communities on the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area.

For many teachers, store clerks and vineyard workers, however, costs are always high in the region with some of the most expensive housing in the country. The research group CoreLogic said median sale prices of a single-family home were $562,000 in Napa County and $577,000 in Sonoma County in August.

Francisco Macias, a landscaper in the city of Santa Rosa whose clients included a now-burned Hilton hotel, fled the fires last week. In the following days, Macias and his wife made the hard decision not to pay their mortgage when it came due.

“We figured we better have some money because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Macias said. “We didn’t know how long it would be before we could work.”

Unlike earthquakes that unleash destruction in seconds, the wildfires are dragging on, compounding worries for residents. In conversation, people talk first of their flight from their homes but increasingly turn to nagging thoughts of unpaid bills.

Adam Plasse, 18, of Santa Rosa, took day after day off from the garage where he works as an auto mechanic, forfeiting pay to try to defend his century-old house from the flames.

“I feel like I’m living in a matchbox, just waiting for it to ignite,” said Plasse, who gave up the fight Saturday and fled with his girlfriend to a campsite on the coast.

With money dwindling, Plasse vowed to head back to work this week and drum up customers for the auto shop, even if his home burned to the ground in the meantime.

“I’m worried,” Plasse said. “I can’t miss too many paychecks.”

Outside Sonoma, vintner Steve Larson pleaded with officials Monday to open one road so his workers could harvest, even as helicopters dropped water on the countryside nearby.

“I’ve got 100 tons of Cabernet grapes” ready for picking, Larson said. “That amounts to a lot of money for the company and for the 115 workers we have.”

The fires were going to produce a painful “chain reaction” for people in the wine region, Larson predicted.

“We’ve been short housing as it is,” he said. With thousands of homes burned, “where are these people going to stay, when there is no place to stay?

“They have bills to pay, they need gas for their cars, food on the table,” Larson said.

By the fires’ second week, winds that were lighter than feared and round-the-clock efforts by thousands of firefighters allowed authorities to start lifting closures that had kept out 100,000 residents and countless visitors.

Macias, the landscaper, got the call he had been waiting for. His bosses told him to show up for work Tuesday.

“That is the best news,” he said. “Because we need the money.”

]]> 0 begin repairs to a damaged irrigation pipe at the wildfire-damaged Signorello Estate winery in Napa, Calif., where blazes have bought much of the region's tourist-dependent economy to a standstill.Tue, 17 Oct 2017 21:52:18 +0000
Self-driving cars would be a mixed bag for cities, Boston-focused study says Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:27:26 +0000 BOSTON — A new study inspired by Boston’s early experiments with self-driving cars finds that the technology could ease congestion, but might also lead to more cars on the road and further encourage urban sprawl.

The report, released Tuesday by the Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum, is a mostly optimistic take on how autonomous vehicles could change cities.

Three companies are now testing self-driving cars in Boston’s Seaport District. One of them, NuTonomy, has also partnered with ride-hailing service Lyft to research how passengers book and route a self-driving car.

The consulting group’s study included a computer simulation of how downtown Boston traffic would change with the advent of self-driving taxis, buses or private cars. It would likely add vehicles to roads while simultaneously reducing traffic time and cutting pollution because of smoother driving patterns, such as steadier speeds and more gradual braking. At the same time, the efficiency and convenience of autonomous technology could encourage more people to live in the suburbs.

“Urban sprawl is definitely one of the biggest challenges,” said Nikolaus Lang, a co-author of the study. “If people don’t really see commutes as a painful exercise, they might tend to live further away.”

The research adds to another study published this month by researchers at the University of California, Davis, who found users of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are less likely to use public transit. The Davis study – which looked at Boston and six other metropolitan regions – says that the trend away from public transit could have broader implications once autonomous vehicle technology becomes commercially viable and a feature of ride-hailing apps.

All of this raises questions for city planners, said Nigel Jacob, co-chair of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which has partnered with the consulting group and autonomous car developers as part of a long-term plan to improve transportation safety and equity.

“All these companies are going to make money off the public infrastructure without actually paying back into it,” Jacob said.

In the meantime, Jacob said the city is working to help companies as they try to understand the future market for self-driving vehicles, as well as the technical challenges of navigating the city’s “old, bizarre roadway system that’s constantly subject to freezing and thawing.”

“If you can pass the Boston test, you can drive anywhere,” Jacob said. “That’s basically been the idea.”

]]> 0's self-driving prototype car is unveiled in 2015 in Mountain View, Calif. Supporters say driverless cars may one day be far safer than those with humans at the wheel, since the machinery won't drive distracted, drunk or drowsy.Tue, 17 Oct 2017 21:17:46 +0000
Quota will stay the same in Maine’s 2018 eel fishery Tue, 17 Oct 2017 23:06:26 +0000 Maine fishermen will be able to catch the same amount of baby eels for the worldwide market for sushi and Japanese food next year.

An arm of the interstate Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Tuesday to keep the 2018 quota for baby eels, or elvers, at a little less than 9,700 pounds. Fishermen in Maine catch the elvers in rivers and streams in the spring so they can be sold to Asian aquaculture companies who raise them to maturity for use as food.

Elvers are among the most valuable fisheries in the country on a per-pound basis. They are usually worth more than $1,000 per pound, and Maine is the only state with a significant fishery for them. The eels were worth more than $13 million, about $1,400 per pound, at the dock last year, and they were worth more than $1,300 earlier this year.

Fishermen in Maine have been allowed to catch a combined total of about 9,700 pounds of the elvers in recent years. Previous to Tuesday’s vote, a working group called for that quota to hold next year, said Kirby Rootes-Murdy, a fishery management plan coordinator with the Atlantic States.

“They recommended Maine’s quota be extended. That the same quota they’ve had for the last three years be extended through 2018,” he said.

A new study could help determine future quotas, Rootes-Murdy said. That could eventually result in an increase in the quota in future years.

The lack of quota is preventing the fishery from growing at a time when it is valuable, said Bill Quimby, a Charleston, South Carolina-based elver dealer who has traded in Maine elvers in the past. South Carolina is the only other state with an elver fishery, and it is much smaller than Maine’s.

“You have a resource that’s not being utilized,” he said. “I’d like to see something with a future.”

Elvers that are raised to maturity are often sold to the lucrative Japanese restaurant market, where they mainly are served grilled. They also are used in sushi and other dishes. Some eventually return to the U.S. for use in restaurants, in Maine, California and elsewhere.

]]> 0;lkjl;kj .... FILE - In this Friday, March 24, 2012 photo, a man holds elvers, young, translucent eels, in Portland, Maine. Days after state lawmakers authorized regulations establishing eel fisheries in the state, a 15-state regional governing agency voted Monday, May 12, 2014, to allow states to open certain eel fisheries. Fisheries for baby eel, or elver, currently operate only in Maine and South Carolina. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)Tue, 17 Oct 2017 19:08:18 +0000
Value of SBA loans to Maine companies increases 16 percent Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:23:17 +0000 U.S. Small Business Administration lending increased significantly in Maine during the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the SBA reported Tuesday.

The 16 percent increase in total SBA loan value over the previous fiscal year was led by a 48 percent jump in the value of 504 loans, which allow businesses to acquire fixed assets such as equipment for expansion or modernization. In all, the SBA approved 73 loans under the 504 loan program in Maine, with a total value of nearly $39.8 million, during fiscal year 2017.

The SBA also approved 303 loans under the 7(a) loan program in Maine, with a total value of more than $68.5 million, during the 2017 fiscal year. That’s a 3 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, it said. The 7(a) loan program is the SBA’s flagship loan-guarantee program for business startups and expansions.

“We are extremely pleased to have assisted Maine small businesses with obtaining over $108 million of guaranteed financing,” Amy K. Bassett, SBA district director for Maine, said in a news release. “SBA knows that small businesses are an integral part of the Maine economy and we are committed to providing them with greater access to capital. These numbers indicate that our outreach is working and we look forward to working with our valued partners to help more small businesses access SBA programs and services.”

Nationally, the SBA approved over 68,000 loans in the 7(a) and 504 loan programs in fiscal year 2017. The two programs provided over $30 billion to small businesses across the U.S., the SBA said.

]]> 0 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 21:19:02 +0000
New hires for Spectrum Healthcare Partners Tue, 17 Oct 2017 17:39:04 +0000

William Lambie, left, Steven Trockman, center, and Sonja Tomic.

Spectrum Healthcare Partners has announced the addition of Penobscot Bay Pathology Associates to its team of specialists.

Dr. William Lambie and Dr. Sonja Tomic will now be part of the Spectrum Healthcare Partners pathology division. Tomic has been a pathologist for over 30 years and Lambie for over 13 years.

Steven Trockman was named director of marketing operations of New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland.

Trockman brings 18 years of public health and health care leadership experience at the federal, state and community level.


Jill Mahoney, left, and Jacob Aguiar.

Jill Mahoney, M.D., and Jacob Aguiar, N.D., have opened Scarborough Integrative Health, a patient-centered, tick-borne disease clinic at 51 Route 1 in Scarborough.

Mahoney served as a general medical officer in the Navy, acting as senior medical officer for Destroyer Squadron 14 during a 2002 deployment. She received the Navy Achievement Medal for her service.

In 2006, she moved to Maine, where she has been caring for patients as a family physician for the past decade.

Aguiar works with patients to create personalized and effective treatment solutions. He spent the last several years treating over 1,000 patients with Lyme disease and tick-borne infections at North Coast Family Health in New Hampshire.


Sarah Kelly

Sarah Kelly, owner of Sarah Kelly Coaching, is now a national board-certified health and wellness coach.

Kelly was one of six Mainers to take the first standardized medical board exam for health and wellness coaches in September. She trained at Duke Integrative Medicine as an integrative health coach.

Kelly launched her business full time in August. She works in a holistic way with people looking for guidance in taking steps toward a healthier life.


Carolyn Milles has established a private nutrition counseling practice at 510 Main St. in Gorham.

Milles is a third-generation registered dietitian/nutritionist who offers counseling services for cardiovascular health, diabetes, weight management, hypertension/hyperlipidemia, general wellness and more.

Carolyn Milles

She also specializes in polycystic ovary syndrome, fertility, eating disorders, and digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

North Berwick Family Medicine and Dr. Mary O’Hare, an OB-GYN, are extending services in southern Maine

The practice joined the Southern Maine Health Care team on Oct. 1, enabling patients of the practice to benefit from SMHC’s extensive group of specialists, specialty programs and diagnostic and therapy technology in nearby Sanford.

The providers and staff at North Berwick Family Medicine will continue to see their patients at 7 High St.

O’Hare will work in the Sanford Women’s Health office, where she will see patients five days a week.

She has been caring for women in the Biddeford office for more than 25 years.

]]> 0 MillesTue, 17 Oct 2017 13:52:21 +0000
Popular species of New England flounder is overfished, regulators say Tue, 17 Oct 2017 17:32:17 +0000 Federal ocean managers say a popular species of New England food fish is overfished, and conservation measures are needed to rebuild its population.

The National Marine Fisheries Service says the Northwestern Atlantic witch flounder stock is overfished, and the status of whether overfishing is still occurring is unknown.

Witch flounder is among several species of flatfish caught off the New England coast. New England Fisheries Management Council photo

Witch flounder are mostly brought to shore by fishermen in Maine and Massachusetts. Fishermen typically brought more than 5 million pounds of witch flounder to land in the early 2000s, but the catch had fallen to about 1 million pounds by 2015.

The fisheries service says the New England Fishery Management Council must develop conservation and management rules to help the stock rebuild.

Witch flounder is among several species of flatfish that are caught off of New England for use as food.

]]> 0, 17 Oct 2017 19:11:54 +0000
No lines, no waiting at self-serve Portland food cart Tue, 17 Oct 2017 16:17:11 +0000 Lunch in Portland’s Old Port usually means waiting in lines to get food. A startup food offering aims to change that.

Veebie rolled out a new refrigerated food trailer last week, and it’s hard to miss. The bright orange cart sits at the corner of Middle and Temple streets around lunchtime.

Tuesday was the cart’s fifth of 10 planned testing days.

“The initial target market is urban professionals,” CEO Steven Sperry said. “Our market research finds that lunchtimes are shrinking, and office workers don’t want to spend their breaks waiting in line.”

The company stocks up on local offerings from restaurants such as Sisters Gourmet Deli, Union Kitchen and b.Good. Customers log in to the Veebie app (at, place their order from the options on the menu, then pick up the food. The offerings generally cost around $10.

The prototype doesn’t have locks, Sperry said, but eventually customers will unlock the locker containing their food by using the app.

Eventually, Sperry envisions that the carts could become self-driving, delivering food from commercial kitchens to customers at office parks, festivals or schools. “We’re starting here, but the goal is for this to scale up beyond Maine,” says Sperry.

Sperry was born in Caribou but has spent most of his life in Seattle, where he founded three venture capital-backed software companies. He returned to Maine a year and a half ago to seek a better quality of life and is the current “entrepreneur in residence” at Venture Hall, a nonprofit organization devoted to cultivating tech startups in Portland.


]]> 0, 17 Oct 2017 12:37:29 +0000
Dow reaches another milestone, hitting 23,000 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:56:57 +0000 The Dow Jones Industrial Average passed another milestone, topping 23,000 for the first time, as strong earnings from UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Johnson & Johnson helped push the more than century-old gauge to a record.

It’s the sixth 1,000-point milestone reached in the past 12 months and the fifth since Donald Trump was elected president in November. The Dow average added 0.2 percent, or 44 points, to 23,000 at 11:06 a.m. in New York before retreating. It was at 22,977 at 11:33.

Even as political risks persist from Spain to North Korea and Washington, the latest thousand-point climb took only 76 days. The rally came amid a synchronized advance in the global economy with only tepid inflation that has enabled central banks to leave stimulus in place. At the same time, investors are speculating Republicans will deliver tax cuts and corporate profits look set to expand again.

Round-number milestones are routinely dismissed by the professional investor class as noise. But it’s a sign the bull market just keeps chugging along and investors don’t want to miss out, said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Global.

“If I’m on the side, does that push me to get in?” he said. “Psychologically do I look at that and say ‘I’m missing out on this market, I’m sitting on the sidelines.”‘

Of course, as the numbers get higher, the proportions get smaller: the trip from 22,000 to 23,000 was 4.5 percent compared with 8.3 percent from 12,000 to 13,000. It’s still impressive Silverblatt said.

“Yes, each 1,000 gets less of a percentage, but the bottom line is look how quick we’re doing it,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson jumped after raising its forecast, while UnitedHealth rallied after medical spending fell last quarter. IBM is slated to report after markets close. The stock-market rally boosted Goldman Sachs’s third-quarter profit, with gains from equities investments rising 51 percent in the three months. Almost a third of the companies in the 30-stock gauge report earnings this week.

Financial and industrial stocks have led the Dow in its latest 1,000-point trip, with Goldman Sachs and Boeing Co. contributing to over a quarter of the index’s growth. Boeing retreated Tuesday after rival Airbus bought a majority stake in Bombardier Inc.

The Trump administration’s promise of big tax cuts and deregulation has provided a boon to financial institutions. President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said they aim to deliver a tax bill by December.

Dennis DeBusschere, head of portfolio strategy at Evercore ISI, said there’s potential for more upside if the bill gets through.

“Really the odds of the tax reform process are most critical for everything in the fourth quarter,” he said.

]]> 0 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:58:31 +0000
Legalize Maine says rewrite of voter-approved marijuana law ‘not ready for prime time’ Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:56:40 +0000 Legalize Maine has come out against the proposed legislative rewrite of a voter-approved recreational marijuana law, saying the bill scheduled for a special session vote Monday isn’t “ready for prime time.”

The group’s president, Paul T. McCarrier, said the amendment to the state Marijuana Legalization Act would create chaos in the new market, making it difficult for marijuana businesses to find a place to set up shop. The group would rather the state move ahead with drafting the rules for a licensing and tax structure based on the current law, which was approved by voters last fall, he said Tuesday.

“This (new bill) will only encourage the black market in Maine and is the exact opposite of what the voters of Maine approved,” McCarrier said.

Legalize Maine had criticized the bill adopted by a Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation this month for requiring towns to “opt in” to the adult-use marijuana market, for adding a 10 percent wholesale tax that would require adult-use cannabis growers to turn over large sums of money to town clerks that aren’t prepared for cash payments, and for the committee’s secretive actions.

The bill would require towns to “opt in” to the state’s new recreational marijuana market by taking municipal action to allow adult-use cannabis growers, manufacturers, stores and testing labs to open within their borders. The voter-approved law promised towns the right to prohibit such marijuana businesses, which supporters say gives towns the right to “opt out” through a ban or moratorium.


McCarrier believes the “opt-in” language, which was not added to the proposed bill until after the September public hearing, would make it too difficult for the new adult-use market to “get off the ground” because it’s harder to persuade a town to adopt pro-marijuana legislation than it is to persuade them not to adopt an outright marijuana ban.

“The process of how this language was inserted is disturbing and makes this bill not ready for prime time,” McCarrier said.

Many Maine communities, including some where the majority of voters supported legalization in last year’s referendum, are passing adult-use cannabis moratoriums until the state hashes out its final regulatory structure, and some are even voting to go dry. Supporters of opt-in say the language is critical to winning legislative support for the bill.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Democrat Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, who co-chaired the marijuana committee, say opt-in gives towns the local control that was promised in the voter-approved law that Legalize Maine helped to pass. It was one of the things that the municipalities asked for at the packed public hearing, and was celebrated at this month’s Maine Municipal Association convention.

In a joint statement, Katz and Pierce said Tuesday that McCarrier’s “11th-hour opposition is unfortunate, surprising and disappointing.”

“Local control is a centerpiece of this bill – a concept which is supported by virtually everyone else and is in keeping with the Maine way,” they wrote. “We went with an ‘opt-in’ system because this is exactly how state law works with alcohol, and it seemed appropriate to mirror that.”

They said they don’t believe Legalize Maine’s opposition would kill the bill.

“We are confident that our colleagues will approve this bill because the alternative is chaos,” they wrote. “We are proud of our committee’s work and the totally transparent process we followed.”


The state chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project is still supporting the bill, said its director, David Boyer. He said he is disappointed that Legalize Maine couldn’t support the bill – especially since it had been so actively involved in the months-long process and provided hours of expert testimony – but that he does not believe Legalize Maine’s turnabout would kill the bill’s chances.

“While the regulations may not be perfect, we feel that this bill still represents what the voters wanted when they supported our campaign to regulate marijuana like alcohol,” Boyer said. “Implementation should not be delayed any further.”

The state’s biggest marijuana opposition group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, supports the bill, although its leader, Scott Gagnon, says there are problems that he would quickly work with lawmakers to fix if the bill were to pass as currently written. One example he offers is scuttling a part of the bill that allows youth access to non-restricted areas in recreational marijuana stores.

“SAM Maine is a strong supporter of the ‘opt-in’ language added to the bill. We believe this is in the spirit of the local control voters were sold during the campaign,” Gagnon said. “While we still have several issues with this bill, we can’t deny that it is better than the initiative as was passed by voters.”


The committee bill calls for a 20 percent combination tax on recreational marijuana, sets a two-year residency requirement for license holders, and places no limits on the amount of marijuana that can be grown in Maine. The voter-approved law calls for a 10 percent sales tax, gives caregivers a license advantage and limits the amount of land in Maine that can be used to grow marijuana to 800,000 square feet, or about 18.4 acres.

The Legislature is expected to consider the bill at a special session Monday. Gov. Paul LePage spoke out in opposition to the referendum question last fall, but has remained silent on the committee bill. State agencies have declined to assist the committee in its work, however, prompting supporters to say they will try to secure enough legislative votes to ensure override potential for an expected gubernatorial veto.

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

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

]]> 0, 18 Oct 2017 00:22:25 +0000
Radar outages prompt change in Jetport flight patterns – and noise complaints Tue, 17 Oct 2017 04:01:49 +0000 A series of intermittent radar outages that began in March and continued at least through September necessitated a change in flight patterns at Portland International Jetport that has generated complaints from residents about noise from commercial flights soaring over their homes.

Residents of some South Portland neighborhoods have been affected by louder-than-usual aircraft noise over the last several months because the loss of the Federal Aviation Administration radar in Gray forces commercial flights to depart using the harbor route, airport officials said, taking the jets east over South Portland and several densely populated neighborhoods, including Knightville, Meeting House Hill and Willard Beach.

Adrian Dowling, a South Portland resident who is a candidate for City Council and a member of the airport’s Noise Advisory Committee, said the noise is the worst it’s been in the five or so years he’s been on the panel.

“I’ve received quite a few calls and emails from residents asking what’s going on,” he said. “I’m trying to figure it out.”

The recent problems are linked to outages of the approach surveillance radar, which is supplied to the air traffic control tower by the FAA radar station located in Gray. The radar outage in Gray does not affect a pilot’s ability to land or take off, Dowling said.

Airport Director Paul Bradbury said Monday evening that there have been at least nine radar outages reported by air traffic controllers since the first one occurred in late March. The outages occurred on March 30, May 3 and 8, June 20 and 22, July 12, and Aug. 17, 26 and 28. Bradbury said there could have been more occurrences in September.

Bradbury said the outages pose no hazard to the public because there is a backup radar system based in Nashua, New Hampshire.

He said he does not have detailed information about how long the outages lasted, what time they happened, or why they occurred since the radar equipment is owned by the federal government. But he was told that the Aug. 28 outage lasted more than seven hours. Another outage may have lasted a full day, another airport official said.

“I’m not sure how long most of the outages lasted. It could have been a minute, an hour or 10 hours. I just don’t know,” Bradbury said.

Jim Peters, the FAA spokesman for Maine, could not be reached Monday night to explain what has caused the outages.

Bradbury said the jetport’s radar equipment was relocated to Gray more than a decade ago after a hotel built near the jetport interfered with the radar’s performance.

When a radar outage affecting the jetport occurs, commercial flights are not permitted under FAA rules to depart to the west. Bradbury said the western departure route is the preferred because planes fly over less densely populated areas. The western route takes planes over rural areas and businesses located in Westbrook and South Portland.

“In a perfect world, we’d have all planes taking off to the west,” he said.

When a radar outage occurs, commercial flights must depart over the more populated harbor route.

In a Sept. 18 email to Dowling and other members of the Noise Advisory Committee, airport operations manager Brad Wallace said the approach surveillance radar was down for several days between May and August. He added that there may have been more days in September. Wallace said a taxiway repair project in the spring also contributed to the changing flight patterns,

Wallace also sent an email last week letting committee members know that the radar was once again out of commission.

Dowling said even though the radar outages date back several months, he only found out about them in September.

“My understanding is that this was all supposed to be resolved by now though,” he said.

The Noise Advisory Committee next meets at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the jetport.

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

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

Correction: This story was revised at 11:50 a.m., Oct. 17, 2017, to remove references to the National Weather Service property in Gray.

]]> 0, ME - JUNE 21: 12:55 p.m. Silhouetted by clouds, American Airlines Flight 621 takes off from the Portland International Jetport on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:10:53 +0000
Maine-based venture capital fund headed for liquidation Tue, 17 Oct 2017 01:34:59 +0000 A Maine-based investment fund that was designed to help small businesses in rural areas has gone into receivership after operating for 15 years as part of a failed experiment by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

A federal judge has turned over management of the fund, operated by Brunswick-based Coastal Enterprises Inc., to the SBA for the purpose of liquidating it.

The deeply indebted fund, known as CEI Community Ventures Fund LLC, is one of the last remnants of an SBA program launched in 2002 to infuse long-term capital into small businesses in underserved areas through equity investing.

While Community Ventures met its goal of creating rural jobs, it was ultimately hamstrung by factors including a recession in the early 2000s, restrictions on where it was allowed to invest, and a requirement that investment capital provided by the SBA must be repaid with interest, according to those involved.

“It was really a social experiment, so that made it very challenging,” said Tim Agnew, principal of Massachusetts-based Masthead Venture Partners, who did volunteer work for the fund.

Community Ventures was licensed by the SBA in August 2002 as a New Markets Venture Capital Company, according to a complaint filed in September by the SBA in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine. The fund’s purpose was to make equity investments in small businesses in rural New England.

An equity investment is essentially the purchase of a portion of the business. It usually yields a return on investment only when the business is sold or has a public offering of shares.

The New Markets Venture Capital program was entirely different from the Maine New Markets Capital Investment tax credit program, which offers tax breaks to spur investment and was the subject of a Press Herald investigation in 2015.

According to the complaint, the SBA provided $7.5 million of financing to Community Ventures, which was combined with other capital from private investors. The SBA loan was never repaid, it said.

In its complaint, the SBA indicated that the fund had lost more than 70 percent of its original value, thus violating the conditions of its license and prompting the SBA to take action against the fund.

According to SBA spokeswoman Carol Chastang, Community Ventures was not the only New Markets fund to run into problems.

Out of the six funds licensed under the New Markets program, three are in receivership and another one already has been liquidated, she said.

In all, the SBA provided $72 million of financing to the six funds, Chastang said. So far, only $16.4 million of that money has been repaid, she said.

The six funds made equity investments in a total of 71 businesses from 2002 to 2004, according to Chastang. About $54 million was invested, and the rest went toward paying operating costs.

CEI is a business development organization focused on creating jobs and boosting local economies in rural areas. It oversees a suite of organizations that include nonprofit and for-profit financing and investment groups.

It has had success with a number of its other investment funds.

It announced Monday that its most recent venture capital fund, Coastal Ventures IV Limited Partnership, has been certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution, a sign of the federal government’s faith in the fund and its mission.

CEI spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers said the now-troubled Community Ventures fund made equity investments in nine rural businesses. Seven of the businesses were sold or went out of business, Rogers said. She would not specify how many were sold and how many went out of business.

The two remaining businesses in which Community Ventures invested will not be affected by the fund’s liquidation, Rogers said.

“CEI worked in partnership with the SBA and other private investors to invest in companies that created hundreds of jobs, new technologies, and brought hope and income to rural areas in northern New England,” she said.

Agnew said the New Markets program that spawned Community Ventures was a noble effort to boost rural economies, and that CEI did everything within its power to make the fund succeed.

But venture capital funds can take years to produce a return on investment, he said, which is incompatible with short-term financial pressures such as having to repay a loan to the SBA.

“The point of venture capital is to be patient capital, but debt is not patient capital,” he said.

Chastang acknowledged that the six New Markets funds faced an uphill battle.

“Although six funds selected over a two-year timeframe are not adequate to judge program outcomes, (the funds) clearly faced hurdles that make it difficult for any venture fund, including the small fund size, high fee structure and geographically confined investments,” she said.

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 17 to correct the number of businesses that received financing through the CEI venture captial program.

]]> 0 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 16:08:20 +0000